Celebrating Eroticism in Poetry: A Semi-Close Reading of Audre Lorde's Poetry
By Yael Tobón Uribe
“The very word erotic comes from the Greek word Eros, the personification of love in all its aspects––born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony.”
–Audre Lorde, "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power"
Before starting University, poetry was alien to me; I had only read some of the most famous (male) poets who might potentially be considered controversial today. It wasn't until I took an introductory class on literary studies that I was presented with “Recreation”, by the amazing American poet Audre Lorde.
Audre Lorde was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet". Her works are loaded with passion, vibrance, and depth of feeling. Lorde fought against the marginalization of such categories as “lesbian” and “black woman” and was a central piece in many activist circles, such as second-wave feminism, civil rights, black cultural movements and struggles for LGBTQ+ equality. It would be a catastrophe to reduce her poems only to “love poems” or “sex poems”. They are more about revolution and change. She shows her readers how the erotic is a source of power against oppressive forces.
I would like to go back to the first Audre Lorde poem I read and look more closely at it.
by Audre Lorde
it is easier to work
after our bodies
paper and pen
neither care nor profit
whether we write or not
but as your body moves
under my hands
charged and waiting
we cut the leash
you create me against your thighs
hilly with images
moving through our word countries
writes into your flesh
you make of me.
Touching you I catch midnight
as moon fires set in my throat
I love you flesh into blossom
I made you
and take you made
In her essay "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power", Lorde mentions how the erotic is intrinsic to mere human existence:
“In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea” (Lorde 4 ).
When I first read this poem, I thought the title “Recreation” referred to the (sometimes) endless recreation of the same artwork through editing and/or writing. I now think the title refers to her desire to write not just for mere leisure, but also profit and all that comes with the economics of writing. After some research, I came across one of Lorde’s quotes that told me she was indeed interested in the economics of writing.
“Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material [...] I came to appreciate the enormous differences in the material demands between poetry and prose. As we reclaim our literature, poetry has been the major voice of poor, working-class, and colored women. A room of one's own may be a necessity for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.”
It is through the erotic that one is capable of creating art––and much more. I find the line “but as your body moves/under my hands” (Lorde lines 8-9) especially charming. It feels like a parallel between her lover’s body but also could be the body of a text, being that both “bodies” are capable of moving under her hands. For me, this poem is the epitome of the latter premise she created––the erotic as a way of coloring her work and creative process.
Lastly, I want to mention how the feeling of reciprocity makes itself present in the poem. The scene is set right at the beginning of the poem by stating that work starts right after their bodies meet––alluding, again, to how the erotic powered her writing process.
The line “but as your body moves/under my hands” (Lorde lines 8-9) )and “you create me against your thighs/hilly with images” (Lorde lines 12-13) is what set the tone for the rest of the poem, leaving the reader with the satisfactory assurance that this relation, action, and creation is being shared and reciprocated by the lover. This last characteristic of the poem makes it a perfect example of ars poetica (A poem that explains the art of poetry, or a meditation on poetry using the form and techniques of a poem. )
Furthermore, this––as with most other lines of the poem––can also be read from a literary/creative perspective. When one is involved with a poem, is the reader creating the poem, or does the poem create the reader? A reader can have so many interpretations of one single poem and create so many exquisite readings of one line, yet the poem remains the same on paper. This poem has that “active reaction effect” on the reader due to how powerful the erotic is among the lines.
No matter how much progress has (allegedly) been made, we still live in a patriarchal society that demonizes female pleasure. Media representation is still heavily heteronormative, and political practices reinforce the existing power dynamics in force. I am a woman, (pseudo) poet, queer, and Latina. These categorizations have led me to experience different types of oppression. Lorde’s work reminds me that if we have been censored for the longest time (continuing to this day, considering that her essays still ring a bell) one way to revolt against that is by allowing ourselves to explore novel ways of finding satisfaction, pleasure, and completeness within ourselves. We can only rise by lifting each other up.
“Ars Poetica.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/ars-poetica.
Keiffenheim, Eva. “Audre Lorde Completely Changed How I Relate to Pleasure and Sex.” Medium, Publishous, 16 Jan. 2023, https://medium.com/publishous/audre-lorde-completely-changed-how-i-relate-to-pleasure-and-sex-3d31bc061724.
Lorde, Audre. “Recreation by Audre Lorde.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42579/recreation.
Lorde, Audre. “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches”
Lorde, Audre. "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power" Out & Out Books, August 25, 1978, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e7cf4825b02c00b6a142f0c/t/5f4bee98ceb27e4afe99bd7c/1598811800640/audre_lorde_cool-beans.pdf.