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A Book of Real Life Love Poems Takes a Down to Earth Look at Affection

To celebrate Valentine's Day (February 14), millions of Americans gave or received traditional gifts of the season … chocolate, flowers, jewelry. But Mary Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Velez favor a more literate approach to romance. The two writers share a love for poetry. They have always enjoyed reading, exchanging and collecting poems… especially love poems. Ms. Velez, an English Professor at Georgetown University, says most collections feature verses about unbelievably idealized love. So, when she and her friend complied their collection, they chose love poems for real life, and called it You Drive Me Crazy.

"The You Drive Me Crazy part can be seen in two ways," Ms. Velez says. "You drive me crazy because I'm so madly in love with you. You drive me crazy because you leave your dirty clothes all over the floor all the time. We wanted poems through people that don't believe love is a fairy tale. We want to take readers through all of those phases of love."

In depicting those different phases of love, English teacher and writer Mary Esselman says they arranged the more than five dozen poems into chapters… starting with "When Love Rocks", moving on to "When Love Keeps You Guessing" and ending with "When Love Shines."

Ms. Esselman says that's when you feel that you've been through some ups and downs in your relationship, but you at last found acceptance and peace there and you made it through. It's not necessarily about a mature love, but it's less flowers, roses and diamond and chocolates and that kind of superficial look of love. It's more in depth look at how you go through lots of different things when you are in love with someone over a long period of time.

For example, Elizabeth Velez says, American poet William Carlos William finds deep emotions in the very simple acts of every day life, as in this poem, 'This is Just to Say.'

"I have eaten / The plums / that were in / the icebox and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast/ Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold"

You Drive Me Crazy also includes works by William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It gets a modern touch from poets like Chinese American Li-Yong Lee and Sharon Olds, who is often described as a confessional poet.

Ms. Velez turns to one of her favorite poems in the collection, by 1st century Hindu Philosopher Bhartrhari.

She says, "It gets at one of the first things that happens to us when we think we are ecstatically in love and we think we are one person. And the fact that a poet 2000 years ago recognized this I think is just extraordinary." The poem is called 'In former days we would both agree' and translated by John Brough:

In former days we'd both agree / That you were me, and I was you. / What has now happened to us two, / That you are you, and I am me?"

Ms. Velez says a poem by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi is one of most intriguing in the collection.

"The thing about Rumi is that he is looked at as a great sage in terms of wisdom," says Ms. Velez. "And people even have expectations about that and this poem we just think is extraordinary. It's called 'Last Night You Left Me and Slept:'

"Last night you left me and slept / your down deep sleep. Tonight you turn / and turn. I say / 'You and I will be together / till the universe dissolves.' / You mumble back things you thought of / When you were drunk."

That's Rumi! What we like about that is there they are, they're together. One of them is thinking we are going to be together forever. The other one is mumbling things he thought when he was drunk."

Elizabeth Ash Velez and Mary Esselman say these poems will live forever and never lose their appeal because they are speaking to our deepest emotions. A collection of real life love poems, they say, could be the best gift for the happily-in-love … and the heartbroken, on Valentine's Day and every day.