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The Art of Erotic Poetry
I love erotic and love poetry and have several collections; some are good, some are not.
This is a big post, overdue, and the books are given in no particular order (I made a pile on the floor).
I thought readers might enjoy a post giving an overview of what’s available—something which I’ve already done for Erotic Haiku. First, the question: What makes a good erotic poem? Here’s what I wrote in my opening to paragraph to Erotic Haiku:
Just as the haiku is the art of indirection, so too erotica. Whereas the explicit is an imaginative endpoint, the best haiku are a suggestive starting point for the imagination. Suggestiveness is all – allusion, inference, and association. And when haiku fail because they were made too explicit, eroticism fails for the same reason: eroticism becomes pornographic.
To me, the best erotic poetry is an imaginative starting point, not an endpoint. The best erotic poems are like the best metaphors; which is to say, to paraphrase the great poet EA Robinson, erotic poetry “tells the more the more it is not told”. When poems become too explicit, they lose something.
Note: I’ve included the books in the post Erotic Haiku in this post for the sake of completeness, but not a detailed review. You can find that at the original post. I’ve also reviewed three more collections of Erotic Haiku and have added them to the present post.
- Favorite Anthologies: I’ve been asked what I consider to be the best among these anthologies. I strongly recommend the following five:
- intimate kisses
- Passionate Hearts
- The Erotic Spirit
- The Best American Erotic Poems
- The Poetry of Sex
- The Literary Companion to Sex
- Erotic Haiku edited by Hiroaki Sato
After each review I’ve added a rating – 1 to 6 ♥‘s, 6 being the best.
Sex ~ Sex
Art ~ Illustrations and Artwork
Romance ~ Passion & Love Poetry
Look & Feel ~ Typography, Layout, Readability
Poetry ~ Its Quality
Index ~ Content, First Line, Title, Author
- Note: If you are a poet or publisher who would like me to add your erotic book of poetry to this list (as some publishers have requested), please send a review copy. I’m too poor to buy. Seriously (having spent it all on erotic poetry). I’ll update this post with your book the day I receive it. If you think a book should be on this list, and isn’t, let me know. If you disagree with anything I’ve written, comment. More books will be added over time and I’ll notify those who follow the blog that I’ve done so with a post.
Love Poetry Out Loud
This is the book for the poetry enthusiast. Each poem is accompanied by a brief introductory side note and each is annotated — literary allusions are explained. The book isn’t just meant to titillate, but to elucidate.
You will find familiar poems. The emphasis, I think, is more on the literary quality of the poems than their salaciousness. So, you will find “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost along with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot – “passionate” poems. If you visit Amazon, you can “look inside” and visit the table of contents.
This is the book for the literary minded. If you’re going to be caught red-handed with a book of love poems, this book won’t embarrass you.
- The Book Good paper. Illustrations, such as they are, are limited to decorative doodles in red – hearts, flowers, etc. Very tasteful. Readers will find an index of first lines, titles and authors.
- Comparisons This compares with Homage to Eros (reviewed below). Both collections take a more high brow approach to passion and literature. Where Love Poetry Out Loud sticks with contemporary poets Americans might be more familiar with and recognize, Homage to Eros is more anglophile in its collection. Also, Love Poetry Out Loud comes off as a high budget production whereas Homage to Eros is not. No colorful doodles in Homage to Eros.
- In Translation The Bible, if that counts.
- You and your Lover This isn’t the book – not unless you enjoy discussions as to whether a passion for literature is the same as a passion for sex. The focus of the book isn’t eroticism, per se. No one, for instance, would think of “Fire and Ice” as being erotic: passionate, perhaps, but not erotic. More erotic poems are mixed in, like Sleeping With You, by John Updike, but if you’re out with your date? No. The title itself “passionate poems to stir the heart” is vague enough to suggest the literary focus of the book. The cover says it all – two lovers coddling their books rather than each other.
- Embarrassment Only if you meant to come off as steamy and dangerous.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥
Sensual Love Poems
Kathleen Blease, the curator of this anthology, organizes the poems into chapters: Awakenings of Love, A Love Like Mine, Reflections of Love. The font for these chapters would make a Harlequin publisher blush – all curlycues and floral excess.
I like that the poems are loosely arranged, chronologically.
You won’t find as many familiar poems in this collection and (if the cover and font doesn’t already betray the emphasis) the poems aren’t so much erotic as archly romantic. They are, as the title plainly says, sensual. That isn’t to say they aren’t good. In fact, this is a very good collection of poems on the theme of love and affection. Blease has a good nose for the good poem and, as far as I’m concerned, every one of the poems deserves to be in the book. How about this by Izumi Shikibu:
In this world
love has no color—
yet how deeply
is stained by yours.
I recommend the book for the freshness of its selection. They range from Indo-European, Japanese, Chinese, and European, to American, from BC to AD. Good stuff. That said, Blease seems to favor the poetry of an older era and translated poems are limited to antiquity. You won’t find much of anything from the 20th or 21rst century.
- The Book There are no illustrations. The paper is acidic and will quickly brown: cheaply published. Small type. Good indexes though.
- Comparisons This could be considered a slimmed down version of A Book of Love Poetry. Both books are more generous in their selections from a variety of cultures.
- In Translation Antiquities and Japan (see above).
- You and your Lover These are the poems to memorize for public seduction: to be recited to the beautiful woman seated next to your rival. They won’t embarrass. They’ll impress. They may entice your date, lover, wife or husband into a more private reading. Once there though, you’ll want different book, one with a more erotic focus.
- Embarrassment For the man: Scissors and a paper bag will make a delightful book cover.
Look & Feel ♥♥
Treasury of Favorite Love Poems
This is a nicely organized little book, little in size but not in content. Poems are organized by subject matter and theme: Joy and Celebration, Eros and Longing, Wooing, Seduction, Worship and Devotion, Discord, Communion, Torment, Absence and Separation, Hope, Bitterness, Disavowal, Sorrow and Lamentation, Tenderness, Transience, Remembrance. Thankfully, though the book clocks in at over 400 pages, they give us one, nicely fitting, poem per page – and that’s makes this collection approachable.
I listed the chapters in order. (The editors provide explanations.) For example, they define Seduction as “poems that illustrate the two faces of seduction: well-crafted arguments for lovemaking and (apparently) defenseless surrender to the power of love.” Strangely, you will notice that the chapters skip over the nub of the whole matter — Sex. Ahem. I double-checked to make sure they weren’t applying a polite euphemism. That is, were they using ‘communion‘ as a euphemism for sex? No, by communion they mean marriage, or its likeness. Worth noting: From communion the editors bypass sex and skip straight to Torment. What are we to think?
Setting aside that one glaring omission, the selected poems are beautiful. They range widely but modern poems (read free verse) are few (as with the book Sensual Love Poems). The poems are mostly traditional – rhymed and in meter. One or two translated poems. On the upside, the selection of poetry is eclectic and you may find some of the poems less familiar. The editor makes an effort to bypass the usual chestnuts.
- The Book Small, about four inches by six. Good paper. Good type. Only an index of authors. No index of first lines or titles. No art.
- Comparisons This book compares to Faber Book of Love Poems (reviewed below). While Treasury‘s collection of poems doesn’t compare to Faber’s, most readers will appreciate Treasury’s much more approachable, one poem per page, layout.
- In Translation One or two from the antiquities.
- You and your Lover As your relationship moves from Longing, to Wooing, to Seduction, Communion, and then to Torment, you will easily find a good poem for every occasion except sex. Presumably, the editors must think you will be too busy when that chapter comes around.
- Embarrassment She’s waiting for you to read but all you can remember is the poem’s first line. How do you find it?
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Seduction in the 1rst Degree
A Collection of Erotic Poetry
This is not an anthology but a collection of erotic poems by one poet, Lisa Marie Canfield. The book is unusual in that respect. I can’t think of any other modern poet who has dedicated an entire book to erotic poetry. Cool.
There are moments when Canfield’s free verse, even by free verse standards, seems to lose all distinction with prose. Any reader who comes to these poems looking for the romance of rhyme, meter or sustained poetry will be disappointed. The imagery is mundane and straight forward, the stock and trade of erotic writing.
If only I could touch you once more.
Feel the thrill and excitement beneath my nervous touch,
To taste your sweet lips made of honey,
To breathe your spicy cologne that mingles with hot, heavy sweat.
So begins the poem If Only. The writing has a certain amateurish feel to it (despite her list of publications), poetic rather than poetry, full of a beginner’s enthusiasm – clichés like “nervous touch” and “sweet lips” or ‘hot, heavy sweat” typify the collection as a whole. She tends toward the wordy and pseudo-literary. She titles one of her poems, unabashedly: Losing Myself Unto You.
All in all, the book has more the feeling of a diary; and each poem the unblushing, earnest and unselfconscious gushing of a teenager (strangely from a woman who is married with two children). Many readers would find it profane and vulgar. (Don’t let the cover fool you.) But it’s in that respect that you might enjoy the book. If you want to experience marriage, love and the sheer unbridled enthusiasm of sex through the unvarnished and unrestrained joy of a woman, then this is the book. Don’t read it for the poetry. Read it for the joy of sex.
Lunge into me, my love,
Deep and transcending, with the strength
Of a thousand men, fulfilled and virile with youth
And unleashing and unbundling energy,
Penetrate all that I am…
- The Book About 8 by 5. Good paper. Easy to read.
- Comparisons This book could be compared to Velvet Heat (see below) in terms of its explicitness. As I wrote below, think of Seduction in the 1rst Degree as explicit erotica for and by the married and Velvet Heat as erotica for the free and loose. Beautifully compares to Naked Soul: The Erotic Love Poems by Salil Jha (see below), they’re practically two halves of the same fig.
- You and your Lover If your guy says he doesn’t like poetry, read him these. See what happens.
- Embarrassment If he shows up with the book Love Poetry Out Loud…
Look & Feel ♥♥♥
The Best American Erotic Poems
From 1800 to the Present
If you are regularly disappointed by books with titles like Love Poetry or Poetry for Lovers, having discovered that, at least in the opinion of publishers (and those who title books), love and sex are two different genres, then this is the book you want.
There is a lot of sex in these poems and they’re good.
David Lehman, the curator of this collection, has a good nose for the erotic, the suggestive and sex turned into poetry.
You will find blank verse, meter, rhyme, prose poetry and imaginative free verse. You will also find a sense of humor, something sometimes missing from the more romantically inclined collections. Conversely, though, don’t expect the deeper, spiritually searching erotic poetry of the older romantics or even some current collections. This is the chapter missing from the Treasury of Favorite Love Poems.
Here’s a sampling from a poem by Paul Jones called To His Penis:
…Your strange sight makes all women
charming and comely and warm;
round grinder, hound on the hunt,
you light fire to young tight cunts;
roof-beam boosting maiden’s laps,
your prod, you’ve tilled twenty rows,
groin growth raised like a grand nose,
crude inconstant crotch crawler,
lanky and lewd loving lure,
gnarled yet graceful, a goose neck.
Hard nail, you left my home wrecked…
One of the best collections of erotic poetry out there.
- The Book No illustrations or art. Good paper. Good type. No index of first lines. Short and interesting biographies of all the poets are included in the back of the book.
- Comparisons This book compares to Passionate Hearts (see below). Those readers who might deem Best American Erotic Poems a touch profane and vulgar, might do well to consider Passionate Hearts. Where Erotic Poems can be humorous, irreverent and gauche, Passionate Hearts has chapters like Tender Awakenings and Deeper Intimacies and a message. My advice? Buy both books. They compliment each other.
- In Translation Just American Poets.
- You and your Lover This is a great book to sneak under your lover’s pillow.
- Embarrassment Try the kindle edition. The cover design is like a so-unsubtle billboard.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Homage to Eros
100 Great Poems of Love and Lust
“Love and lust” is not the same as erotic. If you see Erotic in the title, it means sex, if you don’t, then things get literary. And this book has a decidedly literary bent. The focus is on great poetry — passion transformed into literature rather than titillation. So, for example, the poems are arranged chronologically starting with that old chestnut, Song Of Solomon, proceeding through Shakespeare, “Bright Star” by Keats, and ending with, among others, Seamus Heaney.
Interestingly, the curator, Dannie Abse, has a decidedly classical and anglophile bent. There is only one American poet, Peter Meinke, and all the rest are from the British Isles, Ireland, Whales, New Zealand, Australia. That’s not a bad thing. The more modern poetry is good but not altogether memorable – tending toward the buttoned up. They reflect Abse’s preference for a more decorous eroticism. You won’t find the same rambunctious free-for-all as in The Best American Erotic Poems.
Abse includes one of his own poems in the book. Setting aside the archly antique phrasing and language, the poem is a charming 19th century poem written in the 20th century. From the last stanza:
Listen flowers, birds, winds, worlds,
tell all today that I married
more than a white girl in the barley —
for today I took to my human bed
flowers and bird and wind and world,
and all the living and all the dead.
The real interest in the book, for some, will be the latter half. That’s when you will start reading poems by poets you’re unlikely to have read before.
- The Book No illustrations or art. Mildly acidic paper. No indexes. Short biographies of the poets are included at the head of each poem.
- Comparisons This compares with Love Poetry Out Loud (reviewed above). Both collections take a more high brow approach to passion and literature. Where Love Poetry Out Loud sticks with contemporary poets who Americans might be more familiar with and recognize, Homage to Eros is more anglophile in its collection. Also, Love Poetry Out Loud definitely comes off as a high budget production whereas Homage to Eros is not. No colorful doodles in Homage to Eros.
- In Translation Some early poems from antiquity.
- You and your Lover This isn’t the book, more of a companion to Love Poetry Out Loud.
- Embarrassment None. The book to be seen with. With a cover by Gustav Klimt, you can’t lose. But trade it for another once you’ve taken her home.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥
The Faber Book of Love Poems
This is one of those anthologies that publishers toss off on a slow day just to have some skin in the game. At least that’s the impression. Unlike the Treasury of Favorite Love Poems, which is mercifully limited to one poem per page, the Faber anthology prints them one right after the other with no apparent regard to poem length, stanza or page layout.
The collection focuses on poetry prior to the 20th century, reaching back to the 12th — lots of thee’s and thou’s. They are arranged in chapters: Love Expected; Love Begun; The Plagues of Loving; Love Continued; Absence, Doubts, Division; Love Renounced; and Love in Death. Many of the old chestnuts are here. Interestingly, the editor Geoffrey Grigson has a taste for older English poetry so you will find a nice selection of poems prior to Shakespeare — a poet like Sir Thomas Wyatt is well represented. Grigson also mixes in some songs from Elizabethan plays by John Ford and Robert Greene. He also includes a handful of untranslated French poems.
The overall impression is somewhat academic and high brow. The problem with books like these (and layout is everything when stuffed with so many poems) is that they can have that ‘everything but the kitchen sink‘ feel to them (and this does). (I personally think the erotic books with a theme are better.) Whereas the Treasury of Favorite Love Poems has comparatively bite-size chapters, Faber’s can be almost 70 pages in length. The poems march indiscriminately one after the other in small type. There is undoubtedly much beautiful and great poetry in the book, but there are better places to find it, and easier.
- The Book No illustrations. No art. Bad paper.
- Comparisons This book compares to Treasury of Favorite Love Poems, but even more directly to A Book of Love Poetry (see below). While the selection of poems is much more varied and interesting to the knowledgeable reader, the less erudite will appreciate the approachable layout and presentation of Treasury.
- In Translation A handful of French, Spanish and Italian poems.
- You and your Lover This is more of a reference manual.
- Embarrassment Don’t want her to know you need bifocals? – then pick a different book.
Look & Feel ♥
The Poetry of Sexual Love
As if the title weren’t enough, the publishers drive home the point with a juicy quote on the front cover: “Passionate Hearts should be on the bedside of every couple. ~ Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of Getting the Love You Want.” (Although it looks like they’ve removed the quote on the latest edition.)
How do they do? A damned good job. This book is the polar opposite of a book like Faber’s Book of Love Poems. You won’t find any thee’s and thou’s. This isn’t academe. The poems are all by contemporary poets and, as expected from a selection not focused on the classics, uneven in quality — but none of them make you wonder why they were included. You might recognize a handful of names: E.E. Cummings, Raymond Carver, Galway Kinnell. Fortunately (in my opinion) there are over a hundred poets whose names will be new to you.
The editor, Wendy Maltz, explains why she focuses on contemporary poems.
[The classic western love poems] perpetuated the cultural norms of their day, especially the belief that a woman’s personal sexual experience was irrelevant; her pleasure would come in being a submissive vehicle for satisfying a man’s sexual desires… In classic poetry, true consent, based on a right to refuse sex at any time, seemed nonexistent.
