Erotica V Pornography In Poetry

Firstly I want to say that this is a dispassionate discourse and not a judgemental article, it is not an attempt at covert censorship or editorial opinion on the merits of one form of poetry over another. I rather wanted to define and discuss the difference between pornography and erotica and its use in modern poetry.

So, let us look at the definitions of the two vying words.


printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.


books, films, pictures etc that are intended to make you sexually excited. Erotica is a positive way of describing such things. A more negative word is pornography.

So these dictionary definitions give us a starting place for our conversation.

Pornography, by definition, is explicit, it appeals to the visual sense and is a display or description of the sexual act in an overt fashion. It deals only with sex on a base level and does not deal with the feelings or senses outside of the description of an act.

Erotica, on the other hand, is, some would argue, a more artful approach to a similar subject and is more covert, it is used to excite all of the senses by describing the act of love making on a more subliminal level. Erotica explores, touch, feeling, and all of the senses.

For me Erotica is never a means of realising the pornographic, in fact I would argue that pornography and erotic are diametrically opposed.

Pornography in its intent is a means of denying the power of erotica. It portrays sex as an act only and ignores all other elements of love and even lust.

Pornography is at the fundamental level denying the power of eroticism and insists sex be described viscerally. Erotica on the other hand deals with sex on an intellectual level, exciting the senses and the emotions of the reader.

Let us look at an example of pornographic poetry.

Excerpt from:

When I Looked at Your Cock My Imagination Died

By Ariana Reines

‘When I get on your cock like a bag is like my face is scared but you can see my nails around your cock it goes in like a dirt sack fast is the pussy like a pink crusted with dirt

I bounce there is a sore on my hip like your epilations from behind he throws me off I gaze up and

the shaved cock is fat like a man none of us has hair I just look confused I guess you like it if

my nails are against my clit the bad wax leaves red bumps or when a latina gets ready to take

on the two cocks she knocks on the door in a hard hat and the fat guy shakes his dick at her

but when I fuk you I mean when I really get banged my two tits like greased basketballs

bouncing bouncing bouncing’

Ariana Reines is the author of The Cow (Alberta Prize, FenceBooks 2006) Coeur de Lion (Mal-O-Mar 2007) and Mercury (FenceBooks 2011) and the translator of My Heart Laid Bare by Charles Baudelaire, for Mal-O-Mar, and The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal: Days and Nights of an Anarchist Whore by Jean-Luc Hennig, for Semiotext.

Now let us look at an example of erotic poetry.

Excerpt from:

Boy in a Whalebone Corset

by Saeed Jones

when night throws itself against
the wall, when Nina Simone sings
in the next room without her body
and I’m against the wall, bruised
but out of mine: dream-headed
with my corset still on, stays
slightly less tight, bones against
bones, broken glass on the floor,
dance steps for a waltz
with no partner

Saeed Jones, a 2010 Pushcart Prize Nominee, received his MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers University–Newark. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in publications like Hayden’s Ferry Review,  storySouth, Jubilat, West Branch, Weave,The Collagist, and Linebreak.  His chapbook, When the Only Light Is Fire, is from Sibling Rivalry Press.  His blog For Southern Boys Who Consider Poetry is dedicated to emerging queer poets of colour.

It is clear to see from these two examples the opposition of Pornography v Erotica. In Reines poem the poet relies heavily on language to convey a scene, she makes little or no effort to convey meaning or emotion and leaves little to the imagination of the reader.

In the second poem Jones shows us a scene that relies heavily on senses, sound (Nina Simone) Feel (Bruised and out of mine) imagination (a waltz with no partner)

Both poets are accomplished and recognised as talents and these examples are both fine representations of opposing styles.

I personally favour the style of Jones but that is not to say that Reines poem is any less relevant. Pornography  has a place, it can be viewed as critical or subversive and it stimulates debate and that is at the heart of what poetry is about.

About the contributor

This is a dispassionate discourse and not a judgemental article, an attempt to define and discuss the difference between pornography and erotica and its use in modern poetry.

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