I asked the authors from Hyacinth Girl Press to share their favorite erotic poems and here is the result. I must say that the list is more than I hoped for and incredibly diverse and that I learned a lot. (Above Image from “Picnic at Hanging Rock”)
Silk of a Soul By Zbigniew Herbert
Initially, I chose Galway Kinnell’s “Rapture,” as my favorite erotic poem – and it is a headily, beautifully erotic work – but then I began to think about other poets whose work I find very sensual, if not blatantly erotic. I’ve been reading Zbigniew Herbert’s The Collected Poems on and off for over a year now, and he came to mind right away . . . but when I searched through the book, nothing jumped out at me and said “erotic” like Kinnell’s poems will say “erotic.” I was a little stumped – what made me think Herbert wrote erotic poems? – and then I found “Silk of a Soul,” and I remembered why. In this poem, Herbert reveals the sexual charge that comes from intimacy, but not the intimacy of flesh: the intimate act of witness, of seeing the intangible part of another person. His spare, charged lines (“I must/peek inside her/to see what she wears/at her centre”) are charged with sexual energy because they ring true: the human brain is most excited by complete knowledge of another person, a knowledge that includes the physical and carnal and visceral, but also the airy, rarified parts of a person that are seldom revealed, and seldom revealed willingly. Herbert’s furtive look into this woman – both voyeuristic and tender – is charged, too, because of its fleeting quality. He recognizes that the cost of intimacy is change. And isn’t that a large part of what makes sexual love, and other acts of intimacy, so compelling and so alluring – the inherent risk? – Sarah Kain Gutowski
Silk of a Soul
did I speak – with her
either about love
or about death
only blind taste
and mute touch
used to run between us
when absorbed in ourselves
we lay close
peek inside her
to see what she wears
at her centre
when she slept
with her lips open
would you think
I caught sight of
I was expecting
I was expecting
I was expecting
by a lake great and silent
on a glass counter
I caught sight of a pair
of silk stockings
I’ll buy her those stockings
I’ll buy them
but – what will appear then
on the glass counter
of the little soul
will it be something
which cannot be touched
even with one finger of a dream
Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker
I’m one of those girls who gets wet reading Kathy Acker. It isn’t something I think about; it just happens. Discovering her work gave me the freedom to say words like ‘cunt’ (it rhymes fantastically with my last name) and mean it every way possible—with shame, anger, courage and abuse. I get hot because I’ve been there—humiliated—and experience freedom within her writing. This excerpt is from the novel, Blood and Guts in High School. I cannot think of it as anything but poetry. – Susan Yount
I didn’t want anyone to notice me ‘cause I was blind so I crawled under the splinters
of the bar. The music stopped. A lot of feet passed by. Some of them by accident kicked me.
One kicked me too hard.
“Do you want to fuck me, scumbag?” President Carter said to me.
“I can’t fuck.”
“You’ve got syphilis?”
“I’ve got cancer.”
“Gee.” He put his arms around me and kissed me.
I USED TO BE UNHAPPY
I LIVED IN THE CORNER OF A ROOM
THEN YOU CAME ALONG AND FUCKED THE SHIT
OUT OF ME
I WON’T BE UNHAPPY AGAIN
SPRING IS A COCK THAT’S HARD
I KNOW YOU’RE A SECRET TERRORIST
‘CAUSE LOVE LEADS TO DEATH
I WON’T EVER BE UNHAPPY AGAIN
THOUGH IT’S BEEN A WEEK SO YOUR LOVE’S
THE WORLD’S ABOUT TO EXPLODE
TERRORISTS NEED NO MORE COVER
OH YES LOVE LEADS TO DEATH
I couldn’t hear any of that political music shit I just wanted to kiss
the guy again and again. The music made it so you couldn’t hear the words
and the music itself was so loud music couldn’t be heard
you weren’t hearing
this is beyond hearing
you is just vibrations so there’s no difference between self and music.
Gacela of Love Unforeseen by Federico Garcia Lorca
Nadie comprendía el perfume
de la oscura magnolia de tu vientre.
Nadie sabía que martirizabas
un colibrí de amor entre los dientes.
Mil caballitos persas se dormían
en la plaza con luna de tu frente,
mientras que yo enlazaba cuatro noches
tu cintura, enemiga de la nieve.
