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Inspired to write Erotic Lesbian Poetry

Inspired to write Erotic Lesbian Poetry - Sh! Women's Store

Erotic Lesbian Poetry - Guest Post by Leni King

Poetry is a medium well suited to sensual and arousing images, more so than fiction in many ways due to its greater freedom of expression and ability to break the rules, juxtaposing many ideas at once and evoking a very personal interpretation for the reader.

Scarce though it may be on our bookshelves and ebook files, erotic lesbian poetry is not a new idea – it has been around for eons. The word erotic derives from the Greek word eros, which means love in all its forms. Erotic poetry can be traced back to at least sixth century B.C. to the writings of the great Sappho, a Greek lesbian who lived on the island Lesbos, which in those days was the hub of lyric poetry and female liberation.


Indeed, the word lesbian derives from the name of the island of Sappho’s birth. She spent much of her time in Eressos, Lesbos - a place where the writer of this article also finds is an inspiration for her poetry.

Sappho had a passion for erotic life and many of her poems are powerful sexual ‘hymns’ to Aphrodite. She was also dubbed the ‘10th Muse’ and the only woman amongst the nine lyric poets in antiquity. Other Lesbian poets of sixth century B.C. included Terpander and Alcaeus.

These fragments (in translation) are not unlike the daring imagery one might see in the best contemporary lesbian writers or poets, exhibiting animalistic metaphors of submission, rejection, pleasure:

Again love, the limb-loosener, rattles me
a crawling beast.
As a wind in the mountains
assaults an oak,
Love shook my breast…
Honestly, I wish I were dead.
Weeping many tears, she left me and said,
“Alas, how terribly we suffer, Sappho.
I really leave you against my will.”

Little is known of lesbian poetry in the many centuries that followed Sappho, although there are many references to lesbians throughout history– not least Queen Elizabeth 1, who some believe was a lesbian and there are also many examples of gay male poetry such as many of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830. Sadly she only published eight poems during her quite solitary life — but over 1,700 were found and published after her death, many with lesbian content, including this excerpt found with the name Susan replacing another version which had the word nature in its pace, according to An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Culture. One wonders if ‘her haunted house’ could be a sexual metaphor, and either way it is powerful and daring for the nineteenth century – a time where women were far less liberated than in ancient Greece:

But Susan is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.
To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

Scholars widely believe that Dickinson’s girlfriend was her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert.

Amy Lowell

A more erotic and extrovert poet was anotherNew Englander of the nineteenth and early twentieth century -  the butch, cigar-smoking Amy Lowell (1874 –1925) who was first inspired to write when she met actress Eleonora Duse. However her true love was another actress, Ada Russell. The two were together for 15 years. The poem, A Decade, was written to celebrate their anniversary and contrasts sex with Ada when they met with their sex after 10 years together. The double meaning of ‘came’ is surely intentional.

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished

Audre Lorde

Black feminist poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was another outspoken lesbian. Her poetry was highly political and she saw verse as an important medium to challenge all forms of discrimination and injustice. After it was suggested to her that poetry is a luxury, Lorde wrote:

“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives."

And in her essay, Uses of the Erotic: The erotic as Power, she describes the importance of women recognizing, expressing and sharing our erotic feelings.

Adrienne Cecile Rich

Adrienne Cecile Rich (1929 –2012) is another famous American poet, essayist and ardent feminist. In an article in The Guardian newspaper in 2010 where she looked back at her controversial and prolific life she spoke how  “The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs." This was evident in Twenty-One Love Poems (1977), which was later embedded into Dream of a Common Language (1978), and exhibited a strong study of lesbian eroticism. Other such collections include A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981).

Eileen Myles

Lorde and Rich influenced poets such as Eileen Myles, born in 1949, a contemporary lesbian poet dubbed by Bust Magazine as “the rock star of modern poetry.” Myles founded the St. Marks Poetry Project and edited The New Fuck You, with Liz Kotz, which received a Lambda Book Award and has won numerous other awards for her work. Here is an extract from "Dear Andrea":

I love you too
don’t fuck up my hair
I can’t believe
you almost fisted me
That was great.

In The Lesbian Poet (a talk given at St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York's East Village), Myles describes how [a lesbian] “unwriting herself, flooding the world with her details, standing in such an endangered place, could be free."

What an inspiration - daring to share extreme erotic images of lesbian life and liberating oneself and our readers in the process!

Staceyann Chin

Another award-winning lesbian poet is Jamaica-born activist Staceyann Chin (born 1972). Her work has been published in the New York Times and her many TV appearances include The Oprah Winfrey Show. One of her most well-quoted pieces is Faggot Haiku (a three line poem):

Faggots reach into
their own asses we are not
afraid of our shits

Echoing Miles’ ‘unwriting’ concept, the Haiku is about not being afraid to express oneself to as wider audience as possible.

The lesbian poets briefly touched on in this blog piece provide a legacy and a poetic canvass that enables all poets to be truly inspired to share their experiences and to understand the juxtaposition between the erotic, the creative and the politics of sexuality.

About Leni King:

Leni (short for Eleni) King is a British-Greek Lesbian writer who has produced several poetry collections and short stories. King's work has been acclaimed for its in-depth erotic insights into lesbian life as well as powerful and evocative imagery. In her collection of poetry, Lesbian Juices readers will find both hot and steamy erotic poetry as well as thought-provoking, romantic and spiritual poems.

Find Leni here. 

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