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 – maybe “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:
- ee cummings somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond
- Sandra Cisneros Love Poem for a Non-Believer
- Of course the Bible Song of Solomon, excerpted here [definitely read the whole book if you’ve never done so; there’s a reason people often use it as part of their wedding vows]
- Rabindranath Tagore Lover’s Gifts XXV
- Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress
- Pablo Neruda (a poet of whom I’m not usually fond, but I forgive him a lot for this poem) Ode To The Artichoke
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?