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The do's and don'ts of Valentine poetry

FARGO - Today is Feb. 11, which means that in exactly two days men everywhere will start panicking, realizing Valentine's Day is Sunday and they haven't even thought of a gift for their sweetheart.

Instead of spending a day at the mall frantically looking for something, one option would be a heartfelt expression of your feelings in a Valentine poem.

Kevin Zepper, associate professor of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead and author of the collection "I Bring You Dead Things: And Other Love Poems," offered advice to amateur wordsmiths.

And, yes, he is writing his wife a Valentine poem.

What tips would you give a novice who wants to write a poem for Valentine's Day?

What I tell my students, "Know your audience." Are you going to write the same kind of poem to someone you've been attached to for 20 years as you would somebody you just want to get to know? You don't go writing something with nasty words in it to somebody you just met - unless they like that kind of thing. ... Don't worry about rhyming, just make sure there are details about that person, then it shows you pay attention. And who doesn't want to have attention paid?

Are there overused similes or metaphors that make you cringe?

Yeah, like "I give my heart to you." That could be gross when you think about it. Or "I would die without you." C'mon, that's kind of a tired thing. That doesn't really happen. ... "My love is like a red, red rose," has been stolen a million times, and that's sad because it's a good line.

What pop or rock singers write really good love poems/songs?

Well, in selecting somebody else's poems or lyrics, probably don't look up anything by Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. Henry Rollins probably isn't good. If there are classics in the modern generation, I'm thinking the Beatles right away. ... There's a song that Seal does, "Kiss from a Rose." I really enjoy that song. My (21-year-old) son really enjoys that. Those lyrics are nice, and they aren't sappy. If both of us can agree on it, it's not too bad.

Is it OK to use the word "baby" in a poem and not be talking about a small child?

I think I have, but I don't think I could share it. ... Be consistent though. Use it every line. I'm smiling while I say that.

Any more advice?

No matter what you write, if you want your poem to be well-received, give it with a box of chocolates and a small ruby cocktail ring. The poem will go over great no matter what you've written. ... Jewelry as a whole usually sells the poem. ... Oh, and never compare the woman you love to appliances. I've done that and I'm not dating that person anymore.