Writing Erotic Haiku

by Ellery Littleton

After writing many haiku in recent years, I decided to have a go at crafting a little book of erotic romantic love haiku. I had been attracted to the idea for a long time, and the short form of the haiku suited me perfectly (three or four lines; 10 to 17 syllables, subtle and allusive, leaving lots of room for the imagination of the reader.) So I started writing some, while simultaneously reading a couple of collections of erotic haiku, and waiting patiently for a very special book I had ordered to arrive in the mail.

The book entitled simply Erotic Haiku, compiled by Hiroaki Sato, with translations into Japanese, is noted in several sources as the best contemporary collection of this genre of poetry. It is a small volume, containing 120 poems written by poets from around the world, mostly Japanese and American. On the front cover, there is the following haiku, by the Chinese poet Ai Li, who lives in the UK:

blow job
she kneels
in Prada

Unlike this example, most of the erotic haiku throughout the book are “soft-core” and quite subtle. For example:

dark rose
the sun lights it
as you undress

Some of them are more explicit:

steamy room
the tulip petals
spread wide

And some are gently evocative, more like traditional haiku:

without clothes
it’s a different


my lips hesitate
at the edge of his tattoo
who was CK?

These latter two are more like the haiku I had in mind. I wanted the poems to be more zen-like and romantic, as opposed to completely sexual. As a guiding example, I am drawn to the approach of Kenneth Rexroth, translator of  Love Poems from the Japanese, a classic work published in the early 1960s. Rexroth believed erotic love to be the physical manifestation of spiritual devotion, an attitude informed by Vedantic and Buddhist philosophy.

I have no such exalted expectations of my poems; I want them to be fun to read, more than anything. I have kept Rexroth’s ideas in mind as inspiration, however, rather than the excitement of a designer blow job. I want the poems to be the kind you could write in a card to a loved and desired one, comprising a book you would buy for that same person. Something loving, erotic and gentle all at once, with the occasional hint of bittersweet poignancy, which is so often a component of romantic love.

At the time of this writing (early November) I have written close to 100 romantic/erotic haiku, trying to find the balance between explicit sexuality and implied intimacy, with a leavening of humour and earthiness. Here are a few examples; some are yin (feminine in tone) some are yang, and some can go either way:

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]

red lips
white peonies …
wind sighing
through the open window

grass stains
and carpet burns
on my knees and elbows
I’m too old for this!

these toys
are not made
by Fisher-Price
are they?

on the path of desire
one koan has my
full attention …

meditating …
no thoughts of
making love
with you

don’t hesitate to get laid
Ikkyu says … forget all that
spiritual crap

at the art gallery
your cleavage takes
first prize


[column width=”47%” padding=”0″]october lovemaking …
grinning in the dark

on our way
to the bedroom
a hint of that same
bewitching fragrance

speaking in tongues
my body understands
every word

inevitably your hair
came undone …
now that we are apart
does it still?

to love somebody
who doesn’t love me …
what a horse’s ass
I am

I always knew
it couldn’t last
but ignored the past
and gave myself to you

laughing we helped
each other dress
late for the opera again


Ellery Littleton will be offering two poetry-writing programs at The Haven in 2010, one of them a one-day haiku-writing course (March 6–7: afternoon, evening & morning sessions). “Writing erotic haiku will not be the focus of the course” Ellery says, “but participants who want to give it a try will be welcome to do so – it can be a lot of fun!” His most recent book – Riverwalk – A Poem A Day For A Year – is available in the Haven store.


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