Entre yeso y jazmines, tu mirada
era un pálido ramo de simientes.
Yo busqué, para darte, por mi pecho
las letras de marfil que dicen siempre,
siempre, siempre: jardin de mi agonia,
tu cuerpo fugitivo para siempre,
la sangre de tus venas en mi boca,
tu boca ya sin luz para mi muerte.
Gacela of Love Unforeseen
Nobody understood the perfume
of the dark magnolia of your belly.
Nobody knew how you martyred
the hummingbird of love between your teeth.
A thousand tiny Persian horses slept
in the plaza in the light of your forehead’s moon
while I for four nights laced myself
to your waist, the enemy of snow.
Between plaster and jasmine, your gaze
is a pale and seeding branch.
I searched through my chest to give to you
the ivory letters that say forever,
forever, forever: Garden of my agony,
your body fleeing from me forever,
the blood of your veins now in my mouth,
your mouth already lightless for my death.
All my seasick sailors by Lynn Crosbie
For me, in-depth intensity is far more erotic than semi-casual flinging. In recent years, my desire for powerful intensity is borderline brimming with uncertainty and unknowing related to ebbing and flowing, but that doesn’t make it dissipate. I desire a new beginning, filled with a large scale, all kinds of strange tales and talismans, and strong sails. I crave a strange power to affix me, lift me up, and wet me into creatively drenched, passionate, powerful, deliciously visceral terrain. – Juliet Cook
all my seasick sailors
Sly and second-sighted, my friends have abandoned ship. Rats,
escaping in small grey
lifeboats, their annular tails turn the tide, their lambent eyes, like the
moon, dictate its flow.
The violinist plays Autumn as the masts unfold, water lilies in the
pitch of the sea.
A message in semaphore, what I have always longed to know — to stand
by the stern, and
with courage, let go. Nostalgia’s poison
love spreads out like a sheaf of photographs, memory without blood,
a fluked anchor,
undone. The line that breaks when the storm comes, the truth that
red skies without delight,
a bad sign. To navigate you must know where you are going, with an
pin-stuck with ellipses. Accidents, typhoon, the fibrous stakes of sea
monsters, the diamond ice caps,
miracles that have changed course, carved passages into the new
worlds, where sailors
arise. In white militia,
letters come like gulls flat on the crest of waves, infatuation coursing,
like a science of chaos,
they appear in envelopes of ice, intermittent ghosts — to remind me
that love is spectral,
The rapids were turbulent toward the Asian corridor, sailing into
Lachine. It is China, after all.
Rare and fragile, esteemed from a great distance,
protected in shelf-ice.
I touch this china from rim to stem, and feel its raised flowers,
brought to me from the ocean’s
floor. In spite of the danger, the mariners have garlanded the stingray
—as the lashings narrowed,
they retrieved me from the wreck.
The Wreck of the Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins
I did say yes
O at lightning and lashed rod;
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God;
Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height:
And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.
First Poem for You by Kim Addonizio
One of my favorite erotic poems is “First Poem for You,” by Kim Addonizio, from The Philosopher’s Club(BOA Editions, 1994). It is a gorgeous, subtle sonnet that begins, “I like to touch your tattoos in complete / darkness, when I can’t see them.” I love to read this poem, to imagine the tattoos in the dark, and to teach it to college students and watch their eyes and mouths open in awe! A poem can do that?! I admire how this poem explores the sensuality, vulnerability, fear, and complicatedness of love, and the excitement of the beginnings of love. I don’t have any tattoos, but our local butcher at the Jewel does, and she’s a tattoo artist on the side and plays volleyball with my husband. One of these days, maybe Valentine’s Day, I will hand her a copy of this poem when I ask for a salmon fillet. Hmm, maybe I will get a Beatles tattoo when I’m 64. – Kathleen Kirk
First Poem for You
Vanilla by Bill Luoma
A few years ago I picked up this anthology secondhand: An Anthology of New (American) Poets (Talisman House. Jarnot, Schwartz, Stroffolino, eds). It’s a strange and wonderful book- there are, like, eight hundred different styles represented, mostly by poets I hadn’t known about before but kept reading after I saw them here. Bill Luoma is one such poet, and his “Vanilla” has always been in the back of my head as a lighthearted and sly “erotic” poem: if you do any amount of confectionary baking (and I do), you know that the scent (and, eventually, the taste) of pure vanilla extract is borderline pornographic. …Also: “Verily / your delicates flavor a teaspoonful in combination.” – My boyfriend has no idea what that means, but I promised him it’s totally sexy. –Brooklyn Copeland
The beautiful bird talk is certainly a form
of your tastebuds and fleshy lips. Verily
your delicates flavor a teaspoonful in combination.