So, Maltz’s focus is on erotic poetry that honors the importance of “mutuality in intimacy”. The poems are grouped into five chapters: tender awakenings; passionate pleasures; varied dances; deeper intimacies; and graceful transformations. She explains the idea of each chapter in the introduction. The basic idea is that they focus on the relationship between two partners. The chapters aren’t so much a progression, as five different ways couples are transformed and bonded by sex. In short, this is a book with an agenda (not a bad thing) unlike The Best American Erotic Poems (above) or The Erotic Spirit (see below) which are more like true anthologies.
More than a few of the poems can’t avoid the stock hyperbole of passion- suns, moons, earth, goddesses, etc… Nothing wrong in that. Even in poetry, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it. They all offer something. Here’s how anne k. smith begins her erotic poem:
You would not believe it; I sat
at the table with my family,
with my father saying grace, then
solemnly passing the bowls of
corn, of beans, the heavy
platter of turkey and dressing.
I filled my plate and lifted
my fork to my mouth,
but no matter what I put in,
it wasn’t what I tasted,
not the creamed potatoes,
not the smooth brown crust
of bread. It was you my mouth
remembered, the familiar musk
of your sex, its smooth heat,
its quick fullness…
- The Book No illustrations. No art. Good Paper. One poem per page. Nicely laid out but no indexes!
- Comparisons The book to compare this to is The Best American Erotic Poems (see above). Whereas Best American is an anthology of American erotic poems, and leans toward more full-blooded erotic earthiness (some might use the word profane), Passionate Hearts is for those with a less profane, more connected and spiritual bent – not a true anthology. See the review The Best American Erotic Poems for more in the way of comparison.
- In Translation None.
- You and your Lover Definitely. If you’re looking for inspiration in the writing of your own erotic poem, this is the book to consult.
- Embarrassment Yeah, don’t leave this one on the coffee table when the family visits.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Love Poems from the Japanese
But for a few outliers from the 17th though 19th centuries, the majority of these poems date from between the 9th and 12th centuries, when the Tanka (the form in which these poems are written) was dominant (long before the Japanese haiku came into its own). When it comes to literature the Japanese aren’t known for chattiness. Whereas haiku (normally) are presented as three line poems, Tanka can seem almost excessive at five lines – and yet. And yet if there was ever a culture who made less, more, it was the Japanese.
What’s especially interesting about Tanka is that the Japanese considered them a feminine form. At the form’s height the dominant practitioners were women. That means that unlike any other culture, women were as represented, if not more so, than men.
These poems won’t be for everyone. Obviously, you’re not going to buy them unless you’re already interested in Japanese literature. As such, they are subtle, exquisite and poetic. There is obviously much that is lost in translation (mainly cultural and literary allusions) but the poems retain an emotional grounding that we all share. The older poems are obviously more suggestive and coy, but the patient reader will appreciate the passion of some and the intense eroticism of others.
I wish I were close
To you as the wet skirt of
A salt girl to her body.
I think of you always.
— Yamabe no Akahito [8th Century]
I cannot forget
The perfumed dusk inside the
Tent of my black hair
As we woke to make love
After a long night of love.
— Marichiko [20th Century]
- The Book A few black & white illustrations – not erotic. Good Paper. One poem per page and easy to read. Biographies of the poets in back but no indexes.
- Comparisons This book compares with Everyman’s Chinese Erotic Poems. The collection is much smaller and the poems are obviously not as varied. You will also find that the Japanese poems are much less erotically overt than the earthiest of the Chinese poems.
- You and your Lover Not unless an almost zen-like subtlety is your idea of foreplay.
- Embarrassment None. After you’ve hidden Passionate Hearts, this book will fool them into thinking you’ve finally become the mature, refined and multicultural sophisticate they always wanted you to be.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Erotic Poetry for the Carnal Mind
Other than that, if the cover doesn’t spell it out, then I don’t know what to say. Looking for felicities of rhyme, rhythm and meter? No. Looking for subtlety, spiritual interconnectedness, poetic suggestiveness? No. This book is what you get when the forward is written by Michele Zipp, the Editor-In-Chief of Playgirl Magazine. So consider yourself warned and informed. (And what’s with “Velvet”?) Moving on.
If you set aside any sort of artistic or poetic standards, then the poems (you might want to put monolithic air-quotes around “poems“) are refreshing in their explicit, free-verse XXX’edness. If you’re done with erotic poetry collections beating around the bush (pun intended), then this is the book for you. This is the sine qua non of filth (until The Golden Treasury of Men’s Room Limericks is finally released). Many of them are poorly written and just plain bad. Some almost transcend their badness — that so-bad-they’re-good badness that only accidental genius is capable of. On the other hand, to be fair, there are some keepers. Bottom line: if you don’t know what the word prude means and poetic standards are negotiable, go for it.
How do you make a screaming Orgasm?
If only it was my lover asking and not these pasty-faced
bar boys with their fake IDs, and their desire
to see me blush. I tell them about raspberry liquor,
pineapple juice, the clink of ice against the glass.
But I can tell it is not what they’re looking for,
their eyes following the shift of legs, the curve of hip.
If only it was my lover asking, then I would say:
Start with an ounce of slow soft strokes.
Combine two pats of butt with a whisper
of tonue against teeth.
Add a touch of hand to the back of the neck,
a lick of earlobe, a pinch of nipple.
Stir until you reach the desired consistency.
- The Book No illustrations. Decent Paper. One poem per page but what’s with the font? – one step above dot matrix. Biographies of the poets in back but no indexes.
- Comparisons This book could be compared to Seduction in the 1rst Degree for its explicitness. Think of Seduction in the 1rst Degree as explicit erotica for and by the married and Velvet Heat as erotica for the free and loose.
- In Translation Are you kidding?
- You and your Lover If your lover is as dirty minded as you are, this is your book.
- Embarrassment EPIC.
Look & Feel ♥
I’m always skeptical since they lack the conviction of an editor or poet with an agenda. But Everyman has been issuing pocket sized collections of poetry by all the famous poets and a variety of anthologies and they are all, in my opinion, good. They are well laid out and readable, but this is an exception.
Where every other publisher treats the word erotic as a euphemism for poems about sex (makes sense, right?), Everyman seems to have missed the memo. Peter Washington, in the foreword, spells it out:
This anthology is a companion to the Everyman collection of Love Poems, distinguished from that volume by its preoccupation with the life of the body. That said, anyone looking for pornography here will be disappointed: on this occasion I have taken erotic to mean primarily sensuous and passionate. There are frank and even bawdy poems included, by Rochester among others; many of the items are witty and funny; others are tragic; but the emphasis is on Eros as the god of physical love, not the mere patron of genital conjunctions.
He makes the word pornography sound so dirty. But, there you have it. He has essentially written his own review. If the foreword sounds condescending and pompous, your reading comprehension is in good shape. Washington will not sully his anthology for the” mere patron of genital conjunctions” – id est, all you dirty-minded readers. To me, this begs the question, why title the anthology Erotic Poems? If Everyman wants skin in the game, then do it, otherwise don’t mislead readers by calling the anthology erotic. And what is a “preoccupation with the life of the body” anyway? What, like Catholic wafers?
Anyway, this is a classically minded, white male anthology. Beautiful poems, yes, but not the right title.
- The Book No illustrations. Good Paper. One poem per page. Index of first lines only.
- Comparisons This book could be compared to Sensual Love Poems, but Sensual Love Poems is better and more full blooded.
- In Translation Antiquities.
- You and your Lover No.
- Embarrassment Only if you read the foreword.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Loves Poems from the Greek Anthology
translated by Jacques Le Clercq
This is caviar for the general; a book for the collector; and a labor of love. The erotic illustrations, typified by the cover are beautiful and found throughout the book.
The paper is heavy. The pages feel hand printed. If you close your eyes you can feel the lettering. Here is the forward:
The Greek Anthology consists of over four thousand brief epigrams written from before the Persian Wars down to the end of the Middle Ages: in other words form the Homeric to the close of the Byzantine age.
These poems thus voice the thoughts and sentiments of four distinct and vastly different civilizations; Greece in the golden age of its classicism; Greexe in its Alexandrian era; Greece transplanted to Rome, pagan or Christian; and finally Greece persisting through the dark ages to the dawn of the Renaissance.
The book obviously doesn’t include all four thousand epigrams, just a selection. I find the poems to be beautiful in imagery, translation and expression. Here’s just a taste:
37 • Her Moist Kiss
At evenfall a maiden
kissed me with humid lips;
nectar, her kisses, and her mouth
redolent of nectar.
Lo, now I stagger,
drunken with her kiss
from which I quaffed
draught upon draught of love.
72 • Ripe Love
Thy wrinkles, O Philinna
are more beautiful
than the sap that courses
through the veins of youth.
Better I love to hold
the love apples of they bosom,
cupped, drooping in my hands,
than the high taut
breasts of a young virgin.
More pleasurable thine autumn
······than another’s spring,
thy winter hotter than another’s
106 • To One Abused
So he cast thee out
onto the street
naked as a leaf,
as though himself had never known
love in another’s arms,
as though, a follower of Pythagoras,
he scoffed at women.
Therefore these tears, child,
that mar thy glance,
and thou, child,
shivering at the threshold
of this brute’s house.
Stay thy tears, child, and dry thy cheeks:
we shall undertake to find thee a lover
whose eyes are discreet
and whose hand wields no whip.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
Chinese Erotic Poems
As with Love Poems from the Japanese, this isn’t a collection you’re going to buy unless you’re already predisposed to (or curious about) Chinese poetry. Books like these are for poetry lovers with an interest in worldly erotica. As such, the anthology represents, as far as I know, the only anthology of Chinese erotic poems and is well worth the price.
Here’s an extract from the foreword:
One of the Confucian Analects reads, “The Master said, I have never met a man who loves ethics more than he does sex.” However, the Confucian and Daoist traditions shared the idea that sexuality united lovers with the cosmos, and so classical Chinese attitude toward sexuality has generally been positive. Chinese erotic work fits within a broader sacred and intellectual tradition, and is seen as being spiritually and medically therapeutic.
That gives, perhaps, some small idea of what you can expect.
Poetry Collected by Feng Menglong (1574-1646)
I open the door and see snowflakes flying night and day.
Three layers of embroidered quilt cannot keep me warm.
What I need is my man’s hot belly.
Having an affair is like a lantern;
don’t punch holes or rumors will blow it out.
The woman tells the man,
“You come in secret without a light
but you ignite me inside
and make all my body burn red.”
So, if you’re of a mind to read Chinese poetry and appreciate the coy subtleties of poetry (primarily) prior to the 20th century, you won’t be disappointed by a lack of eroticism. The poems can be keenly erotic without being vulgar or profane. The poems are arranged chronologically and the final poem is a unembarrassed prose poem by a poet, Cyril Wong, born in 1977.
- The Book No illustrations. Good Paper. One or more poems per page, but laid out with care. No indexes.
- Comparisons This book could be compared to Love Poems from the Japanese. Unlike the Japanese, women poets were more often considered an embarrassment to their family and relations (since women were equally apt to write poetry of love and eroticism). There are many stories of their poetry being destroyed to avoid any perceived scandal. You will find fewer women among classical Chinese poets. However, women frequently wrote as anonymous and many of their poems survive under that appellation. Also, you are much more apt to find women poets in the ancient Chinese anthology, The Book of Songs (c. 600 BCE). In the ancient era, as in other cultures around the world, women seemed as able to freely express themselves as men. I’ve written a couple of posts on this subject which you can read here.
- You and your Lover Does your lover like Chinese poetry?
- Embarrassment None. Well, OK, just a little. The erotic content is offset by the caché of multiculturalism.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Shakespeare on Love
There’s not a lot to say in terms of the poetry. It’ s Shakespeare.
The real question concerns the selection and the quality of the book, neither of which are all that great. The book feels low budget – something to push out the door and make a little money on. The paper is acidic and browsn quickly. The binding is stiff and will crack. The selections are thrown onto the page without regard to layout, line, verse or stanza. The type is small and the predictable selections are arranged, chronologically, according to play. (One wishes the book were organized according to themes.) There is only an index of first lines in the back but nothing else. The whole thing feels perfunctory.
Interestingly, there aren’t that many books to choose from when it comes to erotic or romantic extracts from Shakespeare’s plays. Part of the problem, perhaps, is that the theme of love runs through all of his plays. Where does a selection begin and end? – how large? – how small? The Oxford Anthology of Shakespeare has over a hundred pages dedicated to Love (along with other themes). The presentation is excellent, one poem per page and, if the poem is longer, the layout is nevertheless well considered and easy to read. The thematic content of the selections are given in the content, meaning that if you’re looking for a passage on a particular theme, you will have much more luck finding it. The selection, however, is only a third of Shakespeare on Love.
That said, neither book includes what I find to be the most erotic passage in all of Shakespeare (from the first Act of The Two Noble Kinsmen), so I’ll include it here. The queen has just come to importune Theseus, but Theseus is newly married is preoccupied – namely, with the thought of making love to his new wife. The queen knows full well that when his wife “her twinning cherries” lets fall upon his “tasteful lips”, there will be no other thought but that.
We come unseasonably: But when could grief
Cull forth, as unpanged judgement can, fit’st time
For best solicitation.
·····················Why, good Ladies,
This is a service, whereto I am going,
Greater then any was; it more imports me
Then all the actions that I have foregone,
Or futurely can cope.
·····················The more proclaiming
Our suit shall be neglected: when her Armes
Able to lock Jove from a Synod, shall
By warranting moonlight corslet thee, oh, when
Her twinning cherries shall their sweetness fall
Upon thy tasteful lips, what wilt thou thinke
Of rotten Kings or blubbered Queenes, what care
For what thou feel’st not? What thou feel’st being able
To make Mars spurn his Drum. O, if thou couch
But one night with her, every hour in’t will
Take hostage of thee for a hundred, and
Thou shalt remember nothing more than what
That banquet bids thee too.
Since most everyone is familiar with Shakespeare, you will undoubtedly have your own opinions as to the erotic quality of his poetry, so I’ll limit myself to rating the essentials.
Look & Feel ♥
Shakespeare’s Most Outrageous Sexual Puns
It doesn’t call itself an anthology, but it almost is. You will find 23 selections of Shakepeare’s filthy erotic humor. If you remember my review of Everyman’s Erotic Poems (above), this is the book that would make Peter Washington’s mouth irretrievably pinched. In fact, the book is controversial, but only among scholars unfamiliar with the extensive repertoire of sexual puns available to the Elizabethans – unmatched, as far as I know – by any other language or culture. The poets of Velvet Heat have nothing on Shakespeare.
The reason the book limits itself to 23 selections is that, for each selection, Pauline Kiernan, the editor, provides: a brief introduction; the passage by Shakespeare; a translation into modern (and dirty) English; then a gloss of all the words in the passage and their hidden erotic connotations. This book is fun to read and the layout of each page is Cadillac with red and black font. Good stuff.
This is as close as you will get to an Erotic selection of poetry by Shakespeare.
- The Book No illustrations. Good Paper. Beautifully laid out and organized.
- Comparisons This is in a class of its own.
- You and your Lover If you and yours likes Shakespeare, there’s potential.
- Embarrassment It’s Shakespeare, but it’s filthy, but it’s Shakespeare, but it’s filth, but it’s Shakespeare…
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
The Erotic Spirit
An Anthology of Poems of Sensuality, Love, and Longing
The book compares favorably, as a companion, to The Best American Erotic Poems (since, like that book, it’s focus is as an anthology). But it also makes a good companion to to Passionate Hearts. The Erotic Spirit is distinguished is in its liberal selection from a variety of cultures and times: British, Chinese, Persian Japanese, Roman, Ancient Greek, Muslim, Spanish, Central American, male and female poets, etc… If you want a little eroticism from every era and culture, then you can’t do better than this book.
Are the poems more or less erotic? They all have to do with sex, love, beauty and eroticism but only a handful are explicit in their celebration of sex. Given the far ranging reach of this collection, you will find a more spiritual appreciation of sex, love and eroticism. This is the best kind of book to read before you go to sleep at night. Whatever poem you read will leave you with a warm glow – both in body and mind; hence the title The Erotic Spirit.
The poems are one to a page, easy to read and well presented. The back matter includes brief biographies on all the poets but, and there’s almost always a but, you won’t find any index, not one; so good luck finding that poem you liked. On the upside, the poems are arranged chronologically (which I’ve always enjoyed) and the content page lists them all by title. As a sample, here is a poem by Su Tung-P’o, easily my favorite Chinese poet, both as a poet and human being:
Remembering My Wife
Ten years ago you died.
And my life ceased.
Even when I don’t think of you,
I grieve. And with your grave
a thousand miles away,
there is no place for me
to give my grief a voice.
You wouldn’t know me
if you saw me now,
me with snowy hair
and a dusty face.
I dreamed myself home
last night, and saw you
through a window
combing out your hair,
When you saw me,
we were speechless
till we burst into silent tears.
Year after year,
I recall that moonlit night
we spent alone together
among hills of stunted pine.
- The Book No illustrations. Good Paper. One poem per page. No index.
