Steamy Poetry: Recommended Reading

Poetry volumes to skim when you’re, you know, alone.

Image: Lila

There’s something super sexy about slim little volumes. A mere 100 or so pages, bound almost like a pamphlet. Something small enough to tuck inside a purse or even a pocket. And there’s something supremely illicit about reading poetry, period, let alone reading poetry that paints pictures of ruby-red lips and sweaty-sticky sheets.

So finger these small spines for a quick skim on the subway, or a spontaneous sit on a park bench. Somewhere where you can flip casually and nonchalantly, where you can flaunt the title and “a collection of poems” as a sign of your high taste — even as your heart whirrs wildly.


Every story is an old story. Even in 7th century Greece, girls were getting it on, and we know this because “Great Poetess” Sappho wrote it all down. The existing fragments of her poetry just ooze salaciousness. Check out one scrap, dedicated to one of her presumed lovers on the isle of Lesbos:

You: an Achilles apple;

Blushing sweet on a high branch

At the tip of the tallest tree.

You escaped those who would pluck your fruit

Not that they didn’t try.

William Shakespeare

Oh, the Bard, that dirty bastard. Not only are his sonnets replete with sexual innuendo; he slips many a bawdy joke in his play dialogue, too. Next time you hear a Shakespeare poem recited, keep your ears open: listen between the lines. For the, ahem, “flesh rising at thy name.

My soul doth tell my body that he may

Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,

But rising at thy name, doth point out thee

As his triumphant prize.

John Donne

When English majors hear “John Donne,” they think about bells tolling and death knocking, but there’s also more of his work that explores less of the spiritual and more of the, ahem, sensual. Also, he wrote a whole poem that was an imagined convo with Sappho, so …“To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,

There is no penance due to innocence.

To teach thee, I am naked first; why then

What needst thou have more covering than a man.

Emily Dickinson

I KNOW. YES. Even she, the famously white-garbed virgin recluse. Just take a look at “Wild Nights”:

Wild nights — Wild nights!

Were I with thee

Wild nights should be o

Our luxury!

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna was a bit like the Casanova of the New York City beat poets scene. She fucked everyone who was anyone (famously, men and women) and then wrote way too much about it. Her notoriously active love life is now the stuff of academic biographies and Greenwich Village legend, but so many of her poems speak to the heady romances of her heyday.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why

I have forgotten. And what arms have lain

Under my head till morning.

Sylvia Plath

Given her tragic suicide, it can feel a bit icky to read some sense of sexiness into her (often bleak) verses. But sex figures prominently in Plath’s work, more so than any other topic. These two lines say it all:

I am vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.