Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 – Present is out (as it should be) just in time for Valentine’s Day. One poem, a translation of a 14th Century Welsh poem, is mentioned by Gwyn Williams in his 1953 “An Introduction to Welsh Poetry: From the Beginnings to the 16th Century” thusly:
If some of the poems attributed to Dafydd [ap Gwilym] in the manuscripts are really his, then his expression of erotic experience went far beyond our present limits of printability. I find no difficulty in believing him capable of indecency, though the style of some of these poems seems to indicate 15th century composition,for the re is nothing very nasty about them, only a bolder extension of the happy paganism we see in Dafydd’s indubitable work, an extension within the limit of taste of that age, and unhappily, beyond the limit of ours. It is the task of scholarship unhampered by nonconformist prejudice to estimate the authenticity of these poems whilst we hope for the advent of a cleaner social conscience to allow them to be made available to the general reader.
And so 350 years or so after Dafydd’s poem was set in ink, we see that it cannot be named in a book review as Marcy Smith writes in today’s News and Observer Book Pages (thanks Marcy BTW):
[An interlude for the under-18-year-olds reading this column: Hey, isn’t that your cell phone ringing?]
Find more perilous pleasures in “The Best American Erotic Poems from 1800 to the Present” edited by David Lehman (Scribner, 336 pages). Erotic love letters abound, from Walt Whitman’s exuberant “I Sing the Body Electric” to Emily Dickinson’s “Wild Nights! Wild Nights!” up to “Letter to My Love” by the youthful Heather Christle. In between you’ll find a love note by Chapel Hill’s own Paul Jones: “To [Mr. Happy]” — do read it, but note that you may have trouble meeting his eye at a cocktail party afterward.
[OK, you can call the kids back.]