- Comparisons This book, in a way, is the counterpart to The Best American Erotic Poems in the sense that it’s poems are drawn from wide ranging cultures. It might also be companioned with Passionate Hearts in the sense that it’s poems are drawn from wide ranging times, as opposed to Passionate Hearts, focused on 20th century and contemporary poets.
- In Translation Antiquities, classic and contemporary.
- You and your Lover The perfect gift: not too profane, not too sacred. Just right.
- Embarrassment The title says your above mere titillation. Sex and love is spiritual. You can’t lose.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
No Bliss Like This
Five Centuries of Love Poems by Women
So I remember being excited to find this book but also mildly disappointed. The compiler, Jill Hollis, writes at the outset that she “restricted [her] selection to poems written originally in the English language”. This makes for some tough picking. English women’s poetry during the 19th century is, for the most part, archly formal, precious and amateurish. (The miracle that is the genius of Emily Dickinson can’t be overstated.) Elizabeth Barret Browning stands out and so does Christina Rossetti, though Rossetti ended her days as a puckered prude fussily writing Christian allegories.
Hollis does her best, but her tastes run toward the literary. Prior to the 19th century, so long as women weren’t confined to writing pious screeds, the poetry gets more interesting and less precious.
To My Heavenly Charmer
Martha Sansom (1690-1736)
My poor expecting Heart beats for thy Breast,
In ever’y Pulse, and will not let me rest;
A thousand dear Desires are waking there,
Whose Softness will not a Description bear,
Oh! let me pour them to thy lovely Eyes,
And catch their tender Meanings as they rise.
My ev’ry Feature with my Passion glows
In ev’ry Thought and Look it overlows.
Too noble and too strong for all Disguise,
It rushes from my Love-discov’ring Eyes.
Nor Rules not Reason can my Love restrain;
Its godlike Tide runs high in ev’ry Vein,
To the whole World my Tenderness be known,
What is the World to her, who lives for thee alone.
The sonnet reminds me of Anne Bradstreet’s poetry (though Bradstreet was the better poet). The trick is to see beyond the verse. Hollis seems to suggest as much. She writes that “some of the delight I had… derived from recognizing startlingly similar feelings or opinions about love being expressed by women writing hundreds of years apart…” That said, she states that she “did not want to use a strictly thematic arrangement” but produced “a sequence or mixture in which the poems can… be read entirely independently of one another, but with informal clusters or pairs of poems where their mood or subject matter seemed complimentary.” Unfortunately, with so little guidance, the poems will feel utterly arbitrary to the casual reader.
There are also contemporary free verse poems but even these, somehow, feel formal. Hollis’s literary bent means you won’t find much poetry that celebrates “bodily love” – the kind Dante Gabriel Rossetti was writing and that so vexed his pious sister, Christina Rossetti. Most of the women, in this book at least, seem to keep sex at arm’s length (if not love and romance too.) Part of that is playful though. Up until the 20th century women were writing in a genre dominated and defined by men. You will read a fair amount of poems that are impish and delight in bursting the pretensions of the men and their genre. Taken in that sense, this can be fun to read. I’m torn. I wish the collection were more defined. I’m still not sure what bliss the title is referring to.
- The Book No illustrations. Decent Paper. One poem per page but who picked the lifeless font? – think Arial. The layout of the poems, all pushed to the top of the page with blockish titles, feels amateurish. Without any kind of thematic structure, the collection has that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel to it.
- Comparisons I tried searching for Erotic Poetry by women. Curiously, all the other books I came up with were lesbian themed. Sic Itur. Draw your own conclusions.
- In Translation None.
- You and your Lover Probably not.
- Embarrassment None. If you’re a guy, serious bonus points for reading poetry by women.
Look & Feel ♥♥
Zen Poems of Ikkyu
I can’t think of a single poet, from any culture or era, who so joyfully and unabashedly celebrated sex. (No, that’s a lie. There’s Ovid. I’ll talk about him later.) Ikkyu is a breathe of fresh air. He was Japanese. He was a revered and famous Zen master in his own day. He was an eccentric and he seems to have taken a child-like joy, at least when writing, in life and living.
Exhausted with gay pleasures, I embrace my wife.
The narrow path of aestheticism is not for me;
My mind runs in the opposite directions.
It is easy to be glib about Zen—I’ll just keep my mouth shut
And rely on love play all the day long.
The poems are intermittently broken up by Ikkyu’s drawings, including one little vignette that includes skeletons having sex. Other than that, the illustrations aren’t erotic. In the first two thirds the illustrations seem like the standard Japanese fair (to my untrained eye) while in the latter third, things get interesting – skeletons cavort. Also, not all of Ikkyu’s poems are erotic or sexual, though they still, in my opinion, speak with a refreshing clarity that is hardly typical of “Zen Poetry”.
Every day, priests minutely examine the Dharma
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
······and rain, the snow and moon.
But it’s his happy-go-lucky zest for sex that makes him truly irresistible.
By river or sea, in the mountains,
A man of the Way shuns fame and fortune,
Night after night, we two lovebirds snuggle on
······the meditation platform,
Lost in dalliance, intimate talk, and orgasmic
- The Book Black and white illustrations. Good Paper. One poem per page, easy to read and enjoy. Nice font.
- Comparisons This book compares with Crow with No Mouth (reviewed immediately below). Where Shambhala’s selection of Ikkyu’s poems are of the slightly more refined and poetic kind, Crow with No Mouth offers up Ikkyu in all his scandalous glory.
- In Translation Punctuation and line breaks added for the English speaking reader.
- You and your Lover Is your guy or girl into Yoga, Zen, Meditation? Need I say more?
- Embarrassment When your relatives pick up the book and begin reading, that’s when you fain complete innocence.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Crow with No Mouth
Ikkyu Fifteenth Century Zen Master
Where Shambhala chooses to translate Ikkyu’s more philosophical and poetic poems (and more poetically), Stephen Berg, the translator of Crow with No Mouth, gives you unvarnished Ikkyu. Ikkyu scandalized the Zen community in his own day (while also being revered); and if you wondered why, having read Shambhala’s edition, then this book will clear up any confusion.
all koans just lead you on
but not the delicious pussy of the young girls I go down on
I remember one quiet afternoon she fished out my cock
bent over played with it in her mouth for at least an hour
once while she was cooking I kneeled put my head between
······her warm dark legs
up her skirt kissed and licked and sucked her until she came
By no means all of Ikkyu’s poems are about sex. In fact, most of them are not.
nobody told the flowers to come up nobody
will ask them to leave when spring’s gone
poetry’s ridiculous write it feel proud
strut look in the mirror believe you know
One thing to note about Berg’s translations: they omit punctuation and that, likely, reflects the originals. Berg’s translations can feel raw, literal and unfinished; and that probably makes them much more faithful than Shambhala’s. Some readers, however, might wish he had tried to capture the poetic spirit of the originals rather than as literal, word for word, statements. (The art of translation is not only in the meaning of the words.)
only one koan matters
- The Book No illustrations. Good Paper. Four poems per page, easy to read but the font is graceless.
- Comparisons This book compares with Wild Ways (reviewed immediately above). Whereas Shambhala’s selection of Ikkyu’s poems are of the slightly more refined and poetic kind, Crow with No Mouth offers a more raw and literal rendition.
- In Translation The lack of punctuation can be confusing at first.
- You and your Lover Don’t just read them, experience them.
- Embarrassment The perfect book to read on the bus—nobody will have a clue.
(Ranking the quality of the poetry also means ranking the quality of the translation.)
Look & Feel ♥♥
Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama
This can be a hard to find book.
The Dalai Lama, to Tibetan Buddhists, is roughly equivalent to the pope. They are both the spiritual leaders of their respective religions, but what a difference. The book begins with a biography of the sixth Dalia Lama, and nothing I write in so short a space will do justice to the intrigues of his brief life. In short, he refused to take his monk’s vows.
Tsangyang Gyatso loved wine, women, song and the life of a layman. Unfortunately, not only was he the titular leader of Tebetan Buddhists (whether he desired that role or not), he was also a political figure (hence the Chinese government’s continued paranoia). Gyatso’s refusal to assume his duties as a monk created extreme political instability that led to war among rival factions and, eventually, the Sixth Dalai Lama’s murder. Reading Gyatso’s life will flatly put to rest the naive view, common in the West, that the institution of Tibetan Buddhism was wholly benign.
Gyatso was a plain and austere man who rejected pomp and circumstance. He was approachable and well-loved by the people of Tibet. In the end, the leaders of the political factions who murdered Gyatso were themselves killed. Many legends surround Gyatso. One of them is that the Fifth Dalai Lama, before his death, instructed that his reincarnation, the Sixth Dalai Lama, “should be allowed full freedom to behave as he desired, without any objections or obstruction”. The Fifth Dalai Lama’s prescription was not followed and the result, some say, changed the course of Tibet’s history and led, among other things, to the Chinese invasion.
I think it was Cervantes who once wrote that reading a work in translation was like looking at the backside of a Persian carpet. This applies to the songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama. The author notes that “Tsangyang was the first Dalai Lama to write lyrical verses and popularize lyric poetry in Tibet. ¶ Written in simple, clear and expressive language, the verses were restrained in tone and economic and accurate in their use of epithets and similes. Almost shorn of literary devices, the verses nonetheless excel in their rare description of the basic human emotions… Though these verses have been widely referred to as erotic love songs, and since their creation have been sung in every part of Tibet at festivals and other social occasions, not all the songs are inspired by love or eroticism.” Whatever their beauties in the original language, we must imagine them when reading them in English. Don’t read these expecting to be Wow’d. Read Gyatso’s life and try, in some small way, to imagine that far away time and place and the magic of his songs in their own language.
Even the stars in the sky
Can be measured by astrology.
Her body can be caressed,
But not so fathomed
Her deep inner longing.
- The Book The book prints the songs in their original language and script on the left, translations on the right.
The Poetry of Sexual Pleasure
When it comes to erotic poetry, this is another collection that gets it right.
The book is split into five parts: anticipation & desire; self-awareness & discovery; admiration & appreciation; union and ecstacy; afterglow & remembrance. This may sound similar to passionate hearts (see above), but each chapter of intimate kisses is a nice progression through attraction, consummation and, as the title says, afterglow. Of all the anthologies currently available, intimate kisses is the easiest in which to find a poem that matches the mood.
This is a book of poems about sex from beginning to end. It’s not chronological. It’s not about ancillary issues. The poems are about sex. The chapters are about sex. But here’s the difference from a collection like Velvet Heat, Wendy Maltz, the editor, has an eye for figurative language and imagery. She doesn’t go for the poems that are explicit. She likes the poems that are poetry – where the poets have traded the explicit, mostly, for the suggestive and the inventive.
…jamming with you as the sky turns red
then dark to black and then the moon—
be great to get you in a feather bed
your cultured lips could wake the dead
the wetted reed beneath your tongue
fifties jazz running through my head
the familiar tune worn, smoothed and ragged
the sweet high wail that turns to moan
be great to fuck you in a feather bed
fifties jazz running through my head ~ charles rossiter
Anybody who has followed my blog knows that I detest villanelles, but this one is cool. Matlz even find this little gem from Elizabeth Barret Browning’s blank verse novel: Aurora Leigh:
…I flung closer to his breast,
As sword that, after battle, flings to sheath;
And, in that hurtle of united souls,
The mystic motions which in common moods
Are shut beyond our sense, broke in on us,
And, as we sate, we felt the old earth spin,
And all the starry turbulence of worlds
Swing round us in their audient circles…
With a handful of exceptions though, the poems are mostly contemporary, which makes the more universal Erotic Spirit a good companion. There are a handful of transations, a Roman poem and Octavio Paz among them. (As a side note, one thing I’ve noticed in perusing all these books, is just how many erotic poems Sharon Olds has written – and they’re all good. At least one or two of her poems appear in every contemporary collection. She writes: …we could have him there, the steep forbidden/buttocks, backs of the knees, the cock/in our mouth, ah the cock in our mouth… from Best American Erotic Poems )
- The Book No illustrations. Good Paper. One poem per page.Easy to read. Nicely laid out. No indexes.
- Comparisons This book compares companionably with Erotic Spirit, Best American Erotic Poems, and Passionate Hearts. Buy these four books and you’ve got it covered.
- In Translation A handful.
- You and your Lover This the book that goes to bed with both of you.
- Embarrassment Leave this on the coffee table and you get what you deserve.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Art & Love
The emphasis is just what it says, Art and Love Poetry. Erotic poems are mixed in but the emphasis is not on sex, but love, being in love, and passion.
There are, on average, one to two poems per page and they are beautifully arranged with accompanying paintings, over a 160 pages worth. The chapter headings are: My-ness; Oath of Friendship; Go, Lovely Rose; Let me Count the Ways; The Mess of Love; Yesterday He Still Looked in My Eyes; The Marriage of True Minds; and Give All to Love.
It’s an eclectic collection of paintings and poetry from different eras and cultures, including contemporary. I can’t think of a single reason not to recommend it except, perhaps, if you’re looking for an anthology with even a smidgeon of sexual emphasis. The focus is on love, not eroticism (if that is understood as sex).
Take off your clothes, love,
And come to me.
Soon will the sun be breaking
Over yon sea.
And all of our hairs be white, love,
For aught we do
And all our nights be one, love,
For all we know.
~ Robert Creeley
You can sit with this book, dip in and out, flip back and forth, and be warm as a wood stove without the wood stove.
SOMEWHERE I HAVE NEVER TRAVELLED
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose… ~ e.e. Cummings
- The Book Beautiful color illustrations. Good Paper. One or two poems per page.Easy to read. Beautifully laid out. Fully indexed – Artists & Poets.
- Comparisons This book compares favorably and companionably withThe Lover’s Companion (see below), but is much more extensive in its selection.
- In Translation Probably the most extensive and varied (Russian, Antiquity, Chinese, Japanese, Central American, Spanish, French, etc…) of any of the books so far reviewed.
- You and your Lover This book can go anywhere you and your lover go.
- Embarrassment Are you kidding? This is the book you want everybody to see – class, culture, intelligence, art and poetry… It’s all there.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
The Lover’s Companion
Art and Poetry of Desire
You will find erotic art alongside erotic poetry – almost 160 pages worth. Generally, the erotic art is featured on one page while the accompanying poem is on the facing page. The book is divided into chapters: Awareness; My Body; Your Body; Our Bodies; Nobody’s Perfect; Why Fight It?; One-Night Stands; You’re not With Me; and Enduring Love.
Each work of art and poem is accompanied by commentary and, in case the commentator ( Dr. Ruth Westheimer) doesn’t tip you off, this anthology has a purpose. The back cover explains the general idea:
With a keen eye and her trademark titillating humor, Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer explores how art and verse can enhance desire in this lush literary aphrodisiac. The selections, compiled by editor Charles Sullivan, couple great works of art and poetry throughout the ages and from around the world.
Don’t expect scholarship from the good Dr. That’s not what she’s about. The art and paintings give her a springboard to dispense whatever advice relates to the chapter at hand. Either you like Westheimer or you don’t, but it’s hard for me to see what’s not to like. You can skip every single one of her asides and still enjoy the poetry and art.
Calling the poems erotic comes with a qualification: The poems tend toward the classical and literary rather than explicit, though there’s a little of that too. The art also shows some restraint, but the collection nevertheless includes a beauty from Japan (yeah… you know the kind I mean) and the explicit Couple by Picasso. In general, if there is explicitness, the art is more so than the poetry, but there’s a little of everything having to do with love, sex and relationship. The focus isn’t sex, per se, but everything having to do with sex.
The penis is an appendage
No mind of its own
It moves when beckoned,
The spirit goes as far out
As it goes in.
Do not blame the penis
For the man.
- The Book Beautiful color illustrations. Good Paper. Poem and art are on facing pages.Easy to read. Beautifully laid out. Index of Artists and Poets, by name, only.
- Comparisons This book compares favorably and companionably with Art & Love (see above), but is much more limited in scope.
- In Translation A variety.
- You and your Lover This book can go anywhere you and your lover go.
- Embarrassment The Art? The Poetry? Or Dr. Ruth Westheimer?
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
Ovid in Love
In my review of Ikkyu, I initially wrote that he was the most uninhibited poet of any culture or era that I knew. Then I corrected myself. The Roman poet Ovid (who seems to have been Shakespeare’s favorite poet by the way) was exiled from Rome, in part, because of his salacious poetry.
Many readers only know Ovid through the Metamorphosis, but he also wrote the Amores, The Art of Love, and On Facial Treatment for Ladies (it’s not what you think). The Amores are filled with lust, sex, explicitness, self-deprecating humor, rape, cheating, etc… This is the Rome you’ve all heard about; the culture painted on the walls of Pompeii. The particular book I’ve chosen to review is of a modern translation by Guy Lee, but Ovid also seems to have been a favorite poet of the Elizabethan era’s other great genius, Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe translated more than a few of Ovid’s Amores and they are masterpieces of Iambic Pentameter (if not of translation). More on that in a moment.
