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September 2019

This prompt asked for poems about lust, in one or more of its forms. We asked poets to consider all levels from intense sexual desire to a strong longing, or even the obsolete meanings of pleasure, delight, wish or craving.

This prompt emerged from hearing a Writer's Almanac podcast on the birthday of American poet and critic Louise Bogan. I admit that I really didn't know anything about Bogan, though I realized later that I had read some of her poems. Another poet, W.H. Auden, considered her to be the best critic of poetry in America. Writers are not always fans of critics.

Some background - Bogan was born in Maine in 1897. When she moved as an adult to New York City, she was hanging out with fellow writers William Carlos Williams, Malcolm Cowley, and Edmund Wilson. Wilson suggested she start writing reviews to make money.

Her reviews were terse, astute, and sometimes humorous. She was very rough on the poets Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens, writing that “They will never surprise anyone again…They are half-dead already.” Ouch. She became the poetry editor of The New Yorker in 1931.

The part of her life that inspired this month's prompt comes from the very private rather than the public part of her life. For example, apparently, even her friends didn’t know she had a daughter from her first marriage.

It was the brief affair that she had in her thirties with fellow poet Theodore Roethke that got my attention. I don't think of Roethke as a "sexy" poet, but in a letter to a friend, she wrote:

“I, myself, have been made to bloom like a Persian rose-bush, by the enormous love-making of a cross between a Brandenburger and a Pomeranian, one Theodore Roethke by name. He is very, very large (6 ft. 2 and weighing 218 lbs.) and he writes very, very small lyrics…We have poured rivers of liquor down our throats, these last three days, and, in between, have indulged in such bearish and St. Bernardish antics as I have never before experienced. … I hope that one or two immortal lyrics will come out of all this tumbling about.”

After their affair ended, they remained close friends.

Her poem, "Cassandra," is mild look at lust which is a good topic for poetry.

Is there a difference between love and lust? I would say yes, but it seems that not all poets agree with me.

Is lust sinful or wonderful? Again, there are two takes on that. Take a look at Bertel Thorvaldsen's statue Cupid and the Graces which shows "The Graces." In mythology, they were sisters who were the daughters of Jupiter. They were the servants of the goddess of love, Venus. That is Cupid - Venus' son - with the lyre at their feet.  But over the centuries, this trio has been associated with grace, beauty, love and both modesty and lust. Lust seems to divide people. Lust comes in many different forms of poetry.

My first poetry professor, Alicia Ostriker, has a poem "The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog" that has this stanza of lust in nature:
...To be blessed
said the dark red tulip
is to knock their eyes out
with the slug of lust
implied by
your up-ended skirt...

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


The girl who rings me up at the breakfast place
is wearing a T shirt that says BREAKFAST SANDWICH
in big letters across her chest. “How’s the breakfast
sandwich?” I ask her, not looking at her breasts
because I am by nature a fearful and shy man
and because I like talking about things without referring to them
the way you sometimes can in poems. “It’s really good,” she says,
and gives me a smile that says she doesn’t
like poetry but likes this poem so far. “I would love
to have that breakfast sandwich every single morning
of my life,” I tell her as I give her the money
for my Earl Gray tea and apple cruller. “You must change
your order,” she says, misquoting the last line
of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” I look down
at my cup, my cruller oozing apple, then furtively at her lovely young
torso. “Life!” I correct her as she hands me my change,
frowning at me now, not with displeasure but
concentration, like she’s really trying to get this poem.

Paul Hostovsky


Love should include lust
under the right conditions.
Sometimes lust leads to love.
Time decides. Love lasts.

