Wednesday thought: veils, tattoos, and anvils


In wandering through Duotrope for new venues to send poems, I’ve noticed a number of “serious” journals that will not read or publish “erotic poetry.” Sometimes, it sounds like the sort of aversion that might lead someone to say it with anvils: Just. Don’t. Do. It

But then, I ran across this amazing poem by Richard Fenwick, which originally appeared in the Linden Avenue Lit. Journal. Now, if this isn’t erotic I don’t know what it is: the whole way of hinting at skin, and undressing, while simultaneously denying that undressing (and even skin) is going to be part of the long term picture – I mean isn’t that push-and-pull, that as-of-yet-unfulfilled possibility of fulfillment, the definition of “erotic?”

So now I’m wondering if they mean something else by erotic – Brooklyn Museum - Wallpaper Sample Book 1 - William Morris and Company - page110maybe “explicit?” Or “involving too many semi-medical or gutter-worthy terms for human body parts?” Are  they thinking specifically of the genre of fiction called “erotica”?

I think (for what it’s worth) that if that’s what they’re worried about they should say so, because some of the most beautiful poems in the world are the most deeply erotic. A few examples of my favorites? I’m so glad you asked:

As far as me, on the rare occasions in which I touch on “erotic” themes, they’re usually something like Richard’s (though not even close to the quality in terms of sheer amazing language use) – things hinted at, much left concealed. So tell me: What poems do you find erotic? When you write about love, how do you do it without “expliciticity” or vulgarity? If you’ve never written an erotic poem, give it a thought – how would you approach it? Would you sidle up to the topic? would you hint? Would you be bold?

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15 thoughts on “Wednesday thought: veils, tattoos, and anvils

  1. Roethke’s “I Knew a Woman,” one of my all-time faves certainly has suggestive meanings, double-entendre and quite a bit of eroticism. I’m with you in your picture of what erotic means and how it works. I am guessing that “serious” journals don’t want “smut,” but that’s a gray line, too.

  2. I have to admit, Ina, that I’ve never really thought about the problem or even the subject. Meena Rose writes a mean erotic poem occasionally, and I’ll read hers any day she’s able to share one.

    Some people and policies seem to remain vague on their definition of erotica, I think, to allow themselves wiggle room for rejection of something that makes them personally uncomfortable. That is the essence of eroticism, after all; to make one “feel” sensual and suggestive.

    Explicit doesn’t work for me at all. Sensual (i.e. erotic) however, works very well. You’ve brought up a wonderful topic for discussion, Ina. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it.

    • Claudsy – Thank you! I think you’ve hit it on the head – it does leave people room to make determinations both about what they’re comfortable with and what their audience will be comfortable with (I know Poetic Bloomings has kids that come by, so obviously their standards are going to be different than a place devoted to erotica). Now that you’ve brought it up, the whole issue of sensuality – the use of the senses – is the crux of writing – how much to use, when, whether one is talking about food, or rain, or love. Hm. I feel a post in the works.

      Now I’m going to wander back to your blog and see what Meena has written in this vein – I haven’t run across hers yet.

      • Thanks, Ina. I haven’t the knack of writing erotica, so I won’t miss it by not writing it.

        Meena has some lovely pieces in the Conservatory. Have fun reading them.

    • Thank you, Ina. Great article… I almost did not post that poem on 2voices1song because I was worried that I may have crossed a line with it. I hit “published” and was quite ready to take it down had Claudsy objected to it.

      I finally settled on posting an edited version (2 stanzas shorter). The 2 stanzas alluded to “below the belt” interactions. Nothing vulgar or graphic, merely suggestive. To me for that poem, the mythical “belt” formed the line.

      • it’s a lovely poem – you did a good job of suggesting without drawing. I wonder if it’s the sort of equivalent of “show don’t tell” that people are always telling fiction writers – actively engaging imagination makes writing/reading a dialectic, rather than a lecture. Okay, I just used the word “dialectic” while talking about erotic. I pretty clearly need a vacation 🙂

        Anyhow, I’m glad it was posted – it’s lovely.

      • Ina: Close your eyes and relax and imagine a pleasant, smooth touch move across your arm… where that touch goes isn’t anything you can control. So, you surrender to it… a dark velvet that moves just right, tantalizing, hinting at a deeper touch or caress.. a state which you want to linger and stay suspended in until reality intrudes.

        In my mind, any type of sensuous writing (verse or prose) is that velvety experience… and because it is velvet, it may rub people the wrong way based on their life experiences and their experiences in the now as they are reading.

        “Show don’t tell” is slightly different in my opinion. To me, it is more about the experiential engagement of the reader through a scene so they can “see/hear/feel/smell/taste” the action in the theater of their mind. The idea here is to inform and involve the reader as opposed to suggested and toy with them.

        Just my two cents 🙂

    • Hm, erotica?
      I guess the limits are about avoiding pornography and since erotica also appears as a soft edition of pornography, I guess that’s why I step back. The general attitude towards women, that I sense in that genre, scares me.
      So if the writer wants me to have sexy thoughts, I’m out. If I feel manipulated, I’m out.
      But if someone writes something and sexy stuff comes natural, well, then I’m in.
      So now Ina, you just open your eyes again, right?

      • Maybe it’s the sense of manipulation vs. expression. If someone is expressing their joy in touching or being touched then yes, I love it. But if someone is trying to MAKE me feel something, I just get annoyed.

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