Lee’s translation of the Amores is complete (Marlowe’s isn’t). Lee’s translation is also accompanied by some of the most erotic and sexiest illustrations of any of the books reviewed. Just look at the cover.
The only issue I have is a perennial one with me. I don’t like free verse translations of traditional poetry. If one is going to translate a work, then do it right. Translate the form as well as the meaning. Nobody prior to the 20th century wrote true free verse. Lee’s verse, to me, just feels too prosy and lazy, lacking that extra zing that meter can give. Ovid wrote his own verse in Elegaic Couplets using quantitative meter. But my own preferences are definitely not shared by everyone, so here are just a couple of options. You can decide for yourself which you prefer.
- First from the opening lines of the Amores:
Ovid in Love Farewell to Epic ~ Guy Lee Translating
My epic was under construction — wars and armed violence
in the grand manner, with metre matching theme.
I had written the second hexameter when Cupid grinned
and calmly removed one of its feet.
‘You young savage’ I protested ‘poetry’s none of your business.
Arms, warfare, violence — I was winding up to produce a
·····Regular epic, with verse-form to match —
Hexameters, naturally. But Cupid (they say) with a snicker
·····Lopped off one foot from each alternate line.
‘Nasty young brat,’ I told him, ‘who made you Inspector of Metres?
I’d meant in solemn metre to rehearse
A tale of arms and war and violence,
Matching the weighty matter with my verse,
All ines alike in length — no difference;
···But Cupid laughed (they say)
···And filched one foot away.
Cruel boy, who made you judge of poetry? (…)
With Muse prepared I meant to sing of arms,
Choosing a subject fit for fierce alarms.
Both verses were alike till Love (men say)
Began to smile and took one foot away.
Rash boy, who gave thee power to change the line?
- Another comparison from one of Ovid’s best known Elegies:
Ovid in Love Impotent ~ Guy Lee Translating
No, I must face facts:
she was lovely — she was glamorous — I was mad about her.
But there I lay, with this girl in my arms, and nothing happened.
The position was absurd.
I wanted it badly enough, and so did she —
but could I rise to the occasion?
Ivory-smooth her arms embraced me–
whiter than snow in sunshine.
Thigh to thigh she kissed me–
deep kisses, alive with desire —
whispered temptation, called me lord and master,
ran through the erotic rosary.
But my body was paralyzed
as though I had drunk hemlock…
Ovid: The Erotic Poems Book 3, Seventh Elegy ~ Peter Green Translating
I can’t fault the girl on looks, or style, or sophistication —
·····And I’d tried for her often enough. But
There we lay, in bed, embracing, and all to no purpose:
·····I was limp, disgusting, dead.
Heaven knows I wanted it badly, and so did my partner,
·····But still I failed to measure up.
She tried every trick — wound her arms (whiter than snow or
·····Ivory) around me, pressed
Her thighs up snug under mine, plied me with sexy kisses,
·····Tongue exploring like mad,
Whispered endearments, called me her master, tried me
·····With nice four-letter words — they often help.
No good. My member hung slack, as though frozen by hemlock…
Ovid: The Love Poems Book 3, Seventh Elegy ~ A.D. Melville Translating
[Interestingly, Melville modifies Marlowe’s translations, but elsewhere Melville is the most “classical” of the translators and, after Marlowe, the one I like.]
Yes, she was beautiful and well turned out,
The girl that I’d so often dreamed about,
Yet I lay with her limp as if I loved not,
A shameful burden on the bed that moved not.
Though both of us were sure of our intent,
Yet could I not cast anchor where I meant.
She round my neck her ivory arms did throw,
Her arms far whiter than the Scythian snow,
And eagerly she kissed me with her tongue,
And under mine her wanton thigh she flung.
Yes, and she soothed me up, and called me sire,
And used all speech that might provoke and stir.
Yet like as if cold hemlock I had drunk,
It humbled me, hung down the head, and sunk.
Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Poems
Either she was foul, or her attire was bad,
Or she was not the wench I wished t’have had,
Idle I lay with her, as if I loved not,
And like a burden grieved the bed that moved not.
Though both of us performed our true intent,
Yet could I not cast anchor where I meant.
She on my neck her ivory arms did throw,
Her arms far whiter than the Scythian snow,
And eagerly she kissed me with her tongue,
And under mine her wanton thigh she flung.
Yea, and soothed me up, and called me ‘Sir’,
And used all speech that might provoke and stir.
Yet like as if cold hemlock I had drunk,
It mockèd me, hung down the head, and sunk.
OK, this book is in a class of its own.
It’s old. It’s out of print (printed in 1931). But if you’re the collector of erotic poetry, and you’re worried that there’s an erotic poem you don’t know about (prior to 1931) then this is your book. This is the alpha and omega of erotic poetry. This really is everything but the kitchen sink; and, yes, yours truly owns it.
My edition is beautiful. The pages have the torn edges that give books that quality, hand-built heft. You can feel the printing with your eyes closed. This tome, nay, this Bible of erotic mischief, is all of 770 pages – songs, ditties, sonnets, elegies, heroic couplets, blank verse… there’s no end. No illustrations. No indexes. But this book is what it is.
Are all the poems masterpieces? No. Some of them are doggerel, but they’re good doggerel.
A Puritan (1661)
A Puritan of late,
And eke a holy Sister,
A Catechizing sate,
And fain he would have kist her
···For his Mate.
But she a Babe of grace,
A Child of reformation
Thought kissing a disgrace,
A Limb of profanation
···In that place.
He swore by yea or nay
He would have no denial,
The spirit would it so,
She should endure a trial
···Ere she go.
Why swear you so, quoth she?
Indeed, my holy Brother,
You might have forsworn be
Had it been to another
···Not to me.
He laid her on the ground,
His Spirits fell a ferking,
Her Zeal was in a sound,
He edified her Merkin
And when their leave they took,
And parted were asunder
My muse did then awake,
And I turn’d Ballad-monger
···For their sake.
Have you ever satisfied her Merkin upside down? If you’re an erotic poetry enthusiast, then your only embarrassment is in not owning this book.
The Way of Making Love
But it does nicely intermix, through extracts and otherwise, much erotic poetry (including the Sixth Dalai Lama and Ikkyu), and some of the most erotic and explicit illustrations of any of the books reviewed – the beautiful Japanese illustrations of intercourse.
One chapter is entitled the way of entering, and offers an introductory poem by Ikkyu:
whispering all night even at sixty
I’m hard in her again and again
Think of the book as a sort of Zen manual on sex using Ikkyu as its touchstone. To me, it’s the most enjoyable blending of poetry, sex, philosophy and art that I know.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
- And that’s the whole pile of books, but more are sure to come.
- The following four books were added January 1, 2012
Love Haiku: Japanese Poems of Yearning, Passion, and Remembrance
Back when I wrote my post on Erotic Haiku, I probably could have included this little book. The book is about 5½ by 6½ inches. However, whereas the other books are out and out erotic, the emphasis of Love Haiku is more suggestive and, as the subtitle says, concerned with “Yearning, Passion, and Remembrance”. You will find some erotic haiku, but they are not representative of the whole.
The lion’s share of these haiku come from the early 20th century.
Before Basho’s profound transformation of haiku, they ranged from mostly playful games of wit to, in some ways, the Japanese version of the dirty limerick. Afterward, eroticism subject matter seems to have been considered unworthy of the form. Among male poets, sex seems to have remained gist for crass humor. One does, for instance, find some sexually suggestive haiku by Basho, but they’re more like punning jokes – as though he were embarrassed to be writing them. The editors include three of his haiku, and not the crass ones. I’m not sure any of the three could really be considered erotic or even passionate, but what’s a haiku anthology without Basho? The better erotic haiku poets were the women, who had the advantage of an accepted tradition in the frequently erotic and passionately suggestive Tanka. Perhaps women felt freer to express an erotic sensibility in haiku? At any rate, Chiyo-ni, Basho’s near contemporary, born 9 years after Basho’s death, is in my opinion the better erotic poet.
the body arches
at its rainbow peak —
Jushin (Shigenoru) Takayanagi
when a woman’s skin
The Chinese and Japanese poetic sensibility is far removed from those of the west until, perhaps, recent times. Readers of this book will probably already have an interest in Japanese literature. If you enjoy haiku, then you will probably find this to be a beautiful selection.
- The Book Glossy paper. One poem per page. Nicely presented. Brief biographies of the poets and an index of authors. Intermittent full page illustrations, not erotic, dividing the chapters: Yearning, Passion, Remembrance.
- Comparisons This book makes a nice companion to Love Poems from the Japanese. Where Love Poems is focused on Tanka, Love Haiku offers a taste of Japan’s erotic sensibility in Haiku.
- You and your Lover If you’re lucky enough to have a lover who shares your taste for haiku, then this is the book to share.
- Embarrassment Only if your date shows up with Velvet Heat.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
Four Centuries of Great Love Poems
So, being that Borders is extinct, consider it out of print. It’s already listed as a collector’s item at Amazon, but you can buy 37 of them for a penny. And you know what? For a book that was published, probably, just to have some skin in the game, it’s good. This one is a sleeper. For a penny, you can’t go wrong.
Think of it, at 203 pages, as a much miniaturized version Poetica Erotica (see above). The book, curated by Debra Starr, offers a rich selection love poems from the 16th through the 19th centuries. You won’t find 20th century poems, but there are already excellent anthologies for that: The Best American Erotic Poems and Passionate Hearts.
As a general anthology of love poems, as opposed to erotic poems, this little anthology can’t be beat. The most direct comparison is probably with The Faber Book of Love Poems and the Treasury of Favorite Love Poems. All three of these books are general anthologies of love poetry. Unlike Faber’s Book of Love Poems, Four Centuries offers one poem per page. The chapters are bite size and the poems are well presented and easily read. The chapters are: Come Live With Me and Be My Love; Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?; No Platonic Love; My Love is Like to Ice, and I to Fire; Farewell Love; Remember When I Am Gone Away; My True Love hath My Heart; The Definition of Love. Since these are all pre-20th century poems, you won’t find anything very explicit. The closest you will come to truly erotic poetry is in the chapter No Platonic Love.
The book makes a good companion to Treasury of Favorite Love Poems in that Four Centuries hews to the more familiar poems you’ve probably heard here and there while Treasury’s collection is more eclectic. Four Centuries is also fully indexed while Treasury is lacking.
- The Book Good paper. No Illustrations. Index of Authors, First Lines and very brief, two line biographies of the poets
- Comparisons Compares to The Faber Book of Love Poems and the Treasury of Favorite Love Poems. The book to buy if you just want a collection of the “famous” poems.
- In Translation None.
- You and your Lover This is a great book if you’re looking for poems to memorize. It’s filled with all the famous chestnuts. Begin with Ben Jonson’s Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.
- Embarrassment Too classy to be embarrassing.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥
A Book of Love Poetry
This is another general anthology that comes in at 372 pages. It compares directly to the Faber Book of Love Poems and is marginally easier to handle for being slightly larger (in terms of physical dimensions); but not much. Like Faber, the poems are packed in without regard to placement or poem length.
Whereas The Faber Book of Love Poems focuses on British poetry all the way up to the 19th century, A Book of Love Poetry is far more wide ranging. The editor, Stallworthy, dips into the early 20th century, but also dips into the poems of antiquity and poets like Neruda, Li Po, Cavafy (and whoever else he thinks writes a good love poem). This makes the collection, at least to me, feel a little less high brow and canonical/academic than Faber’s collection.
The flaw, as with Faber’s, is that the casual reader can feel like everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown at them. This isn’t the book to buy if you’re looking for an easily referenced book of old chestnuts whose names you can’t quite remember. Four Centuries of Great Love Poems, immediately above, is much better for that.
Get this book if you just want a fairly wide ranging sampling of love poems from different cultures and poets, great and not so great (but interesting), including Queen Elizabeth the 1rst. There are so many poems that it’s hard to classify them as particularly romantic. They are all, directly and tangentially, related to the subject of love. Chapters are: Intimations, Declerations, Persuasions, Celebrations, Aberrations, Separations, Desolations, Reverberations. Of all these chapters, Aberrations is probably the most fun.
- The Book Acidic paper. Stiff. No Illustrations. Excellent Indexes of Authors, Poems, First Lines and Translators.
- Comparisons Compares to The Faber Book of Love Poems, Four Centuries of Great Love Poems and the Treasury of Favorite Love Poems. The book to buy if you just want a wide ranging anthology of love poems from a variety of cultures and poets.
- In Translation A variety of foreign language poems translated and intermixed.
- You and your Lover This isn’t the book, not unless you’ve got a pause button while you leaf through the 372 pages of poetry.
- Embarrassment Yeah. The cover. If friends and relatives have been wondering why you’ve been so distracted, this cover will clear up any confusion.
Look & Feel ♥♥
William Shakespeare on The Art of Love
The Illustrated Edition of the most beautiful Love Passages in Shakespeare’s Plays and Poetry
Everything about this book is “over the top“. The image at left doesn’t do justice to the book in real life. The gold mandala in the middle is glittering gold foil. The red hardcover is cloth and shines with a metallic red sheen. My wife loves it. She wants it out on Valentine’s day.
The pages are glossy on heavy paper and the book itself is big and heavy. The publishers definitely pulled out all the stops.
Unfortunately for the connoisseurs of Shakespeare, of which I am one, the contents of the book don’t live up to the hype of the glossy cloth cover and shining gold mandala. The editor, Michael Best, seems to think that if it’s a sonnet, then it’s a love poem. The first 126 pages are simply yet another reprinting of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. After that, we move on to Venus and Adonis. Up to this point, you might as well have bought yourself the collected poems of Shakespeare, of which there are many and well-annotated. That’s Part One.
Part Two offers extended passages from 13 of his plays. The print is large and easy to read, but I’d hardly call the selection varied. It feels perfunctory. Best, for instance, reprints the entirety of the famous seduction scene from Richard III (wherein Richard seduces Anne, whose husband and father-in-law he has just murdered). I presume that Best is calling that scene one of Shakespeare’s “beautiful love passages”.
The book compares to Shakespeare on Love (see above), but has far less to offer. Whereas Shakespeare on Love has a far more varied selection but in a cheap little book, The Art of Love is all presentation and little substance. If one could just combine the two.
I’m not sure who this book targets. I imagine it’s someone who has a passing familiarity with Shakespeare, who has maybe one or two other poetry books and just wants a little Shakespeare. Anybody with a more thorough interest in Shakespeare will be disappointed. My marks below, as to Art and Look & Feel, are completely subjective.
- The Book Glossy paper. Shiny red cover. Explanatory end notes and index of first lines. Illustrations throughout. A mix of historical reproductions and hallmark-worthy flowers, fields, moons and sunsets.
- Comparisons Compares to Shakespeare on Love.
- You and your Lover Take your date to the play. Skip this book unless you want something for the guests while you’re preparing tea and crumpets.
- Embarrassment It’s just so over the top.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥
- The following two books were added June 15, 2012
In a plain Brown Wrapper by Kristie LeVangie ~ 97 pages
This is the first of two books forwarded to me by the author herself, and that puts me in a charitable mood.
So, let me begin by saying that the cover of Libidacoria is my hands-down favorite. You can read this book anywhere and onlookers will only suspect. Second, this isn’t an anthology. When reviewing Seduction in the 1rst Degree (above) I wrote that I couldn’t think of any other modern poets dedicated to entire books of erotic poetry; and now I’m reviewing another one. According to the book’s back matter, Libidacoria is the first of four.
What you will find: LeVangie’s poems are unlike any by any other erotic poet. They’re fast. If you’ve ever heard performance poetry, or if you’ve been to a poetry jam or if you like hip hop, then the pacing and quick rhymes will remind you of this genre.
A million men,
And I’m lost amidst the sea.
And ultimately delusions.
Her sense of accentual rhythm is present but unstructured (I wouldn’t call her poems metrical). But that along with the rhyming makes her poetry refreshingly unique when compared to the generic and indistinguishable free verse of nearly every other erotic poet I’ve reviewed.
What you won’t find: Subtlety. There’s no showing. It’s all telling. LeVangie holds a degree in Psychology and Sociology and her poems read like it. You won’t find a poem that begins “This wide bed is our cornfield/fallow and blanket-green,/you and I its farmers.” [intimate kisses p. 137] There is very little imagery, metaphor, tactile sensuality, and no figurative language. She is not reassuringly spiritual and sometimes almost seems embarrassed lest she be caught being sentimental or romantic. If you expect this kind of poetry, you will be disappointed. She lays it out, plain as day, with an accentual rhythm and a sharp rhyme. Since, to me, suggestiveness is the heart of erotica, the absence makes LeVangie’s poems oddly “un-erotic”. Her website, libidacoria.com, calls itself the place for sexual intellectuals and her poetry lives up to that sobriquet. It isn’t so much erotic as sexually intellectual, not always meant to arouse or “celebrate” (though there’s that too) but to record a woman’s inner, sexual life: positive and negative, raw and humorous, confiding and self-analyzing. I think this book may connect to readers who have also experienced the positives and negatives of lust, addiction, temptation, satisfaction and regret (and who value an honest confidant). These are serious books.
