Arielle Greenberg knows the words you want to hear. She knows how to make the blood pulse through your veins and flush your face.

She knows how to make you squirm.

With delight.

Greenberg, a writer from Belfast, wants to share tips for writing the perfect romantic poem for your lover. In this case, perfect means erotic, sexy and full of suggestive, if not explicit, language.

“It’s a very hard thing to do well,” Greenberg said of writing an erotic poem for someone specific. “You could only write that poem for your lover. It has to feel intimate, sincere and heartfelt. You don’t want to send a poem that you might find in a Hallmark card.”

No, you don’t. Unless you like the doghouse.


Greenberg will lead a talk and workshop Saturday in Portland on the art of erotic poetics. Hosted by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance at the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Library, “How To Write Poems for Your Lover(s)” will offer examples of sexy poems from throughout history.

Greenberg will talk about what makes them work

and offer guidelines for composing a seductive gift of words for Valentine’s Day. “I am going to guide people toward the specific. God is in the details,” Greenberg said.

Her single biggest tip: Be precise. Use language to create images that perhaps only your lover will understand and that will elicit a response. A lot of people think a good poem is universal. Greenberg is not among them. Universal poems don’t last because they’re generic, she said.

She compared a poem for a lover to a treasured photograph. “It’s a written version of a memory that is its own kind of document,” she said.



A nationally published poet and critic, Greenberg is drawn toward erotic poems and poems about sexuality, if for no other reason than because well-done erotic poems aren’t easy to find in contemporary creative writing. There are plenty of bad ones that are full of sentimentality, but not many good ones, she said.

“It’s funny, but I would see a blurb for a book coming out saying, ‘This is an erotic book,’ and I would read it and think to myself, ‘Where?’ It’s so subtle, hidden and veiled. I thought, there must be room for something more overt than that.”

She decided to try.

Erotic poems need not be sexually explicit, though Greenberg admitted that few effective erotic poems are G-rated. That doesn’t mean they have to rely on dirty or overtly sexual words to convey meaning. It means the content is adult-oriented and suggestive.

She cited a poem that she will use in the workshop by Lucille Clifton. There’s not a dirty word in there, but Clifton’s word choices leave no doubt that she is talking about male and female anatomy in “To a Dark Moses,” which begins with the lines:

“You are the one


I am lit for.”

Writing suggestive material, be it a poem, a love letter or a soul-bearing confession, is difficult because a writer exposes personal vulnerabilities when making desires known. If you’re going to expose yourself, Greenberg said, it’s best to make sure your words are direct, effective and free of cliches. Cliches sap any chance of the writer sounding sincere, she said, adding that even very good writers tend to write about sex badly. That’s especially true today.

Shakespeare wrote famously about love, particularly in his sonnets. “But I think it’s harder in this day and age for serious writers to risk being seen as sentimental or romantic. We live in a cynical age,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try. “It’s very tricky to say something earnest and heartfelt, but people are still looking for that in literature. People still want that cathartic poignancy,” she said.

One of the best examples in literary history is Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

Shakespeare tells his lover she is more lovely and temperate than a summer’s day. And while everything beautiful in nature must fade, the beauty of his lover shall not. Neither age nor death can dim her beauty, because the writer has preserved them forever in his poem.


It passes all of Greenberg’s tests: It’s original, heartfelt and blush-worthy.

She also appreciates “i like my body” by E.E. Cummings, which is anything but subtle. The poet tells how much he likes his own body when intertwined with his lover’s body:

“Muscles better and nerves more.

i like your body. i like what it does,

i like its hows.”

Later in the poem, the writer speaks of his desire to kiss “this and that of you” and slowly stroke “the shocking fuzz of your electric fur.”



Farmington writer Bill Roorbach sometimes writes steamy scenes in his novels. His latest book, “The Remedy for Love,” is a Maine love story about two strangers, a man and woman, who end up stranded in a cabin during a raging blizzard.

His advice: Be particular, not general. ” ‘They were turned on,’ is very different from, ‘She kissed the back of his knee,’ ” Roorbach said.

For him, there’s no line between appropriate and excessive. Each circumstance is different, and the judgment comes down to the risk a writer is willing to take.

“Some stories are about being pornographic, in which case, I say go for it,” he said. “Most are not, in which case I look for that one moment that says it all, the touch, the rumpled aftermath, a certain redolence, the thing that reveals character and not just lust.”

Roorbach enjoys writing what he calls “fulsome, exhaustive, sweaty scenes.” Much of what he writes he ends up not using in print. He edits “for that one moment that says it all, the one that I could film.”


Another writer with Maine roots and experience with erotic writing is Melissa Falcon Field, a former student at the University of Maine at Farmington who now lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Her first novel, “What Burns Away,” is being promoted as a dark love story. She’ll talk about the book Feb. 25 at Portland Public Library, where Roorbach will introduce her.

Romantic scenes and erotic writing are a matter of taste, she said.

For her, eroticism is sexiest when it remains indirect as a suggestion between characters. Memory can be sexy, too, “especially when two characters fall down the rabbit hole of that remembering together, allowing it to brew new heat between them,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“And always, what I have found sexiest in fiction is not a direct translation of actual copulation, which can read as overly moist and breathy like porn or, worse, slap-stick goofy like Mad Magazine, both of which have their places but are never as hot as anticipation and the tension it creates, when carefully threaded through politeness.”


In “What Burns Away,” the most erotic moments between the character Claire and the object of her desire are fueled by correspondence in the form of letters, emails, texts and social media. That story within a story “allows readers to access the private, often secret confessions between characters, which breeds desire on the page,” Field wrote.


Writing a novel with erotic scenes is very different than writing an erotic poem intended for your lover’s eyes only. But the motivations of the writers are the same: To express feelings and stir emotions.

The writers also share a certain level of romanticism.

Field still has her old love letters. Some are stored in the attic, others in the basement, “and the best ones, the juicy and heartbreaking ones, in an antique wooden box under my bed.” She rereads them the way some people look at old photos.

She confesses that may also make her a hoarder. She also has movie stubs and concert tickets from every show she ever attended with anyone who has ever mattered to her, along with her now-10-year-old bridal bouquet, which she keeps in a glass bowl on her dresser.

“I hold things tight,” she said. “I idealize memories. So, yes, I am a romantic, and although that has not always served me well, leaving me to bruise easily, maybe to write love stories, a romantic is something you ought to be.”

She still writes love letters. The first love letter she ever wrote was to Simon LaBon, lead singer of the band Duran Duran. Field was in elementary school. She doesn’t recall the details of the letter, but she does remember carrying her boombox blaring “Hungry Like the Wolf” while walking to the mailbox.

Her latest love letter was to her 4-year-old son, tucked into his lunch box.

And she still writes “more salacious ones” to her beloved, telling of places she has been and recording memories erotic and romantic both, “shared moments of tenderness and pleasure that I don’t ever want to forget.”

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