The fan shape adds an extra boost. Coloring
also enters into it. At this point I am unfocused
by all the melting. Your ice cream face
and numerous aerial hairs make my heart
beat against the spikes of lucky stars.
This to me is pure vanilla extract.
Body of a Woman by Yusef Komunyakaa
Talking Dirty to the Gods was my first foray into contemporary poetry when I came across it in a book store in high school, and yes, the man carrying a giant phallus on the cover drew me in at 15. The entire collection is full of alternately erotic and unsettling imagery, but Body of a Woman is a poem that, in addition to eroticism, has a beautiful wistfulness that has brought me back to the poem over and over. It could also be said that Yusef Komunyakaa himself is my long-standing poetry crush. I’ve been reading his work for the past 12 years, and have managed to attend readings he’s done in 4 separate cities. I’m hoping to make it 5 at the AWP in Chicago this year. So maybe “poetry stalkee” is more accurate? Hopefully he doesn’t Google himself too often… –Margaret Bashaar
Body of a Woman
Here you are, still
Reposed behind glass
Like a work of art. Yes,
Body of precious aloneness,
There are times I desire you
In a lover’s arms. Sometimes
I want you making fierce love,
With moans like thought bubbles
Of pleasure forever in Pompeii’s
Lava & ash. Yet, other nights,
As Miles Davis plays ballads
In the background, like tonight,
There’s only irony: I see
You’re gazing out toward
The House of the Faun,
Waiting for someone.
i’ll tell you a dream i had once by e. e. cummings
e.e. cummings is famous for his once-daring formats and syntax, but his themes were traditional, and much of his poetry is love poetry. He wrote scads of amorous poems, often exalted, sometimes sexy.
Poking around for a poem for this piece, I discovered Norton has put out a volume of cummings poems called ‘Erotic Poems.’ It made me want to shout – one, because it’s a marketing ploy for Valentine’s Day, and two, because many of his non-sexual poems have something dotingly erotic about them, because cummings seemed to experience everything sensually – the rain, the ocean, trees, light, anything beautiful he set eyes on.
Some of his erotic poems don’t start out erotic at all – the poet simply ends up in the territory. It happens in the poem “let’s live suddenly without thinking,” for example, and it happens in the following poem, “i’ll tell you a dream i had once,” too. In the first line, it seems the poem could go anywhere, but it ends up with a pair of lovers (truly) becoming one. As erotica goes it may be on the tame side, but I love it for its naked, playful embrace. – Sarah Sloat
i’ll tell you a dream i had once…
i’ll tell you a dream i had once i was away up in the sky Blue,everything:
a bar the bar was made of brass hangIng from strings (or)someThing i was
lying on the bar it was cOOl i didn’t have anything on and I was all hot all
Hot and bar was
O My lover,
there’s just room for me in You
my stomach goes into your Little Stomach My legs are in your legs Your
under me around; my head fits(my head)in your Brain-my,head’s
)with your head.all big
It by Sharon Olds
speckled three-section body of the banana, that
joke fruit, as sex was a joke when we were kids,
and sometimes it is like a jagged blue comb of glass across
and sometimes you have me bent over as thick paper can be
folded, on the rug in the center of the room
far from the soft bed, my knuckles pressed against the grit in the grain of the rug’s
braiding where they
laid the rags tight and sewed them together,
my ass in the air like a lily with a wound on it
and I feel you going down into me as
if my own tongue is your cock sticking
out of my mouth like a stamen, the making and
breaking of the world at the same moment,
and sometimes it is sweet as the children we had
thought were dead being brought to shore in the
narrow boats, boatload after boatload.
Always I am stunned to remember it,
as if I have been to Saturn or the bottom of a trench in the
sea floor, I
sit on my bed the next day with my mouth open and think of it.