I want you.
Your gorgeous mind
If the mood
Or lure me
If it suits you
To be surprised.
To be entered.
I want you
That it dictates
I want you
To want me.
How much simpler
Could it be?
- The Book No illustrations or art. Good off-white paper. Good type. Nicely presented. Good quality. No table of contents or index.
- Comparisons Compares to Seduction in the 1rst Degree by Lisa Marie Canfield, reviewed above and also by an individual poet. The differences between the two books couldn’t be more stark. Where Canfield can read like a gushing teenager in monogamous and fulfilled love with her husband, Libidacoria is the poetry of a woman in love with sex, in all its fetishistic glory, who sometimes picks the right man and sometimes doesn’t.
- You and your Lover Forget your lover. Your relationship will be with LeVangie.
- Embarrassment But it’s intellectual!
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
This is LeVangie’s second book (in the proposed four book series). This book was sent with Libidacoria, and I’m glad to have it. Reviewing this book gives me a little extra room to talk about the poetry (since that’s where my own interests reside). Bur first, 4play, unlike Libidacoria, comes with a preface by Katrina “Saxie” Buckley, co-host of Libidacoria: The Late Night Talk Show. I thought it would be interesting to offer an extract (to give the reader some sense for the spirit in which LeVangie is writing):
“Gone are the days when men “brought home the bacon”, and women were expected to “fry it up in the pan.” Women are wielding more power, and we are in the midst of gender role transference. The same can be seen in the sex industry[…] ¶ For decades the “sex industry” has been limited to adult stores, clubs, and magazines. I don’t think I over exaggerate when I say much of the industry has catered to the man, even though the woman has proven to be just as much a sexually-driven creature. […] ¶ [In 4play, LeVangie] proves that women think, say, feel, and do “dirty” things. She shows the emotion that at times empowers us, and simultaneously, often makes us victims of ourselves.”
And that’s exactly what you will find in these books, an uncompromising confidant who is unafraid to be embarrassed, to be wrong and be honest.
The poetry shows some development. I find 4play’s poems to be a touch more erotic. They tend to be shorter and more concentrated, less discursive; and I think that’s a good thing — an improvement. Her sense of accentual rhythms is also more controlled, along with her use of rhyme. In Libidacoria, one sometimes gets the sense that the rhyming is a nervous tick or compulsion rather than a necessity, in 4play her rhyming feels more directed and purposeful.
I part my thighs
And give into the tide.
The pulsing wave
That washes over
And strips me of my pride.
Desire and ache
So seeded within,
They wash me into shore—
A place so dry
It leaves me there
Once again, what you won’t find is much in the way of metaphor, figurative language or anything like extended metaphor. The poems are plain, direct and flatly tell rather than show. If you’re looking for poetry with a capital ‘P‘ you will be disappointed. She all too frequently flirts with and employs chlichéd thoughts and phrases and this is true in both books: “all my troubles are laid to bed”; “It’s a place so intimate,/words are never needed”; “There’s magic in that space/Right before we touch”; “He will never return/On a hot, dark night”; “disintegrate into thin air”. LeVangie’s verse can feel filled with pat descriptions and the tired vocabulary of generic erotica: groping, moaning, eyes, night, hot, dark, electric, push, pull, twist, etc… These are the weaknesses in her work. These choices belie a writer who is more concerned with what she says than how she says it. However, she has chosen to write poetry, so the criticism is fair.
Her strength is the refreshing honesty of her writing, compassion and sense of humor. You will find little jokes and parodies along with a playful sense of rhythm and rhyme. For some readers, that will be reason enough to read her.
- The Book No illustrations or art. White paper (I miss the classy off-white of her first book). Good type and readable. Nicely presented. Good quality. No table of contents or index.
- Comparisons Like her previous book, 4play compares to Seduction in the 1rst Degree by Lisa Marie Canfield. See the comparison immediately above for more.
- You and your Lover Read these between-times, when you’re wondering why you even have a lover, or wondering why you don’t.
- Embarrassment Put Libidacoria on top of 4play when the kids are around.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥
- The following two books were added January 12, 2013
Sanskrit Love Poetry
Translated by W.S. Merwin and J. Moussaieff Masson
W.S. Merwin has had a street named after him; has won the Pulitzer Prize, twice; the Tanning Prize (whatever that is – oh wait – the “highest honor bestowed by the Academy of American Poets”; the Golden Wreath of the Struga Poetry Evenings; and was America’s seventeenth Poet Laureate. And if there were a prize for the most overrated poet of the century, Merwin would be a shoo-in for that one too. Merwin’s translations of the Sanskrit poems are as generic and bland as his poetry. They are so bland and uninspired that I’ve coined a new name for the type of verse Merwin writes – “syntactic verse”: verse in which the lines are essentially lineated according to syntactic units. It’s about as dull as one can get.
J. Moussaieff Masson, the one (I assume) who did the actual translating, writes:
“Often a verse endures in the memory because of its musical quality, and no doubt the music of the original Sanskrit will be lost to the reader who does not know the language. But so that the sound of the language is not totally lost, I have kept the transliteral original opposite the verse translation.”
Albeit unintentionally, Moussaieff all but sums up the quality of Merwin’s translations. The music of the original is utterly lost. What remains? Somewhat like The Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama (reviewed above), you will have to take Moussaieff’s words for it: the original poems must possess a linguistic music, like good Shakespeare or Keats, that burnishes the content. As it is (and to paraphrase Miguel de Cervantes) reading the poems in translation is a bit like looking at the backside of a Persian carpet. One gets the sense that there must be an exquisite and subtly erotic poem on the other side, if only we could see it.
Late at night they
her parentswith difficulty persuaded her
to lie down by her lover
the first time
What is going to happen
eyes closed lotus buds
The poems (Merwin’s versions) always appear on the right page. Moussaieff’s useful comments are on the left. They include the Sanskrit original and helpful notes explaining the original’s various allusions. As with nearly all ancient “love” poetry, the eroticism is coy, alluded to, and rarely explicit. If you read these poems, you read them because you enjoy and are open to the unique and suggestive eroticism of a very different aesthetic, time and civilization.
- The Book No illustrations or art. A useful index of first lines — but only if you read and remember Sanskrit. The book has a somewhat textbook-ish feel to it.
- Comparisons Compares to The Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama and, less so, to Love Poems from the Japanese.
- You and your Lover Probably not.
- Embarrassment None. Your interests will be understood as literary, subtle and far-ranging, with a hint of Lotus flower.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥
The Complete Love Poems of May Swenson
As far as I’m concerned, May Swenson’s collection of erotic poems, as a collection, are the best of the 20th century. They are varied, many, and they revel in felicitous imagery, metaphor and association. If you want to know how erotic poems should be written, then you can’t go wrong taking these as a starting point.
Swenson was born in 1913, so don’t expect explicit erotica. Where Lisa Marie Canfield (in her book, Seduction in the 1rst Degree and reviewed above) is contemporary and explicit, Swenson (given the time she was writing) could not be and possibly wouldn’t have wanted to be. Instead, Swenson’s best poems can be powerfully suggestive and symbolic. In this respect, Bleeding is one of Swenson’s best poems. Here’s how it begins:
Stop bleeding··········said the knife.
I would if I··········could said the cut.
Stop bleeding··········you make me messy with this blood
I’m sorry said··········the cut.
The knife did··········not say it couldn’t help it but it sank in further.
If only you··········didn’t bleed said the knife I would have to do this.
I know said··········the cut I bleed too easily I hate that I can’t
help it I··········wish I were a knife like you and didn’t have to bleed.
The eroticism of the poem is as dangerous as the knife, and yet it compels where a more explicit poem probably would not.
Other poems involve role play in the guise of tigers, lions and jaguars. However, as the introduction puts it, the majority are “you-and-I poems”. Many readers agree that the greatest of these is Because I Don’t Know. It begins:
Because I don’t know you, I love you:
warm cheeks, full lips, rich smile,
dark irises that slide to the side,
thick lashes, thick hair, gleaming
teeth and eyes, your hand in greeting
warmer than mine, wider in blue shirt,
rolled sleeves, in dark jeans belted –
I liked your robust shoulders, wide neck and
tipped-up chin. That glow is blood
under skin that’s warm to begin with,
almost dusky, the red showing
through—of health, of youth—but more:
your open, welcome, I-could-hug-you look.
You can read the rest of it here. Many poems may leave you wondering why they’re called love poems (poems like Strawberrying) until the sheer sensuousness and suggestiveness of the imagery manages to turn Strawberrying, itself, into an erotic experience. One of my favorite poems:
Dark Wild Honey
Dark wild honey, the lion’s
eye-color, your brought home
from a country store.
Tastes of the work of shaggy
bees on strong weeds,
their midsummer bloom.
My brain’s electric circuit
glows, like the lion’s iris
that, concentrated, vibrates
while seeming not to move.
Thick transparent amber
you brought home,
the sweet that burns.
- The Book No illustrations or art. Good paper. Easy to read. No index.
- Comparisons Compares to Seduction in the 1rst Degree and, less so, to Libidacoria and 4Play, also collections of erotic poetry by a single poet.
- You and your Lover The book that says to your girl: No, really, I get you.
- Embarrassment Only if she asks you how when you haven’t really read it.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
- The following two books were added January 27, 2013
This is a small book, dimension-wise. It’s about 5 inches by five. The paper stock is heavy and glossy, making the book feel, small but heavy and thick. The end result is a collection just shy of 250 pages, an average of one haiku a page. As with the other books (which follow and those in the review Erotic Haiku) the editor feels compelled to explain why he’s calling the poems erotic “haiku” rather than “senryu”.
This anthology includes some senryu poetry. Most haiku magazines and anthologies in English also publish senryu, a poetic form so similar to haiku that it has become increasingly difficult to set the two apart. Traditionally, Japanese senryu are jocose, anonymous, and proverbial. Nature–a key element in haiku–shifts into the background. What concerns as Japanese or Western senryu is the imperfection of the human condition. the weakness and foibles of human beings; our fears, hopes and shortcomings. No wonder so many of them deal with love…
This is more than academic interest. For me at least, a true erotic haiku has a touch of nature in it. Senryu can be just as erotic, but true erotic haiku are a more demanding poem, I think. That said, the best erotic poems are equally demanding whether they’re senryu or haiku.
from the bedroom window
~ John Shimmin
the curtains breathe in,
~ Kevin Bailey
we sweat on our beds
after each climax
the rain never stops
~ David Cobb
The moon was considered a kigo or season word and was associated with the spring. Rain, in the third sonnet, could be associated with any season except winter. However, since the rain “never stops”, a Japanese reader would probably associate the haiku with the rainy season — usually starting mid-June — the prefect time for a long session of love-making in warm and damp weather. I’m not suggesting these are masterpieces because they’re seasonal, but to me the connection with nature, a season, adds something. That said, there are some very fresh and erotic senryu:
a two-day growth of beard
bristles her nipple…
~ David Cobb
my wife refocuses
~ John Crook
she looks–a bride
with nothing on
senryu / Tr. Makoto Ueda
a room with a view–
in the mirror
Interestingly, the third poem is listed as a senryu within the pages of the book. This is interesting because it’s a translation of a Japanese poem and that suggests that the original poet, himself, probably identified the poem as a senryu; and that suggests that these things matter to the Japanese. The second poem is a senryu in the fullest sense of the word, evoking laughter at a man’s very human foible. In my own opinion, probably the very best erotic haiku in the book is this:
I bring him the garden
in my skirt.
~ Alexis Rotella
This, to me, is an erotic haiku at it’s very best. There are others, on the other hand, that seemed a bit forced and contrived in the sense that the haiku “form” is being treated, mistakenly, as a kind of three line analogy:
During our argument
a pink rose
tightens its petals.
~ Alexis Rotella
the ceiling fan
stirs the air
~ John Crook
In the first, the poet is essentially saying that our relationship (or she herself) is like a pink rose tightening its petals. In the second the poet is saying that their heated discussion is like a ceiling fan that stirs the air. Thinking of haiku (or even senryu) as a specialized form of analogy is a common mistake made by beginning poets, but also the more experienced. The result is never as satisfying. Analogies lack the sense of freshness and surprise typical of the best haiku, which work by drawing together disparate observations or events into a meaningful whole. Way back when, in a post called About Haiku, I put it this way:
“Nearly every haiku is an attempt make us consider ordinary experiences in a poetic and extra-ordinary way (thus, the haiku’s resemblance to the experience of oneness, satori, the sudden and abrupt moment of enlightenment – the Ah-Ha! moment).”
Thus, the reason I like Rotella’s first haiku (above) so much. When she describes bringing her husband the garden “in her skirt”, we experience that Ah-Ha! moment. There is certainly a hidden analogy within the haiku (the ‘sex’ I bring you within my skirt is like a garden in August), but we need not read it that way and it’s not made explicit (as it is in the two later poems).
My opinion? All in all, the book is just okay. There are a few very good erotic senryu and haiku, but the overall impression is strangely sedate and generic. Many of the poems are fairly predictable or aren’t really erotica (or haiku) at all — having less to do with sex than with romance and relationship — disappointment, hope, anticipation, loneliness, togetherness (and all that mush)… Too many of the poems veer dangerously close to Hallmark moments rather than haiku:
the sharing of thoughts
a widening sky
~ Joanna Ashwell
The autumn tempest:
Looking at one another
In the candle-light.
~ Sekito / Tr. R. H. Blyth
The glossy paper doesn’t help. I also have to wonder why half the poems, for no apparent reason, are afflicted with the saccharine and clichéd font of a Harlequin Romance . Do we really need the reminder that we’re supposed to be feeling deep and romantic? The pages include some glossy, coloured Japanese art (some of it suggestively erotic) but most of it beautiful in that generic way that Japanese prints can be beautiful. I recommend this out-of-print book if you can find it inexpensively (presently 1¢ at Amazon). If you really want a good book of erotic haiku and senryu , then buy Erotic Haiku, edited by Hiroaki Sato and reviewed here.
- The Book Glossy paper with color, Japanese patterning in the background. Good type and readable. Nicely, if sentimentally, presented. Index of authors and illustrations.
- Comparisons Compares to Erotic Haiku by Hiraoki Sato. (See immediately above.)
- You and your Lover Okay, maybe when you’ve moved beyond the just-have-to-have-sex stage of your relationship into the who-are-you-really-? stage or the oh-it’s-you-again stage.
- Embarrassment Suggestive but safely neutered.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
Right, so, there’s only one place to begin — the cover. This has to be the most to-the-point covers of any erotic collection anywhere, at anytime, by anyone ever. The cover is white with pink lettering. The pink font is the usual weird cross between the clichéd oriental-brushstroke-look and the smarmy italics associated with “Erotica”. So far, so good. Now to the cover: It’s a white breast with a pink aureole and nipple. The aureole is perfectly round, like the sun of the Japanese flag – pre- and post WWII. But this isn’t enough to drive home the point. The breast is 3-D, pressed, intaglio-like, into the cover. The aureole of the nipple is crinkled (to the touch) and doesn’t so much remind me of arousal as of a polar-bear swim in the Hudson. The nipple itself (because paper can only be so 3-D) looks and feels like it’s been ‘smushed’ under glass. This is beyond tacky. This is a collectible. I will cherish this book if only for the unrivaled “fail” of its cover.
Because the font of sex and romanticism is italics, all the poems are in italics (just in case the mood isn’t obvious enough). The book is also illustrated. The illustrations are a cross between the old, not new but old, Joy of Sex and a monochrome Gustav Klimt. In the center of the book is a full-color, fold-out of a charcoal nude –to the left– and Japanese coition –to the right– (reminiscent of the famous Japanese erotic prints). The centerfold utterly overstates, in keeping with the rest of the book, the obvious connection between ancient Japan (haiku) and a western collection of haiku.
Interestingly, many of the poets who appear in Haiku for Lovers (see immediately above) also appear in Wilmot’s book, along with one or two poems. Wilmot’s book was published in 1983 and Haiku for Lovers in 2003. Apparently Anita Virgil only wrote one good erotic haiku in all those twenty years:
in me still…
~ Anita Virgil
All that said, the erotic quality of Wilmot’s book is much superior to Haiku for Lovers. These really are erotic:
wife’s red fingers,
~ Michael Dudley
falling into dusk
my legs wrapped around him
the moon rises in his eyes
~ Jo-Anne Elder
deep penetration the bedside candle quivers lightly in the moonlit room
~ Eric Amann
the creaking house…
the creaking bed
~ Margaret Saunders
that moment before
~ Alan Gettis
autumn evening after splitting wood his wedge
~ Marlene Wills
My overall opinion? These are all good erotic senryu and haiku. This is a good anthology of erotic haiku, and probably the best you will find after Hiroaki Sato’s anthology of the same name (Sato’s haiku also feel more modern – mentioning nipple rings). The book is about 7 inches by 7 inches and thin. There aren’t that many pages (they’re unnumbered but about 30) and there are, on average, two haiku per page. It’s out of print. It is not worth the $146.87 (used) and $487.58 (new) currently being asked at Amazon. Feel free to let the sellers disperse them in their wills. If you can get this collection for less than $25.00 and you know you love erotica and haiku, then it’s borderline but will be worth it for the collector.
