Adrienne Rich is one of my favourite female poets. And the line above in the title was one of the first evocative images I remember coming across to describe the female sex. “In my rose-wet cave.” Somehow combining the image of being underwater, and yet botanical. Fragrant and secret. Hidden away, deep-hued and moist. I was in my mid-twenties, studying feminism, theatre, and dating a poet. I was both intrigued and delighted. And I began to search for more of this kind of writing, that could re-invent the feminine body, the feminine experience of desire.
This week, for the next seven days and seven nights … welcome to my rose-wet cave. Metaphorically speaking. I shall offer something on the “erotic feminine” each day. Some days it will be women poets, from many different periods who have inspired me. Some days it will be my own pieces. Other days, I shall offer musings on creative poetry, and ways in to writing your own. On the seventh day, I am once again honoured to be a feature writer with Little Raven; last time it was a Flash Fiction piece called Feast, this time it’s a poem called Best Enjoyed Hard. (Hmm … I’m beginning to notice a food theme in my erotica).
Adrienne Rich was born in 1929, and her work spanned the rest of that century and into the first decade of the twenty-first century. Her first poems were published when she was a college student, in 1951. Imagine being a young female college student in that era, where so fewer women went to University. Imagine getting a book of poems published amongst a sea of male-influenced intellectualism. She was a champion of women’s rights, and civil rights, and won many awards. Her work was incisive, often political; her poetry deeply moving and revealing of the feminine perspective. Diving into the Wreck is a stunning collection of her poems. She died in 2012. Her work has influenced my creative work enormously, and given me courage to continue to articluate the feminine experience – both in its dark and its light. In an essay which set a particular course for me in terms of finding the courage to speak (and perform) the taboo, she states:
“When a woman tells the truth, she creates the possibility for more truth around her.”
And so we do. And so women have, from Sappho in Ancient Greek times to Aphra Behn in the seventeenth century to … you and me, and so many other women writing now. And the world is a richer place for it. Ms Rich would agree, I’m sure.
So, why write erotic poetry? To honour those who have fired our skin, and singed our hearts. To experience the delicious precision of sensations again, and to be able to re-visit that part of ourselves in years to come. To remember that we are desiring bodies. To develop our own erotic tongue, a language for sex, for desire. To see more clearly who we are when we are speaking and listening through our bodies.
And just for the sheer yumminess of it. Words can be wonderful aphrodisiacs. Letting a lover know how much they affect and arouse you with some literary foreplay can do wonders for your sexual connection. Here are some ways you can use your wicked or sensual words to infuse a little of the erotic into the everyday:
- Leave a little love poem on their pillow.
- Slip one into their laptop before they leave for work.
- Send a little text-fantasy-poem to them during that dull morning meeting.
- Leave a poem as a voice-mail message; this has the added erotic power of your actual voice.
- Whisper one in their ear as part of foreplay, combining erotic touch and kissing with your words.
- Exchange poems as a way of keeping sexually connected during periods when one of you is away. As a bedtime phone call, this can work beautifully, and possibly give you delicious dreams!
- Putting a poem into a card for their birthday turns it into a keep-for-always gift.
Erotic poetry doesn’t have to be serious either. It can rhyme, be bawdy or playful. It could take the form of a list; of qualities you adore about them; of things you want to do to them. I get silly rhyming ideas more often than I can use them – but I keep them in a notebook. You never know what they might become part of, even if it’s just a text to let my lover know I am thinking about them. One example:“Thinking on your touch today Made my fingers downward stray…”
If you feel called to write erotic poetry (and if you’re still reading, I imagine you do), why do you want to? Spend some time writing about this in your journal. Or turn it into a love letter to yourself. if you were your own ideal lover, what would you say to yourself? How would you seduce you?
So, for day One, I am going to call on the mother of all Muses, the creative womb from which sprung nine different daughters, with nine different gifts, Mnemosyne. Because she was memory personified. And I will need her to help me remember the poetesses who have inspired me!
(The below quote is from Adrienne Rich’s The Floating Poem, Unnumbered – 1978)
Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine – tender, delicate
your love-making, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your travelled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come –
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there –
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth –
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave – whatever happens, this is.