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How to be erotic, by Emma Wright.


Eroticism is one of those concepts which can be hard to pin down. It means different things to different people, and thus is endlessly fascinating, but when you’re trying to select poems for an erotic anthology it helps to have some criteria in place. Over the course of editing Mildly Erotic Verse, I formed various opinions about what makes poems erotic, so I thought I’d share some below, with the proviso that this is not an exhaustive list.

  1. Mundane details. I think that airbrushed fantasies can often seem like a good idea, but you’re much more likely to find eroticism in relatable human experiences. I’ve got a soft spot for distinctly unglamorous settings in poems, which is why I adore Holly Magill’s ‘The boy who loved welding’:

His overalls sweated
oil onto my office-white
shirt and the zip broke
on my new skirt.

  1. Personal histories. Sex isn’t just a stately pavane starring the gonads – it’s nearly always more complicated than that, inextricable from your romantic history, your hang-ups, and everything going on in your head. I like the way Camille Ralphs’ ‘Yours truly, Stephen Dedalus’ combines an erotic fantasy with terrible guilt, and is none the less erotic for it:

[…] I’ve felt your body shimmer
             on my skin like dawn

on a waterlogged meadow, your hot breath
floating freckles from my cheek. Or I have
dreamt it, and felt so, so sorry.

  1. I nearly always find descriptions of people’s thoughts more interesting than descriptions of what their bodies are doing. For me, the brain is where the real erotic stuff happens, which is why Ruth Stacey’s ‘Come With Me’ is so appealing. In it, lovers trade descriptions of where their minds wandered during sex:

Versailles: gold bed posts with raspberry
corset and cloud-white stocking ruffles,
you were a rakish courtier – and you?

  1. Poetry is a fantastic medium for preserving the ambiguity of ideas, which is why it works so well with eroticism. I love the tumble of nonsense in Nisha Bhakoo’s ‘Mad flash’, which makes no sense but also gets its point across:

Your face is on fire
as you take in my raven
moist and cake
naughty behind curtains

  1. Eroticism is inconsistent! Sometimes the direct approach works just as well, and the erotic charge comes from some unexpected honesty and revelation. Lynn Hoffman’s ‘Rhyming Rita and Silver Sam’ is joyously direct, cataloguing the motions of an old, affectionate couple:

She gathers him in, he fits just so you know.
He kisses lips and neck and breasts and belly,
he’s an avalanche, our Silver Sam,
down Rhyming Rita mountain.

Mildly Erotic Verse, edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright, published on 29th January 2016 and is on sale now (£10).

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