- The Book Thin but good paper. Pink & white. Intermittent erotic illustrations about as close to explicit as you can get without being explicit or “pornographic”. The erotic book cover to end all book covers. I just had to award 6 stars.
- Comparisons Compares favorably to Erotic Haiku by Hiraoki Sato.
- You and your Lover Get this for your lover as a present, but change your mind because it’s just too one-of-a-kind to surrender.
- Embarrassment Pure. Plutonium. Leave this masterpiece on the coffee table when Mom visits and you will enjoy (and be the butt of) hours, if not years, of entertainment.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
So, a member of the Irish Writer’s Union and British Haiku Society, with a Jewish name, writing erotic Japanese haiku, in Gaelic… It’s a small world after all.
Unlike the two books reviewed immediately above, this book is the product of one poet. The book is 95 pages. Each even numbered page has an illustration and each odd page has two haiku – one in English and the same in Gaelic. So, that translates as one three line haiku for every two pages or 128 square inches of real estate. The haiku had better be pretty good for that kind of pretentiousness, and they aren’t. The art of the book cover, though in color, characterizes the black & white illustrations on the even numbered pages. They’re not erotic –or only very faintly and abstractly so– and roughly illustrate each haiku. If not for the poor quality, almost-out-of-ink, laser-printed quality of the illustrations, the abstract artwork could have been appealing (to some) . I personally would have preferred more straightforwardly erotic illustrations.
Rosenstock, from what I can gather, is primarily a haiku poet. To judge by his brief bio at the outset of the book, he ought to know what constitutes haiku, but his grasp of them, least of all “erotic” haiku, is uneven at best:
legs in the air…
any minute now
There might, somehow, be a fetish in there, but I’m not seeing it. Is it a metaphor? Does a lover really want to be compared or associated with a dying fly? Another haiku strikes me as banal:
haste to the wedding
slowly a seagull turns its head
When Rosenstock does decide to live up to the title of his collection, the quality of his haiku doesn’t improve:
mounting you from the rear —
the first crow’s cawing
shatters the grey dawning
i awoke and you were staring at me
the day awoke
slowly you brought your breast to my mouth
buzzing of bees
The first haiku strikes me as formulaic. The second haiku is more word than matter. Do we really need the verb “awoke” twice? I suppose one could argue that he’s playing on two different meanings, but really? The last of the three is just banal. I expect this kind of clichéd double-entendre from a limerick or the kind of senryu that characterized the worst of Japanese poetry before the appearance of Basho, Buson and Issa (though Hiroake Sato evidently saw enough in this latter senryu to include it in his Erotic Haiku anthology.) All in all, Rosenstock’s collection is a disappointment. The haiku are characterized by banality, overstatement and adolescent mediocrity. The book is out-of-print, but if you nevertheless want to try it, I wouldn’t recommend paying more than $5.00 (including shipping). You’re going to feel cheated if you pay more.
- The Book About 7 inches by 7. Paperback. Glossy cover. Good paper. Readable. Poorly reproduced artwork.
- Comparisons Compares poorly to the much better collection of poetry by Jeffrey Winke: coquette: Sensual haiku.
- You and your Lover Not unless your idea of foreplay is explaining why the legs of a dying fly are kinky.
- Embarrassment Having to explain why you find it erotic.
Look & Feel ♥♥
- The following four books were added March 19, 2013
Persian Love Poetry
Like every other collection of translated poems from antiquity, don’t expect much in the way of the erotic (at least not as we understand it post-20th century). The eroticism is always understated and/or subtly suggested. That said, of all the anthologies I’ve read, this collection occasionally comes closest to something like our modern sense of eroticism (call ours garish if you must).
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout – one poem on the left with a facing full page and color illustration on the right. The cover characterizes what you will find inside. There are maybe one or two illustrations that suggest lovers in flagrante dilecto. Not, of course, that I’m so shallow as to look for such things (I read these purely for the poetry). You won’t find anything like the Japanese erotic prints.
The poems themselves are united by their passion — frequently using the language of erotic passion to express ideas that include spiritual longing and attainment, but not all of it:
Last night, from the palm of the love-selling beauty,
··I drank the wine of union until the morning.
Tonight, with a hundred thousand screams and cries,
··I wait — when will there be another night like that?
My usual complaints concerning the choice of free verse applies to this book. We learn, for instance, that the poet Gurgani, in the retelling of Vis and Ramin, claimed to have “improved the love story with rhyme and metre”. Okay, so why translate the poem into free verse? Give the reader something. It doesn’t have to be rhyme but how about meter? A translator who doesn’t make some effort at reproducing the rhyme and meter of a poem only translates half the poem. Apparently, all but the most recent Persian poems were written in rhyme and meter. Nevertheless, the delicate imagery of the originals survive. If you enjoy poetry in translation and from antiquity, then you will enjoy this book. The selection of poetry is rather thin, but the artwork goes some way toward making up for that.
The book reminds us how much the world has lost at the hands of theocratic totalitarianism. They’re an ugly, stupid, close-minded and thuggish bunch who rule Iran.
Around Vis Ramin put his arm
Like a golden necklace around a tall fair cypress.
If they were seen from Paradise
No one would have been more beautiful
The bed full of flowers and precious stones
The pillows full of musk and amber
Lips upon lips, and face turned to face
Playful like a ball in a field
The closeness, holding the beloved,
Turned their two bodies into one –
If rain had fallen on these two fair bodies
A raindrop would not have moistened their chests.
Gurgani, Vis and Ramin
- The Book About 7 inches by 5. 40 color illustrations. 91 pages altogether. Hardcover. Glossy and good paper. Readable. The original Persian and helpful footnotes accompany each poem on the same page. This means you don’t have to go flipping back and forth. Biographical notes but no index.
- Comparisons This book compares well with Love Haiku: Japanese Poems of Yearning, Passion, and Remembrance (see above). Both books are higher end, hardcover, accompanied with illustrations, and printed on glossy paper. Also compares with Haiku for Lovers and Love Poems from the Greek Anthology. They’re all in the same class, a nice mix of poetry, art and erotic art.
- You and your Lover Not if you want to keep things moving along.
- Embarrassment None. Your tastes are refined, mature and multicultural. You’re above garish obviousness of modern culture.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
As far as I’m concerned, Pablo Neruda wrote some of the greatest erotic/love poems of any poet and any language. His way with imagery is unrivalled. They fall like an endless supply of fruit from an equatorial tree. Almost every single poem celebrates an image — simile, metaphor, analogy — that will stop you in your tracks.
Your breasts seem like white snails.
A butterfly of shadow has come to sleep on your belly.
Once you’ve read Neruda, most other poets will seem bland by comparison (and they are).
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!
When other poets are dredging up the usual erotic clichés — electricity, sunsets, fires, bonfires, sparks, seas and oceans, etc., etc, etc. — Neruda writes: “In the moist night my garment of kisses trembles…”
The introduction tells us that this collection was published by Neruda when he was twenty years old, in 1924. We also read that the collection was “instantly, rapturously received” by the public. Compare these poems to what Freytag-Loringhoven (immediately below) was writing at the same time, and Freytag-Loringhoven’s poems feel flippantly silly. The “translations” are by W.S. Merwin. Merwin did the miserably poor “translations” of the Sanskrit love poems (see above) but seems more at home translating Neruda’s free verse originals. As to whether he did the actual translating, or (as I suspect) reworded someone else’s work, is anyone’s guess. Spanish originals are on the left page and English on the right.
All in all, this is one of those collections wherein the poetry is its own best persuader:
My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go s far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
~ Every Day You Play
- The Book A small book, about 6 inches by 4 1/2. The text is accompanied by intermittent illustrations. The illustrations are erotic, black and white and by Picasso. They’re quite good and well-reproduced. The paper is good quality
- Comparisons This book compares well with The Complete Love Poems of May Swenson (see above). Swenson was a woman writing in a less permissive culture and certainly from a very different poetic tradition. The differences between the poets is pronounced, but the similarities can be even more striking.
- You and your Lover Memorize these poems for the full effect. Do it in Spanish and you will have only yourself to blame for what happens next.
- Embarrassment Only that you don’t won it yet.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥
Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
As I was snooping around the bookstore, I stumbled on Body Sweats. The cover would seem to suggest that the contents are deliriously licentious. Looking at the inside flap of the book cover, you will read the following:
“Her delirious verse flabbergasted new Yorkers as much as her flamboyant persona. As a poet, she was profane and playfully obscene, imagining a farting God, and transforming her contemporary Marcel Duchamp into M’ars (my arse). With its ragged edges and atonal rhythms, her poetry echoes the noise of the metropolis itself. her love poetry muses graphically on ejaculation, orgasm, and oral sex. When she tired of existing words, she created new ones: “phalluspistol,” “spinsterlollipop,” “kissambushed.””
So, would this book count as a collection of erotic poetry? In a word: no. Why do I mention it? Because the way the publishers have advertised the book might lead you to think so. I’m sure this titillation is intentional. Is she delirious and flamboyant? For sure. To me, though, her verse is deliriously inconsequential. (Also, compared to what the Victorians were capable of, Freytag-Loringhoven’s verse feels tame.)
The poetry, if it can be called that, sometimes amounts to little more than a scattershot list of words, sounds and associations (admittedly clever at times). We are told that she was the “the first American DaDa” but, for me at least, that didn’t make the poems any better. That said, her verse demonstrates just how unoriginal our modern poets are. She did everything they currently do (and they still somehow consider themselves original).
The pages are glossy and filled with her artwork, pictures and facsimiles of her handwritten poetry. While the printed poems don’t impress me all that much, the facsimiles are often quite interesting and beautiful. Her poems come to life as works of art, rather than works of literature – or so it seems to me. In some ways, she reminds me of William Blake but far more “doodly” and self-indulgent.
Single cosmic miracle –
Unreasnable sensuous omnisciences
Flux-driven jatom –
Watch it by –
Myself – – – –
Maintenance – – –
- The Book About 8 inches by 7. Color illustrations. Hardcover. Glossy and good paper. Readable and well laid out.
- Comparisons Given that this book is only marginally erotic, it’s more of an outlier.
- You and your Lover Not.
- Embarrassment Only when you’re asked who the artist is and what DaDa is. If you can fake your way through that, then this is actually a cool coffee table book. Definitely will provoke discussion.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
one thing leads to another
This last book (for this go around) is a real treat. It’s another collection of erotic haiku/senryu and it features the poets Jeffrey Winke, Wanda D. Cook and Larry Kimmel. I reviewed a collection of Winke’s erotic haiku here. Winke was kind enough to forward me a copy for review.
The first thing to say is that a good collections of erotic haiku/senryu are few and far between. They’re a rarity; they don’t seem to stay in print very long; and they should be snatched up, without hesitation, whenever they appear.
If you’re already familiar with Winke’s haiku/senryu in his collection coquette: Sensual haiku, then you will recognize some of the same poems. Not every haiku is a haiku. Most are really senryu and some of them are more declarative than poetic. Nonetheless, the collection includes some real gems:
after the summer fair
she strips to her
neon glow necklace
turning from the window
her blouse full of sunshine
Each of the poets has their own particular style and flair. Cook’s are more traditional and more in keeping with the spirit of haiku (as opposed to Senryu). Cook is more careful to indicate the season than either Kimmel or Winke. While we don’t have kigo (season words) in English, there are still plenty of ways (associations) by which an English speaking haiku poet can indicate the season. This gives her erotic haiku/senryu a stronger sense of connection to nature.
dog days of summer
sucking all the red
from a popsicle
~ Wanda D. Cook
Jeffrey Winke brings a different and complimentary sensibility to the other two. Winke tends to be more abstract, where Kimmel and Cook are more concrete.
her shadow falls
into my arms
~ Jeffrey Winke
There’s nothing individual or concrete in the senryu above. The very shadow is, well, a shadow. Winke’s eroticism seems to move through a diffuse world of textures, touch and kinesthetic sensation. Winke’s eroticism is more suggestive and suggested than explicit. It’s Kimmel who whose haiku/senryu move beyond something like foreplay.
over the kitchen table
a 60 watt bulb
~ Larry Kimmel
I was very much impressed by Larry Kimmel’s poems – more senryu than haiku (which is not to diminish them one bit). Of the three poets, I find Kimmel’s to be the most erotic. His imagery strikes me as the more visual and concrete. You can find Kimmel’s haiku online, many of them very good and memorable, but his sense of eroticism is where his real originality resides (in my opinion). I’d like to read more by him (and more are available sprinkled among his more traditional haiku). I recommend his website.
- The Book About 6 inches by 4. Good paper. One haiku per page. Readable and well laid out. A brief bio of the three poets in the back.
- Comparisons Compares well to the other erotic haiku anthologies discussed in the post Erotic Haiku. Also compares well with Erotic Haiku by Rod Wilmot & the authors (see above).
- You and your Lover If he or she likes haiku, then this little treat will make a nice surprise.
- Embarrassment Blush worthy, but just the right amount. A good mix of humor, subtlety and eroticism.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
- The following three books were added February 10, 2014
Haiku for Lovers
Haiku for Lovers is an anthology of erotic Haiku put together and edited by Laura Roberts. The book is illustrated by black & white and color illustrations and photographs, all of which are tame — more romantic than erotic — and artsy at times. The back cover states that the works are by “haiku masters, poetry aficionados, and a handful of newcomers”. So, this book isn’t about making a statement. The editor states as much, writing that though she is “primarily a prose fiction writer, I have always dabbled in poetry…” And that’s precisely what this anthology feels like, a dabbling in a very western notion of what constitutes erotic “haiku”. Only a handful of poems have the flavor of haiku (fingers of one hand):
Silk sheets tussled damp
Evidence of where we lay
Winters the long night
~ Dave Wright
That sunflower stands
so erect — I find myself
falling to my knees.
~ Kenneth Pobo
In both cases, the poets somewhat draw together disparate ideas in the fashion of Japanese haiku but, for the most part, the rest of the “haiku” are really more like erotic utterances or tableaux that just happen to be in a 5/7/5 form. Roberts is well acquainted with erotica, having been “a sex columnist and editor of a smut magazine”, but not so much with haiku. In the introduction, she confesses she skipped the college course on poetry, wanting to avoid the hard work to needed to “spin sonnets or wrestle sestinas”. Unfortunately, she apparently also skipped the part on hewing haiku. Expect the usual erotic/adolescent humor endemic to short erotic forms (the seemingly irresistible compulsion in western poets to turn erotic haiku into foreshortened limericks, dirty jokes or displays of ingratiating cleverness):
on the windowsill
the handcuff key itches for
~ James J. Stevenson
Sexy and know it
But no one else does
Friday nights filled with self-love
~ Tristen Fournier
And despite Roberts’s claim that she eschews “love images [that are] often clichés, overworked and overloaded with baggage…” she can’t resist the lovers–who-fit-like-a-puzzle cliché:
The perfect puzzle
All of my pieces match yours
We are one embrace
~ A.J. Hoffman
The most interesting poets in this collection are Elizabeth Ashe, Shannon Curtin, Dave Wright. They’re also the first three poets. From there, the next 50 pages get progressively more mundane — one erotic prose-snippet after another.
- The Book About 8 inches by 5. Good paper. Roughly one haiku and illustration per page. Readable. The layout of the book feels somewhat amateurish. Brief bios of all the poets in the back.
- Comparisons Compares well to the other erotic haiku anthologies discussed in the post Erotic Haiku. Compares less well to Erotic Haiku by Rod Wilmot & the authors (see above).
- You and your Lover Expecting champaign but getting grape juice in instead.
- Embarrassment Only if your lover is an English major: having to listen to him or her explain why these aren’t haiku.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥
This isn’t an anthology but a collection of erotic haiku by Oliver Grant. It’s also the first erotic collection I’ve reviewed devoted exclusively to erotic gay poems. The book comes in at 58 pages with three poems per page. There are no illustrations and the font looks like 25 point Times New Roman. All of it is BOLD — big fat, black letters on hospital white pages. The effect is of an author cranking the volume and shouting his delicate “haiku” with all the subtlety of a horny bear. There is nothing subtle about Grant’s poetry. Nothing.