Pamela Milne


I watched him through the window
Dodging traffic
As I folded clothes
Was it late spring
Early fall
Or summer?
I do not know
But the sun was shining thru the glass
And it was warm
The day was clear
He didn’t see me that day
Nor any of the other days
I loved the broadness of his shoulders
The slight bow to his legs
Visible thru his jeans
His jog from one side to the other
Quick and easy and athletic
His hair long and dark
Almost black
I wanted him
Yes, more than anything
I’d ever wanted
I was never quite sure of his schedule
But I remained watchful
Hopeful that I’d catch him
Either coming or going
Eager, content to watch from a distance
Until I no longer was
Until I wanted more
To touch his hair
To feel the press of his arms
His lips
His hips
And so I approached
Bearing a small gift
An offering
Bold and brazen
I asked for something in return
He smiled and promised to reciprocate
He made good his word
There was dinner and wine
His hair was dark
Though not black
It was wavy and thick
But soft to the touch
His skin smooth and fair
Eyes up close light brown flecked with green
His hands and lips were warm
Both gentle and firm
His neck scented
His teeth small; his incisors sharp
His kiss - how I’d waited for it
Thought about it
My exuberance in contrast
To his more experienced and measured
Our mouths' maiden voyage
From nascent desire
To unfettered frenzy
From hills to valleys
Ahh Will - I was both goddess and hunter
Seducer and seduced
I strayed low
Often and ardently
Pleasure which stirs
Both memory and body
Pleasure that still beckons and I answer
Like words on a page
That draw us back again and again

Terri J. Guttilla


Almost tripping over her slinky black-
with-red-roses off-the-shoulder maxi dress
over concrete sidewalk – sultry for
a hot summer day – wine glass in her hand.
Red wine – a local mourvedre?
She looked out of place in our rough western
town except for WineFest day.
Her escort, a hunk in roundup denim
and polished snip-toe boots that never knew
a stirrup. She glanced at us –
manual typewriters at-ready to compose
poems on the spot for passersby.
Might she want a verse? something August-
steamy? or a moony man-of-my dreams
sort of thing? She stopped.
Sometimes one’s deepest desire is nothing
you’ll find in a romance novel,
but maybe a poem composed improv,
on chance of a moment,
just for him, for her. She leaned closer,
whispered so low her cowboy
wouldn’t hear, could we
tell her, please,
where is the public restroom?

Taylor Graham


This sweet young thing
of the clenched fist breasts
dreams mightily of medio-
crity prostrate on an altar
before her eager knife; dubs
brightness the beloved eunuch
cherished, friend but never
ever to be desired; all
the don’t knows and never’d
guesses shimmy through her shivers
but brightness drools, hungrily
lusting denied melons,
not even satisfied
with understanding.

R. Bremner


My mother's reaction to seeing the movie star couple
passionately embracing on the screen was
"That's lust, not love."
which sent 13-year-old me to the dictionary
which told me that lust was
"very strong sexual desire."
Not sex, but desire for sex,
which I certainly had -
desire - no sex.
Lust seemed to me to be rather frustrating
and I could identify.
But I had also been reading Lust For Life that summer,
a book about Vincent van Gogh which had no real sex
and had left me wanting to have a lust for something.
Life seemed too big and I was no artist,
so plain old lust seemed my best bet.
Vincent said "It's so easy to love.
The only hard thing is to be loved."
With freshman year and a birthday only weeks away,
and Vincent writing that “Loneliness is a kind of prison,"
I decided I needed to break out and escape.
Love or lust, Mom. I'll take my chances.

Lianna Wright


It’s the bite of a sour apple,
swirl of April’s tornadic winds,
garden staggered by August heat,
winter’s ice driven through the heart.

The smoke of life’s engine blotting
the sky, spreading, curling the rose
with its assault, briar of war and
the clink of coin in rusting banks.

It’s the curve of flesh turned to shame,
beauty reduced to sodden need,
a roving lookout never sated,
like a chained dog always barking.

The cloaca of spirit, germ of
flesh deadly as tension singing
on a high line, fall of empires
and storied source of countless tales

Not a ladder upward, a thrust
into darkness that sends us on
madly into the void, reckless,
without concern, now, forever.

