Poetry Project

Sing the body electric

This month I’m inviting poetry of the body.  We have so many poems about emotional states; we are preoccupied with the big questions of meaning, death, love and power.  What about the corporeal side of us?  Why don’t we consider it worthy of poetry?  You can respond to this topic in any way you like, or follow one or all of the prompts below:

  • Write a CV for your physical body.
  • Write a poem that conveys the feeling of a specific physical action, for example skiing, swimming, trampolining, scuba diving, rock jumping, weightlifting.
  • A poem on the theme of any physical action that humans have performed throughout time but not, in your opinion, honoured sufficiently: giving birth, working in fields, walking long distances, eating, washing, healing …
  • Read some poetry of the body and then write your own poem on a sexual or sensual theme.


Reading list

Any poem by Antjie Krog, Leon de Kock or Karin Schimke.
Walt Whitman’s ‘I sing the body electric’
DH Lawrence’s ‘Gloire de Dijon’
John Donne’s ‘To His Mistress Going To Bed’
Galway Kinnell’s ‘After Making Love We Hear Footsteps’
Jill Alexander Essbaum’s ‘On Reading Poorly Transcribed Erotica’

Send your poems pasted inside the body of an email headed SLiP March poetry workshop to the SLiP editor pieter@slipnet.co.za by no later than Sunday 4 September 2011.  Please give your poem a title. I’ll respond with general comments about all the entries, and select a few of the best for publication here.

Submitted Poems

Love Letter (my body the)
Yvette Morey

Passwords offer no protection
against ink stains on fingers.
Neat ciphers laid over each other
every which way
occupy whorls and grooves
troughs and ridges,
indelible, closer than touch.
Fingerprint palimpsest,
desire manifest.


Yvette Morey

A rope of pearls unstrung
little cloud
floats in the bath.
Difficult to grasp, slippery,
Cervical mucus – egg white –
announcing optimum fertility,
protecting sperm.
This rope ushered me into the world,
this is where I begin.
Not with fallible vessels
for secreting and containing,
but with this filmy intelligence,
finally grasped.


Spring embrace
Sarah Frost

She leans into his arms and the dark,
bath water sheeting them in silk.
His hands on her belly
are the warmth of love-words
stroking her silence into a murmuring,
while the scent of jasmine cloys the night.
His fingers are branches probing her breasts,
delicate fruits, and his desire,
a strong shoot, arches against her spine,
rooting them.


This woman whom
Paul Mason

Not for long now I've kissed you:
from the advent of time to eternity.

Love-locked, in disarray,
the Appolonian twang persists
to sound itself,
like it or not.

I like it not.
Veer instead to my Dionysus -
that sweet deep liberty
that stokes my heart,
cockles my cock,
whirls my arms eloquent
as river pebbles,
calls my tongue to the moist
small pebble that cores you;
magnetises my fingertips to hum
burble sheen trance you,
come to you, come to ...

Just as well it knows the face of
this woman whom.


Cala Leff

legs apart, back arched
I, woman aroused
am a river overflowing
from that mysterious dark chamber
where sweet juices seep gently
from my vestibule
moistening the exquisite ridges
and delicate folds
of these veiling labia minora
that worship a swollen clitoris
where the fuck is a camera
man when you need one?


How alone my body has been
Kerry Hammerton

all these years

it didn’t know
the soft hollow behind your knee
hadn’t felt
your hands kneading my calves,
stroking the back of my neck

all these years
it didn’t know you would lean in
to kiss me,
that you would love
my belly button, my appendix scar

all these years
it didn’t know the hard curve
of your arms,
hadn’t felt your breath breathe
across my skin,
the nip tuck of your lips,
your teeth

it didn’t know
all these years
how skin-tight
your hands would hold my hands,
how your finger would trace
an inkless tattoo across my back

all these years
it didn’t know you would steal
my limbs,
how your body
would dig into my body

it didn’t know
you would gather me up
tongue whispers into my ear

how I would fall
it didn’t know
it didn’t know

all these years
how alone my body has been.


Double-jointed Girls
Pam Newham

Behind the bicycle shed the older boys
passed around a single joint, while
on the playground, we sat in a circle
and watched the double-jointed girl.
Her skirt tucked into her pants,
she did incredible things with her limbs.
Like a bizarre bird she stood on one leg,
the other pulled up flat against her back.
She manoeuvred her rubbery shoulders
and made us shriek.
She bent her thumbs backwards
to reach her wrists.

