People who haven't actually read a poem in a while often conflate the art with soft-focus romantic gushery. I blame Hallmark cards, poorly designed curricula, and, as long as I'm taking blind swipes at mainstream culture, the fact that so many reach for poetry only when they want to send a potent sentence to some beloved at the spark of love or at the hour of death.

Among contemporary poets, however, there is anxiety about writing romantic love poetry. My former poetry professor at the University of Washington, Richard Kenney, once asked our class of poets to raise our hands if we had ever written a love poem. A few people raised their hands, including my sentimental ass. Kenney then told us he'd asked that same question to another room full of poets, and that none of those people raised their hands. This fact depressed him.

It depresses me, too, but I get the students' hesitation. The cold blast of the Conceptual movement rewarded irony, authorial remove, and other distancing tactics often incompatible with earnest sentiment. The welcome resurgence of what Cathy Park Hong calls "the poetry of social engagement" framed the old tropes of the hunter/hunted, the beholder/beheld, and the subject/object present in lots of love poetry as clichéd permutations of rape culture.

And there's also the question of privilege. I got 99 problems, etc. Poet and editor Morgan Parker discuses the intersections of privilege and romantic love poetry in a searching blog post she wrote for Harriet. "Maybe this love, this Shakespearean, Kate Hudson love, was not for me. Was not for black girls. Maybe love was another Nancy Meyers ideal, another privilege. Something for people who didn't have other things to worry about," she writes.

The persona behind Maged Zaher's latest book, The Consequences of My Body, shares a little of Parker's sentiment and a little of the students' hesitation. "Privilege / Determines / Loneliness" writes Zaher, a self-described descendent of Udhri, Arab love poets, who lives in Seattle and feels increasingly distant from his home of Cairo. These personal-historical facts, and his political awareness, circumscribe his ability to perform the rites of courtship. He wants to fall in love, but there are all these tanks everywhere. He wants to touch you—you the reader and "you" a romantic interest in the book—but his "boundaries are a mess." He wants to write you this poem, but the revolution failed.

The writings Zaher patches together across the book's five sections include tipsily written romantic e-mails, lyric poetry, prose poems, a little reflective essay on his aesthetic stance, translations of small poems by classical Arabic "chaste love" poets Abu Nuwas and Jamil Buthayna, and an untranslated poem written in Arabic script. Zaher's unmistakable plainspoken style binds together these disparate genres, creating a text that reads like a love letter written by a reluctant romantic. Along the way, his awareness of the politics of love help him dodge cliché and ultimately express a totally sentimental and sappy point: Hey beloved/reader/language, I know everything's fucked but I love you.

As is the case in his other books, Zaher deploys lines that are, for the most part, a series of declarative sentences spiked with theory and lashed together by associative logic. These kinds of sentences create a baseline tone of sagaciousness, which works best when cut with self-deprecation, humor, and a kind of stony-eyed realistic view often associated with nihilism, as in this poem:

Sex isn't an escape
It works for a while
If I stopped thinking of hope
And focused on your naked pictures
As I jerk off amid tanks
And imagine the coffee shop
Turning into an orgy
Tonight I can write the saddest lines
Sex won't work
We are left to combat the middle class
With mere hands

Here a lonely man comes to terms with the limits of his fantasy. He recognizes that sex and sexual fantasy provide some comfort, enough emotional room to "write the saddest lines" of poetry. Despite this, sex and poetry don't offer true liberation. Perhaps like religion, art and sex are opiates. Or maybe they're just useless. The only way to smack down the bourgeoisie and really engage with reality is through non-poetic forms of direct action, symbolized here by "mere hands."

But this truth exists next to the truth that dumb desire persists, a fact Zaher alludes to in the funny closing gesture of the first section of the book: "Sex in airplanes is banal and cliché, sex in airports is the only meaningful thing to do before or after crossing security. Airports being asexual entities is a testimony to the oppressive morality of productivity we live under." I don't think Zaher is seriously advocating in this poem for boning in departure lounges, but this humorous assertion speaks to the futility of our continued attempts to deny the fact of human sexuality even in supposedly desexualized realms such as airports. Or politics.

Zaher plays the sexual desire as liberation/sexual desire as prison tensions off of each other over the course of the book for a little too long, perhaps. There is coyness within this dialectic. The romantic e-mails, for instance, which are breathless missives full of anxious worries about coming on too strong despite strong romantic feelings, project a heart-on-sleeve vulnerability that bucks the traditional notions of a man's role in courtship. However, expressing that kind of vulnerability is also a way to get laid. Ask any poet.

But Zaher seems to be aware of that fact, too: "This is not about seduction," he writes. "It is about hanging out tonight / surrounded by capitalism. It rains / And we call it love / This continuous threat of collapse." Ultimately, Zaher's awareness of the pitfalls of writing romantic poetry in a capitalist society with all of its attendant -isms allows him to refresh the whole mode. The lesson: Political awareness doesn't dampen romance, it saves it.