Why is it so difficult to write erotica?
And if it isn’t, please tell me your secret!
Sometimes I envy the graphic artists, who don’t need words. Rodin’s The Kiss – here shown in the large marble version rather than the small bronze often photographed – was considered scandalous in its day for being so, well, graphic.
I’m not at all inhibited in my speech, and I firmly believe no subject should be taboo to a writer, but if I try to put sex scenes on the page, I can’t figure out how to do it without sounding either crude or ridiculous.
I’m better at it in verse than prose, I must admit. It’s easier when I can use metaphor. For example this one (a notorious poem in its day, which I’m still proud of – but a rarity for me).
I actually belong to a facebook group called Erotic Haiku, though I post there fairly seldom because I don’t often write anything applicable. Many of the others who post there are quite explicit. Personally, I don’t always find this a turn-on, but rather stating the obvious. Judging by comments, plenty of others do think the explicit is hot. My efforts tend more to the subtle and understated. There are probably readers who would not find anything so restrained a turn-on.
So I can manage it now and then, in my own way, but I’d never be able to make a career out of it – unlike one of my friends, who used to write porn fiction for a living. ‘Just create a couple of characters,’ she says, ‘put them in a location and a situation, think about things you like in bed – and away you go.’ She makes it sound so easy! Doesn’t work for me. I do know how to fantasise. My difficulty is putting it into words which adequately convey the thoughts.
I’m not the only one. These musings came about because I recently edited a whole book of erotic love poems by a woman who wanted to celebrate the passionate love between herself and her lover. The trouble was that she was not only trying to depict the sexuality but simultaneously to put into words their transcendent love. She ended up using abstracts to try and describe the ineffable. The writing tended to tell, not show. It neither moved nor aroused this reader.
I think the only way one can write of the ineffable – something which, by definition, is inexpressible in words – is to ground it in sensual imagery. Shakespeare talks of a summer’s day – of the flowers, and the strength of the wind. Byron writes of the night and the stars; Burns of ‘a red, red rose’ and ‘a melody that’s sweetly sung in tune’.
Those famous examples, however, are more romantic than erotic. One present-day poet whom I think brilliant at erotica is Mary Grace Guevara from the dVerse team. I am in awe of the way she writes poem after poem on sexual love, and manages to make each one not only truly erotic, but new. She does use metaphors; also lots of references to actual human bodies and their interactions – always hot but never crude.
Our own Sanaa with her love of lush, sensual, musical words, is wonderful at poems which are both romantic and passionate. Bjorn is another who creates amazing poems of love and desire (as well as amazing poems on all sorts of other topics) at Bjorn Rudberg’s Writings. Another who comes to mind is the fabulous Magaly Guerrero, at her blog of the same name, who manages to say the most lubricious things without a trace of obscenity (as in four-letter words) – but lots of heat.
I know that many more of you, my fellow-poets at Poets United, can write erotica. I recently read and enjoyed your ‘Lust’ poems for Midweek Motif. (I myself cheated and wrote of a different kind of lust.)
So how do you tackle such topics? Is metaphor best? Do you prefer the subtle or the bold? Do you too find it challenging? If not – or even more, perhaps, if you do – what advice would you give to an aspiring writer of erotica?