I hesitate to draw this analogy but here goes: The book is the gay pride parade of erotic “haiku” — each poem is a garish, overstated, florid, noisy and gaudy affair — one after the other. Grant demonstrates what I never thought possible, that even a three line poem can reinforce every single stereotype I’ve ever cherished about gay men. And I love his book for that reason. It is joyful, enthusiastic, and loud with the kind of unabashed vulgarity that gives the likes of Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ken Cuccinelli, and GOP newcomer, Mary Helen Sears (who, to prove her GOP bona fides, has called for a purge of all homosexuals from “The Party”), sleepless nights. Wouldn’t I love to send them this book, wrapped in delicate pink paper with a pretty (but decidedly gaudy) white bow.
Now, that said, these poems have about as much in common with haiku as aardvarks with humming birds. Only the utterly delusional would consider these haiku. And only the utterly delusional would write on the back cover of the book: “Very erotic, the poems range from the subtle to the crude, but avoid vulgarity.” Uh-huh. Sure. And my dog is a ballerina.
I drank from your lips love’s sweet elixir;
Passion drew up fountains of liquid so clear,
We both were drowned, front and rear.
One year old, I played with my caca,
At three, I enjoyed going pi-pi,
At thirteen, I loved my sugar papa.
As a kid, I loved lollipop,
A teen, my friends’ wienie,
Now, fat cigar of my honey-cup!
Taste piece of heaven,
Fry your sausage
Deep in my oven
It goes effortlessly on and on. The stuff is so bad that it almost backs into genius. Chapter Headings? They are, in order: I. Lips on Rods; II. Tool and Dagger; III. Intercourse; IV. Seduction; V. Hole and Rosebud; VI. Naughty; VII. Demons and Beasts; VIII. Donkey, Horse and Bull; IX. Master and Slave; X. Heaven and Hell. Seems to me that it’s bit late to be calling a chapter “Naughty” when it follows “Hole and Rosebud”. If there’s an audience for this kind of erotic onslaught, then I’ve never been invited to the show. I have a hunch though, there is an audience.
- The Book About 9 inches by 6. Good paper. Three haiku per page. The layout of the book is amateurish but readable. You won’t need your bifocals. Readable at 20 feet or more.
- Comparisons In a class of its own.
- You and your Lover Um, not for your girl.
- Embarrassment Yeah, even if you’re gay. If you’re straight and get caught with this, just go ahead and be gay because it’s too late, the rumors will never stop. Why fight it?
Look & Feel ♥♥
erotic poems: E.E. Cummings
This lovely little book collects all of E.E. Cummings erotic poems in one 72 page book. It also includes Cummings’ erotic drawings, which are quite good. They remind just a little of Picasso’s erotic drawings. Most readers will probably be familiar with E.E. Cummings’ poetry and so will already have an opinion. The poems are beautifully presented and many of them are accompanied by the poet’s erotic drawings — neither bashful nor suggestive. They’re explicit. Whereas none of Picasso’s male lovers have a hard-on, Cummings doesn’t demure.
The poetry is fully representative of Cummings broader efforts. Some of the poems are more easily read than others. Some require holding the book sideways and upside-down before actual words and phrases can be teased out. I personally find some of Cummings’ typographic contrivances more of a parlor game than anything complimentary or elucidating. Decoding the poem isn’t always worth the effort — as if typography could elevate an otherwise banal line, thought or poem. Fortunately, most of Cummings’ erotic poems avoid such tediousness. I much prefer the unexpected word, the onomatopoeic phrasing, the surprising shifts in grammar and syntax — such as represent the lion’s share of the poems in the current collection:
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like,slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric fur,and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you so quite new
Poems like these, in my view, are pure erotic genius and allow the argument that Cummings is one of the English language’s greatest erotic poets. Whereas May Swenson’s poems (see above) can utterly obscure their eroticism behind a cagey and demure veil of metaphor, Cummings is plain-spoken and decidedly masculine. One might argue that Swenson, being a woman, couldn’t be as free with her description, but I’m skeptical. A writer like Anaïs Nin, though she didn’t publish her erotica until much later, nevertheless showed that she was capable of writing unabashedly sexual description.
Of May Swenson’s collection, I wrote that her “erotic poems, as a collection, are the best of the 20th century.” Now though, having Cummings’ collection, I’m torn. Own them both. If there’s one erotic collection of poems that you should own, let it be Cummings. But that’s a desert island choice. Read them both – this and May Swenson’s. They’re the Yin and Yang of 20th century erotic poetry.
- The Book About 7 1/2 by 5. A number of black and white illustrations that can be viewed here. 72 pages altogether. Excellent paper. Readable. Beautifully presented. No Index.
- Comparisons This book compares well with May Swenson’s: The Complete Love Poems of May Swenson. Worth noting is the difference in their title. Whereas Swenson’s collection is called Love Poems, Cummings’ collection is erotic.
- You and your Lover Memorize one of these and she’ll be putty.
- Embarrassment None. Your tastes are mature and literary. You’ll fool everybody.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
- The following book was added February 13, 2015
Naked Soul: The Erotic Love Poems
by Salil Jha
Naked Soul is a requested review, and the book was sent to me by the publisher. As soon as I started reading I flipped to the author’s bio wondering if this was a late 19th century Indian author, or perhaps early 20th century. We enter a world of huts and a public bath with nary a smartphone or Tesla, though every now and then something of the 21rst (or 20th) century sneaks in. The poem Seduction begins “Do you want to share my ice cream?”, then moves on to stallion.
Beyond that, the world these poems inhabit is so nondescript as to be non-existent. Much of the verse could have been written in the 10th Century BC, and one could easily sneak some of them into the book Persian Love Poetry (see above). The upside, I suppose, is that this gives them a feeling of universality. The downside is that writing like this risks being bland and generic. But for being explicit in a way that a 10th century poet wouldn’t dare, it doesn’t really add anything to what was already written a thousand years ago, :
Tonight I Want:
“…She has been worhsiped
·····turning your ripe pussy
into the temple of
sweet sensual fragrance
topped with cream.”
And that’s about as explicit as Jha gets. The book’s brief biography has this to say about Jha:
Salid Jha, born in India, is a contemporary poet and transpersonal coach with a unique style of writing. His poems explore themes of passionate love, universal truths, and human beings’ inner longing. [Jha’s poetry is] known for its visual narrative of the sensual and mystical experiences of love.
What this translates into: He keeps the explicit at a spiritual arm’s-length, (hence the title: Naked Soul). And the subtitle: They’re not love poems. They’re not erotic poems. They’re erotic love poems. Like the book’s illustrations, a cock or pussy make only a fleeting appearance. Jha prefers centuries old euphemisms for these rather essential tools of the trade:
“Take your fruit out
I will eat it
While resting on my four limbs [Devour Me p. 43]
And that, perhaps, is my most pointed criticism. Jha’s euphemisms, metaphors and sentiments constitute one generic, hallmark-card cliché after another. The very first poem is called “A Garden of Love”. Lovers look “deep into” each others eyes (and kisses are “deep” too). He is ‘mezmerized’. The stars, the moon and sun make repeated appearances — all on cue. There is stardust and a rainbow. Hearts are in love. Shadows dance. Love has no ending. Tears are boundless. Kisses are long. Love is “deepest” love. Passions “scream”. The night is long but hours are short. The sky is eternal. Fire is burning. Water is quenching. Bodies “unite”. Lovers have fruits and lovemaking is the ‘fruit of the night’. Lust is burning. Love communes “deeper” (Jha’s goto descriptor). Lips are wet, moist and red. He and his lover will “make things steamy”. His lover is a treasure, a mystery, a “land to be explored”. Moments are breathtaking and indefinable. Tongues are “honey-soaked”. Neighbors are wakened to the “song” of “two love-birds” (on page 136 of the Joy of Sex, the later revision, you’ll find the entry called ‘Birdsong at Morning’). When he orgasms, he “explodes in ecstasy” (never heard that before). ‘Inner fires’ are for “unleashing” and passions ‘burn’. (There’s lots and lots of “burning”. Hearts break. Eyes are “endless pools”. His lover is a “home and refuge”. The sea is “clear blue”, like the ‘depth of his love’. His heart “longs”. On and on he goes. The book could almost be subtitled: A dictionary of erotic clichés — with index.
The next is the “deep-thoughts” sententiousness (guru-speak) that can mar the verse :
- “You bring love with love/You make love with love” p. 9
- “Let go of the self /and you’ll meet/a madman/ coming out of you.” p. 16
- “Love communes direct and deeper” p.48
- “Having trust/in intimacy/is tremendously/romantic” p. 55
- “He who believes in love/is never aloof/never detached.” p.56
- “But no two mornings and evenings are the same…” p. 116
And the time for such lines as “O where such beauty, lo, where such fate” (p. 107) is long since past. Such high-flown rhetorical pretentiousness robs his verse of personality and immediacy. However, there are glimpses of the kind of erotic poet Jha could be if he stopped trying to be the Rumi/Kahlil Gibran of erotic poets.
“At first glance,
It won’t slide.
sound of wetness
proves me wrong.” [p. 104]
That’s promising erotic verse. He doesn’t need the line “proves me wrong“. This is implied and redundant; but this is the right direction — concrete and visceral. One of his better poems,
such a delight
Lady of my dreams
All naked but
Her flesh giving away
the aroma of
….freshly cooked food.
I hug her from behind
….Her tits pointed
I gently whisper into her ear
….“I love you”
……..As I take off
is only marred only by his assertion of love (and the word gently, which appears so often his poetry begins to read like an instruction manual). It probably seems odd to complain (in a collection of erotic poems no less) that the word “love” appears in the majority of them, but after a while it gets cloying. Does the reader really need to be reminded that he loves her or that this is really all about love? Isn’t that implied? Is he embarrassed to simply “lust”? It would have been better, I think, to simply write:
I gently whisper in her ear
······As I take off
This would have left something to the reader’s imagination. What did he say? I love you? I ‘m going to fuck you? The art of the erotic is as much in what’s told as what’s left out. Jha seems unable to resist spelling it all out (which is probably what a “transpersonal coach” does) but it doesn’t make for the best poetry:
It feels magical; it feels mystical;
all of it,
all of us,
····under the love rug,
Fiery creatures in the dark. [Fiery Creatures p. 94]
There’s nothing tactile, sensual or evocative in these lines. It’s just Jha gushing. Is he going to Disney World next?
Most of the poems are written from his (the male’s) point of view. A few are written from the woman’s (his lover presumably?), and these come without warning. Suddenly his lover holds his “pear-shaped bum” from behind and squeezes his breasts. ‘Bum’? The proverbial needle scrapes the record. It’s okay, but you may find yourself going back to start again. And when the next poem comes along, experience utter the free-fall of not knowing the gender of the narrator (which may or may not be established). Does he switch-hit every now and then? (The illustrations are strictly heterosexual.)
All in all, it sounds like I’m not going to recommend this collection, but I think there’s a readership for it. I can’t recommend the book if you’re looking for well-written poetry that’s explicitly erotic. That’s not what Jha is about, but I’ll bet there is an audience — those readers who complain of a lack of spirituality in their erotic literature. Jha offers this in spades. I happen to think it’s more than a little pretentious, but if you’re idea of eroticism is the Kuma Sutra with sitar and string orchestra, the restraint of Bollywood, a piercing gaze that is pure heat (and yet gently spiritual), clothes that are loose and enlightened (like his verse), and sweeping utterances of unending love under a humid sunset on the river Ganges, then this book for you.
····of your face, darling
is more luminous
····than ten thousands suns
Your one smile
········the whole world
I’m okay with that. This book, in fact, isn’t a such a bad effort. Collections of erotic verse by single authors are still new to world. (I prefer E.E. Cummings, but Cummings didn’t set out to write a unified collection of verse.) The book to which Jha’s can be directly compared is Seduction in the 1st Degree: A Collection of Erotic Poetry, by Lisa Marie Candield. In fact, Jha’s book is a perfect male counterpart to Canfield’s. They both ‘burn’. There’s ‘magic’ in both collections. There’s juiciness and fruit in both. And they both revel in unquenchable hyperbole:
Make love to me like you have with no other woman.
Let me be your one and only love.
Ravish me with the sexuality of a thousand lovers,
Give me what a man hungers, of. [Canfield p. 96]
While Canfield’s poetry seems to arise, enthralled and wide-eyed from the earth, desiring to be consumed, Jha’s poetry descends loftily and all-encompassing from the heavens, desiring to consume his lover. If possible, read the two books together for an experience in Yin and Yang. They’re like two halves of the same fig.
- The Book About 7 by 5. A number of black and white illustrations that are actually quite good and erotic. 153 pages altogether. Excellent paper. Readable. Nicely presented. No Index. Short bio.
- Comparisons This book compares to Seduction in the 1st Degree: A Collection of Erotic Poetry, by Lisa Marie Candield. The poetry is often amateurish and clichéd in both, but if one’s willing to trade that for sheer exuberance, then both books beautifully compliment each other.
- You and your Lover Bring your Yoga mats.
- Embarrassment Only if its mistakenly included in your 50 Shades of Grey BDSM collection.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥
- The following books were added April 24th, 2016
Erotiku: erotic haiku for the sensual soul
by Lisa Marie Darlington
This is a book I really looked forward to getting my hands on. Anyone who’s been following my blog knows I love haiku and erotic poetry in general. Erotiku has only been fitfully available at Amazon, mostly OP or of Limited Availability. When I saw it available at list price with a used book dealer, I snagged it.
The cover is great; unfortunately, the poetry not so much. Like so many western authors, Darlington seems to have walked out of the haiku tutorial at ‘three lines‘. The author herself doesn’t go much beyond this description in the book’s brief introduction. She writes:
“Haiku is known to follow the metrical 5-7-5 syllable structure, yet I have revised it to take on a more contemporary form. It’s composition does not follow any kind of syllable rule, yet it still holds true to the three line pattern.”
As if that were all that made a haiku (or senryu for that matter). At the close of the introduction she’ll write that “western haiku tries to imitate old Japanese Haiku with little understanding”. The criticism, unfortunately, is applicable to the entirety of her collection.
The book is thick with one haiku per page. You’re essentially buying blank paper. Having said that, Darlington’s presentation isn’t all that different from other haiku collections. She hints at aesthetic reasons for doing so, maybe to savor each poem individually. The problem is that there’s really not that much to savor. The best senryu and haiku are rich with allusion and suggestiveness. They invite the reader to conjure what the poet leaves out. The reward is traditionally a realization of nature’s interconnectedness (haiku) or the humorous foibles of our humanity (senryu). There’s a broad spectrum between these two, but all the best haiku and senryu serve as an imaginative starting point, not end point. And that’s the problem with Darlington’s erotiku. They’re too often an end point.
Kama Sutra Art
Kama sutra art
Of intense connection
A “poem” like this (presented the way she centers them in her book) has nothing whatsoever to do with haiku or senryu. It’s little more than a statement in three lines. There’s nothing remotely erotic other than by association. The reader is likely to respond: Yes, and? This is Darlington at her least successful and unfortunately typifies, to a greater or lesser degree, too many of her haiku (which I think number around two hundred?—I’m guessing since there are no page numbers).
Arched Out in Pleasure
Her slender body
Curved to the couch
Back arched out in pleasure.
This is more typical of Darlington’s erotiku. They are descriptive prose passages in three lines. The reader will find lots and lots of these. I suppose it’s erotic/pornographic, but that’s as far as it goes—an end point rather than a starting point. There’s no sense of narrative or realization. By way of comparison, a rare (and possibly) erotic haiku by Basho:
to get wet passing by
a man is interesting
bush clover in rain
This was translated by Jane Reichhold who comments: “The euphemism ‘to get wet’ was often used in tanka where the reader could decide how this happened, from rain, dew on flowers, tears, or sexual activity.” And this, in my view, is profoundly more erotic than Darlington’s essentially three line descriptions of pornography. The reader is invited to finish Basho’s haiku. Is it really erotic? If so, what happened? Did they have a quickie? Is she wet because she was turned on or because he fucked her? Is she the bush clover? Is he the rain? Or is it simply a coincidental spring rain the makes her wet as she passes by a man?
Other issues I have with Darlington’s erotiku are her tendency toward “pigeon English”:
Around neck and shoulders
Squeezing like a heart attack.
Kindling, the passion
That burns like Hell.
Descriptive redundancy, verbosity and too many adjectives:
Your tongue walks
Your tongue walks
Heavily, up against
The surface of my naked skin.
She doesn’t need up, surface (as this is implied) or naked (also implied). It’s her skin his tongue walks on, after all, not her clothes. (Too great a use of adjectives and overstatement are probably Darlington’s most consistent failings.) Or consider the following where only needlessly appears twice:
Sexy Thong Panties
She buys sexy thong panties
To only please
And does the reader need to know they’re sexy? It’s overstatement that repeatedly mars Darlington’s poetry.