Robert Miller


We sent them off to war
Boys, pretending to be men
For them, at first, it was a game
Until one buddy lost his legs
Another's guts got blown apart
Until they overcame their fear
Stopped throwing up
Made their first kill

Some left on a stretcher
Others in a box
Those that survived
Turned cold inside
And calm
A switch tripped
A trapdoor opened

The bitter aftertaste of blood
Turned honey sweet
The smell of burning flesh
A Texas Barbecue
What once repelled
Compelled them to commit
Unthinkable atrocities
Some went berserk
The battlefield, their abattoir
Their appetite for Death, insatiable

In time, all wars wear out
All Tours end
Men with hidden wounds
Come home
To unsuspecting wives,
The terror of safe lives

They are ticking bombs
Camouflaged as heroes
Ready to explode
Blood lust strangling their hearts
Tattooed to their souls

Frank Kelly


Tongues touch tongues
dart in and out like vipers,
roll under, over, around—pierce through
eager, mutually consenting mouths,
pores open; moisture collects,
liquid diamonds in the rough
dribble down cheeks,
anoint flushed faces like holy water
pass over lips, travel down chins
kiss skin like a string of pearls or
hang there like jeweled garlands
dreamy quixotic rationalists, lovers
venerate animal ecstasy, disguised as
eternity’s tender passion, plunge dark
recesses of each other’s heart.

Shoulders sigh as
hands massage, magically
hitting their mark in fortuitous moments,
multiplying bliss into
seventh heaven rapture where
euphoric exaltation invites replication,
bodies curl in fetal position,
minimizing microscopic space between
satisfied souls still rocking with
rhythmic, suggestive sanctity
baptismal floodgates release sensual torrents
drench initiates, bless simple ceremonies
launch them into experiential frontiers where
inductions resist neglect, as
passions purify promises.

Sterling Warner


Bright red bra worn under
A white crêpe de Chine blouse
Dainty mother-of-pearl buttons complete the picture

Doryn Herbst


The inherent frustration
In the changing
Of the meaning
Of a word
Over time
Has me irritated
A little bit pissed, even

When did voluptuous
Betray me
And cease to mean sensuous?
Prone to sensual enjoyment?
Relating to
Or characterized by
Sensual pleasure?
You betcha!
Full of delight
Or pleasure
To the senses?
Yes sir, indeed!

Why did big tits get to hijack
My perfectly good word
And render it backward?

They’ve tried to hijack everything
The bodacious imposters
And they’ve almost succeeded

One too many men spoke of the voluptuous woman
And one too many a person
Who didn’t know that big ol’ word
Assumed it referred to those big ol ‘things—
The charlatans

And assumption
Became connotation
Became presumption
Became fact

So I can’t be voluptuous anymore
Just like you can’t be gay
Or lusty

Perfectly good words
Gone askance
And askew
On the way to their new home

No matter!

I’ll be voluptuous
And you be lusty
And we’ll roll around in our holy lust
Till the world tilts a little

And the angels will sing

Laurie Sitterding


When she opened up her mind to me,
    Her ideas lit me up and her conversation dazzled,
    And we sparked off one another until both of us were frazzled.
    Talking late into the night
    Each twist and turn a sheer delight
    Even when the red wine had us absolutely sozzled.

When she opened up her heart to me,
     I saw it happening by the light in her eyes,
    As her pupils grew in intensity and size.
    Casual pecks became proper kisses -
    Square on the lips, no longer near misses -
    Yet I fight primal urges and vow to be wise.

When she opened up her thighs to me,
I felt honoured, privileged, like a novice in the temple,
Treading carefully on sacred ground, being gentle,
Until she wants more - harder, deeper -
Does she see me already as a possible ‘keeper’?
I roll with our urges, animalistic and simple.

When she opened up her mouth to me,
Lips stroking, tongue swirling, hollowed-cheek sucking,
I try to lie motionless, and keep my hips from bucking.
I’m overwhelmed by the beauty,
Her generosity, absolutely,
I can’t wait to reciprocate the next time we're fucking.

When she opened up her soul to me,
She was literally my ‘other half’, my muse, my little goddess.
I’d sometimes go upstairs early just to watch her stretch and undress
In the dim and flickering candlelight,
Her skin glowing warmly in the night,
Yet - even in perfection, my mind wanders, I must confess.

Damon Leigh