The Hummingbird: A Seduction by Pattiann Rogers
Pattiann Rogers masters the art of the single-sentence poem in this gorgeous, sensual ode. Her longing tone makes the imagery crackle even more, in the way we are often more vivid in our expression of wants, in our aching overtures of what I would do if I could. . . . than when our desires are gratified. - Lauren Eggert-Crowe
If I were a female hummingbird perched still
And quiet on an upper myrtle branch
In the spring afternoon and if you were a male
Alone in the whole heavens before me, having parted
Yourself, for me, from cedar top and honeysuckle stem
And earth down, your body hovering in midair
Far away from jewelweed, thistle, and bee balm;
And if I watched how you fell, plummeting before me,
And how you rose again and fell, with such mastery
That I believed for a moment you were the sky
And the red-marked bird diving inside your circumference
Was just the physical revelation of the light’s
Most perfect desire;
And if I saw your sweeping and sucking
Performance of swirling egg and semen in the air,
The weaving, twisting vision of red petal
And nectar and soaring rump, the rush of your wing
In its grand confusion of arcing and splitting
Created completely out of nothing just for me,
Then when you came down to me, I would call you
My own spinning bloom of ruby sage, my funnelling
Storm of sunlit sperm and pollen, my only breathless
Piece of scarlet sky, and I would bless the base
Of each of your feathers and touch the tine
Of string muscles binding your wings and taste
The odor of your glistening oils and hunt
The honey in your crimson flare
And I would take you and take you and take you
Deep into any kind of nest you ever wanted.
Poet to Tiger by May Swenson
May Swenson melts me with craft and a deep commitment to play.– J. Hope Stein
Poet to Tiger
You went downstairs
saw a hair in the sink
and squeezed my toothpaste by the neck.
You roared. My ribs are sore.
This morning even my pencil’s got your toothmarks.
Big Cat Eye cocked on me you see bird bones.
Snuggled in the rug of your belly
your breath so warm
I smell delicious fur.
Come breathe on me rough pard
put soft paws here.
You don’t put salt on anything
so I’m eating without.
Honey on the eggs is all right
mustard on the toast.
I’m not complaining I”m saying I’m
living with you.
You like your meat raw
don’t care if it’s cold.
Your stomach must have tastebuds
you swallow so fast.
Night falls early. It’s foggy. Just now
I found another of your bite marks in the cheese.
I’m hungry. Please
come bounding home
I’ll hand you the wine to open
with your teeth.
Scorched me a steak unsalted
boil my coffee twice
say the blessing to a jingle on the blue TV.
Under the lap robe on our chilly couch
look behind my ears “for welps”
and hug me.
You’re right I brought a grain
or two of sand
into bed I guess in my socks.
But it was you pushed them off
along with everything else.
Asleep you flip
you and off
me. I’m always grabbing
for my share of the sheets.
Or else you wake me every hour with sudden
trapping my face between those plushy
shoulders. All my float-dreams turn spins
and never finish. I’m thinner
now. My watch keeps running fast.
But best is when we’re riding pillion
my hips within your lap. You let me steer.
Your hand and arm go clear
around my ribs your moist
dream teeth fastened on my nape.
A grain of sand in the bed upsets you or
a hair on the floor.
But you’ll get
in slick and wet from the shower if I let
you. Or with your wool cap
and skiing jacket on
if it’s cold.
Tiger don’t scold me
don’t make me comb my hair outdoors.
Cuff me careful. Lick don’t
crunch. Make last what’s yours.
You get into the tub holding The Naked Ape
in your teeth. You wet the blond
three-cornered pelt lie back wide
chest afloat. You’re reading
in the rising steam and I’m
drinking coffee from your tiger cup.
You say you dreamed
I had your baby book
and it was pink and blue.
I pointed to a page and there
was your face with a cub grin.
You put your paws in your armpits
make a tiger-moo.
Then you say: “Come here
Poet and take
off me.” I do.
It’s one of mine. I carefully
kill it and carry
it outside. And stamp on it
and bury it.
In the begonia bed.
And then take off my shoes
anot to bring a grain
of sand in to get
into our bed.
I’m going to
do the cooking
And sneak some salt in
when you’re not looking.