Also, whether the decision was deliberate or simply not a part of their tradition (or language), Japanese poets never made use of like or as. The idea of the simile was there, but was handled far more subtly and to greater effect. Unfortunately, the simile is all too frequent in Darlington’s poems. [Note to western poets: Haiku aren’t glorified similes. Don’t write simileku]:
His Raising Blade
His raising blade
Cutting through; like shears –
Through her wilted flower.
(There again, through needlessly appears twice.)
A bit like a broken clock though, Darlington gets it right every now and then:
Stirred by Moonlight
Stirred by moonlight
The afterglow of sex
This is actually quite good. There’s a play on the notion of afterglow that works nicely with moonlight. If only she had written more like this.
However, in fairness to Darlington and having written all this, I think it’s worth pointing out that the book is a record of her sexual awakening. As she points out in the first sentence of her Forward: “Not to [sic] long ago, I shunned myself from erotic pleasure. ¶ Not only did I find it dirty, filthy, downright skanky and vulgar – but degrading as well… ¶ Then, through my greatest despair, came the union of my lover. He showed me that through lovemaking and experiencing of such erotic explosions, that sex wasn’t something to be ashamed of, yet something to be celebrated and explored.” My heart goes out to her. Anyone brave enough to publish a book like this and to share their erotic life with other readers deserves some praise.
If you’re willing to set aside literary expectations and willing to read the book as a kind of awakening and erotic autobiography (in a series of three line poems) then I highly recommend it.
- The Book About 8 by 5. Good paper. Readable. No page numbers. No index. Sans serif font.
- Comparisons This book compares to Seduction in the 1st Degree: A Collection of Erotic Poetry, by Lisa Marie Candield. The poetry may be amateurish in both, but if one’s willing to trade that for exuberance, then both books beautifully compliment each other.
- You and your Lover Maybe you’ll be inspired?
- Embarrassment Be prepared to explain yourself if you happen to leave this on the coffee table, but then maybe that’s a good thing.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥
The Poetry of Sex
Edited by Sophie Hannah
Finally, a title that says it and means it. In case you were wondering, this is indeed a book of poetry about sex. And to keep things short and sweet: I consider this to be one of the best anthologies available. Without hesitation, I rank it among my other favorites: intimate kisses; Passionate Hearts; The Erotic Spirit; The Best American Erotic Poems.
The editor, Sophie Hannah, is delightfully playful in her introduction, fully aware that her selection is weighted toward the actor Daniel Craig (you’ll just have to read it). Compare Hannah’s playfulness to the starched-underwear snootiness of Peter Washington’s Everyman collection: Erotic Poems (if you want to ‘compare and contrast’). Hannah has no problem with the pornography that is, much to the apparent shock of many a literary editor, the defining attribute of sex and erotica.
The book is divided into sections with the headings:
- ‘So ask the body’
- ‘Also those desires glowing openly’
- ‘A night plucked from a hundred and one’
- ‘All our states united’
- ‘But your wife said she’
- ‘What’s in it for me?’
- ‘Oh right. You people don’t remove that bit’
- ‘God, to be wanted once more’
Each section has about 19 or 20 poems, and that adds up. Not an inconsiderable collection. The poems range from Catallus, though Shakespeare, and to contemporaries like Hannah herself, Rubbish at Adultery, and Sharon Olds (who, though I don’t much care for her mainstream poetry, easily writes some of the best erotic poetry around). I suppose what differentiates Hannah’s collection from the other anthologies is her sense of humor. Though there’s only so much scope for that preference in pre-20th century poetry, she nevertheless finds some choice nuggets. In her contemporary choices her nose for the humor in erotic literature really shines:
Their Sex Life
One failure on
Top of another
Or this poem by Irving Layton:
The idle gods for laughs gave man his rump;
In sport, so made his kind that when he sighs
In ecstasy between a woman’s thighs
He goes up and down, a bicycle pump;
And his beloved once his seed is sown
Swells like a faulty tube on one side blown.
But I also don’t want to give the impression this anthology is just for laughs. It’s not. The difference is in allowing that sex isn’t always about overheated stares, cataclysmic orgasms or the ecstasy of “spiritual”, quote-unquote, unions. Sometimes sex is just sex—fun, funny, and as dirty as you want it to be. It’s books like this that persuade me that all the best writing of the latter 20th and early 21st century is in erotica. The rest, in my opinion, is largely a morass of mediocrity.
- The Book About 7 by 5. Good paper. Readable. One poem per page. Nice font. The best of index of any erotic anthology to date: Index of Poets, First Lines and Titles. I mean, to all the others: How hard is that to do?
- Comparisons This book belongs on your bookshelf alongside intimate kisses; Passionate Hearts; The Erotic Spirit; The Best American Erotic Poems.
- In Translation One or two from the antiquities.
- You and your Lover Got a poem you want her to read? All you have to do is remember the poet, the title or the first line.
- Embarrassment Only keep this on the coffee around toddlers who can’t read titles.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥
The Literary Companion to Sex
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley
This is a book published in 1992 and I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten round to reviewing it until now. It’s easily one of the most comprehensive anthologies of not just poetry but of sex and erotica in literature of any kind. In other words, you’ll find not just passages of poetry but passages from the Bible, Drama, Elizabethan pamphlets, short stories and novels. At 415 pages, there’s a wealth of material grouped, as the introduction puts it, into “five wide periods”:
- The Ancient World
- The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
- The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century
- The Nineteenth Century
- The Twentieth Century
Among other luminaries, you will find the earily 20th century’s great egotist, Frank Harris. Going back to the ancient world you will read passages from Aristophanes, Ovid, Terence, and Apuleius. Selections from the Middle Ages include a literary passage from the Chinese author Wang Shih-Chen but are mostly limited to examples from the English. The author, in the forward, suggests a reason for this. She writes:
“The manual type of book can be seriously boring. Even at fourteen, I can remember all those ‘yonis’ and ‘lingams’ of The Kama Sutra turning me off, not on, as I perused it under my desk during scripture lessons. It was hard for me to find a likeable passage in either that or The Perfumed Garden. ¶ In the end I decided that my criteria for choosing would be these: realism, humour, or the unusual—preferably all three. It was important to find realistic writing, simply because there’s so little of it.”
Fair enough. I’m inclined to agree with her, though one might fairly ask if her selections don’t reflect her own cultural biases. I’m not asserting they do, but the question arises. Are readers in India turned on, rather than off, by yonis and lingams? — or do they also prefer cunts and cocks in their literature?
Some other observations she makes are, I think, worth mentioning.
On the ancient world:
“The writers of the ancient world, in the main, proved to be the most open and unashamed about sex, although a slightly prurient, shocked tone crept into their news reportage (the sensationalist historians, Suetonius and Procopius). But are journalists of today any different?”
On the Middle Ages:
“The Middle Ages and the Rennaisance, although bawdy, were overshadowed by religion and doom. Conversely, their religious writing often had sexual overtones. The fate in hell of the aduleress in Gesta Romanorum provides a memorably kinky image of tortured womankind that must have provided good masturbation material for pious monks everywhere.”
On the 17th century:
“By the time we reach the seventeenth century, dildoes, and jokes about them, are big news, as are venereal diseases. The Restoration and the eighteenth century provide a period of frankness similar to that of the ancient world. It’s probably the easiest period in which to find good sex writing.”
On the 19th century:
“I knew from the start that the nineteenth century would give me the biggest problems. Apart from some good French literature and Byron, what was I to include? Literature became schizophrenic during Victoria’s reign. Sex didn’t happen in official literature, but it happened nonstop – to an unrealistic extent – in The Pearl and other underground writing. Kinkiness was in. ¶ Apart from mainstream writing and underground pornography, there’s a third tradition in the nineteenth century — one that’s often ignored. Isolated individuals had begun to collect folklore. Writing for ‘the learned reder’, these writers could be a little franker than those who wrote for the mass market, like Dickens. And mercifully, their style is usually of far higher quality than that of the average nineteenth-century pornographer. These folk tales hark back to older traditions, keeping alive the bawdy spirit of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”
On the 20th century:
“By the twentieth century we are into mixed territory. I sensed curious affinities across the eras — Apollinaire’s erotic novel with Rochester’s Sodom; one of e.e. cummings’s poems with an anonymous seventeenth-century one; Eskimo Nell and Procopius’s Empress Theodora — another fucker of cosmic proportions. There is also, alas, a great deal of bad writing. Authors frequently make great claims for their own honesty, only to get bogged down in prurience and their own embarrassment. I avoided all passages that talked about waves beating on shores. (That sort of writing’s only permissible if the couple are doing it on a beach.) Still, on the plus side, there is a tremendous range of ideas and experience in the writing of the twentieth century — everything from bestiality to vibrators.”
And that ought to give you a flavor for the kind of erotic writing Pitt-Kethley has anthologized. If you’re looking for a collection offering literature besides poetry, you can’t do better than this (as far as I know). Consider this the best anthology of erotic literature currently available.
- The Book About 8 by 5. Acid paper. Will yellow over time. Readable. Nice font. An index of authors only.
- Comparisons For the erotic connoisseur, this book belongs on your bookshelf alongside the poetry of sex, intimate kisses; Passionate Hearts; The Erotic Spirit; The Best American Erotic Poems.
- In Translation Mainly antiquities, Chinese and some French.
- You and your Lover Not the kind of tome to snuggle between yourself and your lover, but if you’re wondering whether your great (to the tenth power) grandparents liked it the way like you like it, this is the book.
- Embarrassment A high brow addition to your accidentally discovered coffee table collection. Your guests may want to borrow it. Your only embarrassment will be in having to ask for its return — please?
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥
- The following book was added December 18th, 2018
All We Know of Pleasure: Poetic Erotica by Women
Enid Schomer Editor
A little while back I objected to Fence Magazine’s claim that it published poetry out of the mainstream. If you really want to be out of the mainstream (said I) shunned, censored and (depending on the country) possibly killed or imprisoned, try writing freely and openly about sex—about our erotic lives and imagination in poetry, stories or fable. Just this December, Tumblr banned all depictions of sex and nudity. And while the ban excludes written erotica, one wonders how long that exemption will last.
So where are all the poets?
Our love of the erotic is what helped make us human. My own belief is that our ability to desire another imaginatively is not the byproduct of our imagination but the other way around. Our imagination is the byproduct of our sexual drive and desire—Eros. If a species doesn’t procreate, then it perishes. Nature’s trick was to use our imagination, to use our most potent organ. (As is often said: Sex is in the brain.) All our art, literature, and music is the byproduct of erotic desire. And that’s hard for the many who conceive of the human mind as made in God’s image rather than the fabricator of desire—or the devil’s as some might say. So, while some quarters are still fussily censoring our erotic imagination, the world’s earliest art, going back even to the Neanderthals, is erotic.
The world’s earliest surviving poetry is erotic—Sappho. In the relatively recently discovered and ancient trash heap at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, texts dealing with erotic subject matter seem to have been significantly more popular than religious or spiritual texts (far more popular the words of Jesus apparently). Vicki Leòn’s observers, in her book, The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, and Longing in the Ancient World:
Again, amid the masses of papyri hidden in the ancient ruins of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, archeologists and researchers discovered a tantalizing fragment of a sex manual, a work of art by a Greek woman called Philaenis. This find provided even more shocking because it revealed that women of Greco-Roman times not only behaved as lasciviously as men, but they also wrote about the imaginative sex they’d had (and/or had fantasized). ¶ Philaneis lived during Hellenistic times, on the Greek island of Samos or perhaps or perhaps Leicidia (accounts disagree). She may have been the courtesan that inspired the coining of the word pornography. Whatever her day job, she began her literary odyssey by coming up with the killer title of her book. She called it On Indecent Kisses. her erotic manual was clearly popular (judging by its mention by other writers, plus the number of papyrus fragments found at multiple sites), and centuries later would provide inspiration for Ovid’s bestselling Ars Amatoria (the Art of Love.) [p. 37]
I am guessing, though I don’t know, that Philaenis’s work might have been poetry, especially if it inspired Ovid. And it’s telling, perhaps, that Ovid’s work survived while Philaenis’s did not (as is the case with the erotic writing of women throughout history and cultures).
So, you would think, that in a nation where freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution, far more erotica might be written, and yet poets who veer from the mainstream are few and far between, and the unwillingness of sellers, publishers, and merchants to trade in erotica remains a constant: Amazon, Apple Inc., Paypal, Visa, Mastercard, for example. Never mind the hundreds of “avant garde” poetry publishers too frightened to accept erotic poetry. Choices are few.
And so, when I read about poets and/or publications touting their bona fides as writers and publishers of trending, out-of-the-mainstream poetry because they’ve invented a new typography, a new way to upend syntax and grammar, or a freer way to make free verse free all in the name of socially accepted and approved content, the whole notion of avant garde flies right out the window.
This doesn’t mean to say that writing erotic poetry is a sufficient end in and of itself. While there’s a lot of bad poetry that gets a pass because of its trending subject matter and style, there’s nothing like bad erotic poetry to spotlight the mediocrity of the poet. If you want to write erotic poetry with any kind of lasting literary value, emphasis on literary value, then it’s the least forgiving (most out of the mainstream) genre you could possibly choose. Which is to say, Erotic Literature is the most challenging and difficult genre to master. Trendy content isn’t going to save you. Not only are you sailing against the headwinds of what’s socially acceptable, let alone publishable, but erotic writing is itself a mine field of cliché and insipid sentiment. Few writers come out of that killing field alive—not even those who should know better. Curious? Here are the winners of this year’s bad sex award.
That said, and having to say it again, if you’re a poet and you really want to be avant garde and out of the mainstream, write erotic poetry. And if you really want to live in Davy Jones’s locker, use meter and rhyme to do it. And if you want to make your mark in history, make it literature.
And that brings me to All We Know of Pleasure, an anthology of contemporary women’s erotic poetry published just this year—2018. The editor is Enid Shomer. On the back cover of the book, the following: “poetry written by women that actually excites the thinking reader.” How’s that for a claim?
Poetry that actually excites the reader.
I haven’t read the collection from cover to cover, but I’ve read enough to include it among my favorites. The poems are, that I’ve read so far, all free verse but for a poem by Molly Peacock called Lullaby, it starts:
Big as a down duvet the night
pulls the close Ontario sky
over the naked earth. Here we lie
gossiping in a circle of light
under our own big comforter,
buried nude as bulbs. I slide south
to grow your hyacinth in my mouth.
[…] [p. 40]
Now that’s something you don’t read every day. Though I wouldn’t have minded if some other poets had tried something other than free verse, the quality of their poetry is nevertheless first rate. What novelist has come close to putting together anything like Carolyn Creedon’s erotic cry?
[…]I want to lay
you, on a bed without a towel, without a curtain, without a good enough
reason. I want to wear a white dress stained with certain possibility, like an autograph
like a river’s ripe with spawn, like a signpost, like a season,
like a dam come all undone. [Wet, p. 116]
Not to miss is the nice internal rhyme of reason and season along with the pun on dam (and damn) in the last line. This is good stuff.
The anthology of is divided into three parts: The Discovery of Sex, The Ordinary Day Begins, When This Old Body. Each section showcases about thirty poems, so this is not a chintzy collection. From June Sylvester Saraceno’s The Ordinary Day Begins:
at my desk
the screen blinks on
numbers begin their race
but inside me, the throb
of your last morning thrusts
you in me […] [p. 65]
To poems that aren’t strictly a celebration of temptation and pleasure:
you push your mouth against mine
i want to tell you
you have come to the wounded for healing.
like you, i am
imperfect flesh, and my
experience of violence has made me
no less likely to harm you [….]
[Kai Cheng Thom, the wounded for healing, p. 126]
But grief too. These are poems that refuse to be less than literary simply because they’re erotic. Any poet who aspires to write more than the same mainstream avant garde poetry of the last hundred-plus years, should read this book if only to learn how to avoid the pitfalls of cliché so typical of erotic sentiment. Who would have thought that BDSM could be elevated to the delirious lyricism of Sheryl St. Germain:
Tonight when I close my eyes
the sky will fill with lovers
binding the wrists of lovers,
the night will tie its blindfold
over the earth’s eyes, and I will
dream of how to speak—oh
kiss me with lips I have to imagine;
hold me in a room I can’t escape.
[Blindfolds, Ropes, p. 104]
Not that’s poetry. That’s poetry that excites the reader. This is poetry that’s truly on the fringes of the approved. They carry on the nearly silenced voices of Sappho and Philaenis.
- The Book About 7 by 5. Good paper. Readable. One poem per page. Nice font. Brief biographies of the poets can be found at the back of the book but, unfortunately, no index.
- Comparisons This book belongs on your bookshelf alongside The Poetry of Sex, intimate kisses; Passionate Hearts; The Erotic Spirit; The Best American Erotic Poems.
- In Translation A transliteration of Marlowe’s translation of Ovid.
- You and your Lover Poems for women to love women, for women who love men, and for men who to peer behind the curtains of women’s desires.
- Embarrassment An understated copy and title makes it easy to read on public transit.
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥♥