The naive poet and erotic poetry

Okay, so this may get a little personal, but I feel like reasoning through a topic that always leaves me a little perplexed: eroticism.

Poetry has a history with this subject and we’ve read a few poems that wandered into the erotic realm (Sam Sax’s “Lisp,” for example), so, I guess, this blog is as good a place as any to get down and dirty. In the other class/workshops I have been a part of whether it be fiction or CNF, the erotic was something we only acknowledged when it showed up. We never fully embraced it, it wasn’t something we actively sought to integrate, in my mind. Maybe university classes just aren’t the right forum for it. Personally, I felt a similar way. It’s just a technique that conveys a high degree of intimacy, but, in my head, always seemed to be just over the edge, never quite hitting the mark.

To be frank, I’m kind of scared to tackle erotic topics in my writing. I don’t think I’m a prude, but maybe sex has just never been something I openly discuss. I’m fascinated by it, though. I haven’t actively sought out erotic literature or poetry, but from what I have read, it feels like it falls into two camps: the explicit and the implied. The explicit is, well, explicit. The erotic becomes an image. The implied at least tries to be more subtle using clever metaphors or something equally contrived to evoke the shadows of sex (i.e. eruptions as ejaculation, flowers as vulvas, or “the little death” coming to imply an orgasm).

For some reason, I resent both of these approaches. The explicit approach is powerful in stirring the physicality, but it makes me pull away from the speaker/narrator/I. I agreed to consort with your mind, not your body, I find myself thinking. It’s not that it’s vulgar or forced; it’s just forceful.

The implied sexual innuendos feel like they don’t have the courage to bring the image to completion (I know I’m doing the very thing I’m rebuking, but how could I not). The physical and pointedly emotional is left in some ethereal state without delineating the nuances its playing on, something I just don’t find satisfying.

Boy, am I hard to please. But, miraculously, I think “Lisp” was excellent. The reason why, I believe is the fact that the erotic in that poem is a symptom of the wider context. The poem is about the speakers identity, of which his lisp and his sexuality are inextricably linked, specifically in an orally fixated way. We engage with his identity. There’s a logic. If the sex is extraneous, like anything so personal really, it can’t possibly hold any weight for an outside observer. Without the logic (I’m gonna do it again) it just comes off as masturbatory, only serving to engage the writer. But I do need a bigger sample size.

Maybe I’m wrong, though. Perhaps, the erotic can equally create distance as it does intimacy. I’ve accepted that a relationship between reader and writer is fundamental to writing in general, but maybe I just have to accept a personal core tenet may not always be tenable. Sax may be confronting and barring people just as much as he welcomes them in.

Sex isn’t that special. The erotic is a tool and technique like anything else, probably.

Thanks for reading.

3 Replies to “The naive poet and erotic poetry”

  1. Daniel,

    This is so interesting for me to read. I know you and I haven’t been in a workshop together, so you are not familiar with my writing. As Bre mentioned yesterday in class while looking at my “Closeted” poem, that type of poem is not one that I usually write. My style of content is incredibly focused on generally three things: Sex, Drugs, and Daddy Issues (that was the name of my last portfolio to Lytton, after all). I am not sure why I am inclined to write about those things, but they all relate to the body, and interactions of the body. They truly fascinate me. In addition, as a person, I am very confrontational and blunt–my writing often mirrors that same fearlessness. I love satisfying, punchy lines as mentioned before in workshop. It is really interesting for me to read your thoughts on erotic poetry, I suggest you try it.

    Best,
    Julia xoxo

  2. Daniel,

    I’ve always felt similarly about eroticism in poetry. I’ve been interested in it and certainly respected it, but never quite felt the urge to write it into my own work. Not necessarily out of discomfort, simply just because it never crossed my mind.

    Weirdly, though, two of my last three poems (including the one we just workshopped) have been about, or at least related to, sex. Truthfully, I think that this is simply because I’ve recently figured out how to be a lot more vulnerable in my poetry.

    I tend to be fairly closed off in my daily life, at least in the emotional sense, and for the longest time that was equally true of my poetry. But yeah, I went through a really rough couple of weeks and came out on the other side with a want (re: need) to open up, at least to myself, in my poems.

    I don’t know if you’d consider yourself to be closed-off at all, but if you do, I think it’s so damn worthwhile to sit down and right poems about things you wouldn’t normally talk about, and things you wouldn’t normally write about. Even if you have zero intention of ever showing anyone the work, it’s such a therapeutic and cathartic experience. It’s honestly helped me a lot, and it turns out that my most open poems tend to be the ones I’m most proud of.

    Although the erotic is certainly a tool and technique, engaging with that type of vulnerability can also be really emotionally valuable, especially if (like me) you don’t typically let yourself get vulnerable like that. Even if only for yourself, I recommend giving it a shot.

  3. Daniel,

    I think I have a similar experience in that explicit eroticism feels forced or contrived and that metaphors just don’t do it for me. I’ve had a difficult time writing about eroticism because in our culture it feels almost like sex is something we separate from other aspects of life and it feels embarrassing/self-conscious to address it directly. (Though, I do disagree when you say sex isn’t that special — though that’s just my view of it. It feels special at least to me.) In fact, I recently read a poem for an audience that used the words “vulva” and “testicles” and I felt so uncomfortable that I was almost sick to my stomach, even though the context was one of intimacy and domesticity. I agree with Natalie that getting out of your comfort zone helps, and even though I feel self-conscious (sex feels intensely personal, even though most people experience it) I try and include it when the poem wants it (just like anything else) rather than avoid it at all costs.

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