I longed to be a double-jointed girl.

Years later, somewhere on a stage,
a troupe of Mongolian girls
with white faces and red lips
flipped backwards on hands and feet
and, with dispassionate eyes,
stared at us through their legs.
Then, like human scorpions,
slowly sidled around in circles.

I thought, so this is what life unfurls
for double-jointed girls.
I thought, it's just as well,
when we are young,
we do not get to choose.
I thought, this has been better for me.
A single-jointed girl
pulling up


Kerry Hammerton

has always been about
my feet,
how they hold me up
and sometimes
don’t hold me up,

they are a perfect size,
strange men in bars
have swooned over my feet.
I have tortured them

with unsuitable footwear,
they like barefoot on the beach
and thick socks on cold nights.

It is too soon and I am not
old enough,
but they have switched roles,
I am the one being punished.

Swollen joints that ache
all the time,
I have cut out wheat dairy, sugar,
practice yoga twice a week,

and my new shoes are flat.
I appear shorter,
it seems as though there is less of me.

Truthfully it has actually been about
the shoes,
how they make me appear taller,
more than I am.

I try to embrace this different me,
but I want more from her
than I ever knew how to ask,
and now she is not always where

I expect her to be.


Before electricity
Annel Pieterse

When the world was dark
we moved cautiously
feeling our way
our hands groping, our feet
unsure, uneven steps on stones and stairs

When the world was dark
we stumbled into each other
(hot sweat, heavy breathing)
we shared beds with strangers

A darker world
is intimate, threatening
the rhythms of others closer

The world was flesh and bone

Then there was light
and space,    expanding
we travel at speed
we dissipate.


Cala Leff

forgotten underwear
left behind by a lover
in the middle of the night
was all that remained
to remind her
that she had not imagined
the wild lovemakings
and urgent tumblings of bodies
that cast shadows upon the wall

she remembered dappled sunlight
filtering through wooden shutters
onto his naked back
that sparkled salty sweat

she remembered a scene
at a place they had never been
while her thighs had embraced him tightly and their mouths and hands swam

she did not plan it that way
but the love scars
like poetry collections on shelves
continued to grow

the love scars
found a home
in the grooves and curves
the bends and twists
of her body


Reading her lips
Paul Mason

That night she read
her poems out loud
I was transfixed by
her lips.

I had known fetishes,
but none like this -
these lips
my plexus.
And her words curled through them,
tasted, caressed, issued
for the common ear
and their only eyes:

Forgetting my own words
I continue to read
her lips.


Sleep’s yummy yawns
Philip Addo

It’s a night o’clock
And the eye about to block
For sleep to have its way
Before the moon is day

Walking legs stop moving
Touching hands stop grabbing
And talking mouths say goodbye
The body paralyzed
But not sick

Tick-tack    Tick-tack
Goes the moving time
Snoring snores    Snoring snores
With some yummy yawns
Cock crows once    Cock crows twice
And the body up
It’s another day
Body, back from death alive
Refreshed after rest


Lust Poem I
Kelly Dyer

There was a gap
between her thighs
just big enough for me
to put praying hands between


The body of memory
Graham Dukas

Below the neck that supports this head
is a body that is the packhorse
of memories. Here are shoulders
that have hefted
the joyous weight of living
and slumped beneath the clouds of sadness.

These arms remember cradling babies
and lugging heavy appliances
up and down narrow flights of stairs
helped by hands that have done no evil,
though also, if the truth be told,
not nearly enough good.

This chest recalls that it has flown like a kite
on the winds of pride
and spiralled to earth in shame,
and this belly, which has cramped with crying,
still knows what it’s like to roll like a puppy
chewing on the bone of laughter.

Here are the tools of manhood,
once proudly productive, ready and reliable,
now, just wishful and playful.
And these are the legs that have walked this life
on feet that know
that the earth below is their only home.


This was the body electric, back then
Graham Dukas

We were young, twenty something –
strong like Russia used to be, even stronger
because we had no doubt
that we ruled the world,
and you came to my door
or so it seemed.

You had one thing on your mind
and it wasn’t a cup of sugar
or about electricity (although it felt like that),
or any other excuse,
and I had the same thing
on my mind
or in some primitive part of my primitive mind.

Narrow Observatory streets, six in the evening
and no parking available
so what the hell,
you parked on the pavement
and came to me with
longing in your legs and no bra (is all I saw)
and a body as tight as a catapult.

Let’s not shade the truth with metaphor –
we fucked,
the way the young have always fucked,
with impatience and heat.
We fucked
because we could
and because we couldn’t not.

Those were the Hard Rock Café times,
the hard, hard body times,
the young and dangerous times,
the young and couldn’t give a toss times,
the young life meeting life times,
the life stretching out into the distance times,
the real, real life living life times.

But that was then and now is now
and if you came to my door today
(which is how I always imagine you),
I’d ask you in and suggest this –
let’s die now, today, together,
and come back and do it all again tomorrow.


This body has Managed
O.S. Chennells

This body has grown for twenty-three years
and fought off the ‘flu and far worse,
Knitted closed, slit soles and a broken fist
Firmer since that skinny youth,
brushed more against the sun
No longer shy to carry itself (and anyone else)
across the sand and into the sea.



Warning. Sex.  Nudity. (Occasionally Coarse) Language.

This month’s poems were a libidinous delight.  It felt as though the natural symmetries, contrasts and singularities of the human body (its bounty of softnesses, hardnesses, strengths and vulnerabilities, its cleverness in having two of most things, but only one where it counts most) had inspired you to explore all the symmetries, contrasts and singularities possible in poetry.

I was immediately drawn to the two beautifully economical poems by Yvette Morey, both suggesting the intelligence and design we humans unthinkingly, or dismissively, incorporate.  Her ‘Love Letter (my body the)’ is as dense with signification as our fingerprints themselves, which are both the subject of the poem’s close scrutiny and its guiding metaphor.  The rhyming couplet is a perfect poetic rendering of the act of touching: ‘indelible, closer than touch./Fingerprint palimpsest,/desire manifest.’

Yvette’s poem ‘Origin’ also touched me with its ability to say so much in so few lines.  Once again, the poem’s strength lies in close attention to detail followed by an impressively cogent reflection: ‘A rope of pearls unstrung/ little cloud/ floats in the bath./ Difficult to grasp, slippery,/ evasive./ Cervical mucus – egg white –/…./ This rope ushered me into the world, /this is where I begin.’

Any erotic poem is a work of exposure.  The writer has to work harder, choosing imagery with superlative skill to avoid the risible.  It’s a case of, ‘But at my back I always hear/ The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award drawing near.  So I was all the more impressed by Sarah Frost’s tree imagery in ‘Spring Embrace’ and Paul Mason’s exquisitely musical ‘This woman whom’.  I love the evocative wordplay and half-rhyme of that phrase ‘woman whom’ and Paul’s opening paradox: ‘Not for long now I've kissed you:/from the advent of time to eternity.

I relished the risk Carla Leff takes in introducing bathos into her erotic poem (‘where the fuck is a camera/man when you need one?’), and the achingly helpless repetition (‘it didn’t know/ it didn’t know’) in Kerry Hammerton’s ‘How alone my body has been’

There was deftness and lightness everywhere in August’s submissions, including  Paul Mason’s delightful ‘Reading her lips,’ with its must-be-read-aloud lines: ‘I had known fetishes,/ but none like this -/these lips /hooking/ my plexus’. Philip Adddo’s ‘It’s a night o’clock’, and Carla Leff’s ‘love scars/ like poetry collections on shelves/ continued to grow’ were further highlights.  Then there’s Kelly Dyer’s divine ‘Lust Poem I’: ‘There was a gap/ between her thighs/ just big enough for me/ to put praying hands between’.  Yes, love poets in the past have conflated sex and religion, but Kelly’s poem gives the nexus a whole new spin.

As Graham Dukas knows, the body is ‘the packhorse/ of memories’.  Some of the most interesting poems contrasted the body now with the body then.  Graham’s deliciously Whitmanesque ‘This body was electric, back then’ resonates satisfyingly with Annel Pieterse’s ‘Before electricity’.

Any mention of time and ageing introduces a note of irony.  I really liked the wry contrast in perspective, the clever twists of fate, brought about in Pam Newham’s ‘Double-jointed girls’ and Kerry Hammerton’s ‘Stability’.

I just had to end with a poem from the pen of a very promising 23-year-old, O.S. Chennells.  ‘This Body has Managed’ is a beautiful coming of age poem, a perfect CV for our human anatomy.

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