Homoerotic poetry

Homoerotic poetry

Homoerotic poetry is a genre of poetry of the male-male erotic tradition that contains poems by major poets such as Abu Nuwas, Walt Whitman, Federico García Lorca, W. H. Auden, Fernando Pessoa and Allen Ginsberg.

In the female-female tradition, there are poets such as Sappho, "Michael Field", and Maureen Duffy. Other poets wrote poems and letters with homoerotic overtones toward individuals, such as Emily Dickinson to her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert.


English poetry

The most prominent example in the English language and in the Western canon is that of the sonnets by William Shakespeare. Though some critics have made assertions, some in efforts to preserve Shakespeare's literary credibility, to its being non-erotic in nature, no critic has disputed that the majority of Shakespeare's sonnets concern explicitly male-male love poetry. The only other Renaissance artist writing in English to do this was the poet Richard Barnfield, who in The Affectionate Shepherd and Cynthia wrote fairly explicitly homoerotic poetry. Barnfield's poems, furthermore, are now widely accepted as a major influence upon Shakespeare's.[1]

In the twentieth century, W. H. Auden and Allen Ginsberg became well known as poets. In Great Britain in the twentieth century the pederast Ralph Chubb lived in poverty and produced his own books in limited editions made from illustrated engravings (similar to methods employed by William Blake), which he then erased.

In the 19th century the British gay poet Digby Mackworth Dolben is a little known poet; in the last decade Lord Alfred Douglas produced a major gay volume with his Poems (1896) published in Paris in English and French translations after the trial of Oscar Wilde for homosexual offences brought about largely by Wilde's love for Douglas. Wilde in De Profundis, a poem about his prison experiences which broke him and led to his death in 1900 in Paris, produced an enduring poem. At the same time A. E. Housman gave voice to gay feelings of fear and guilt in a still-criminalized situation in his A Shropshire Lad (1896). In the twentieth century Sir Noel Coward wrote witty gay poems while the magician Aleister Crowley wrote works in English.

The British savant Anthony Reid created the largest male homosexual anthology of poems: The Eternal Flame (2 volumes, 1992–2002) which he worked on for nearly fifty years; publication of the second volume was held up by the publisher going bankrupt. The excellent Canadian gay poet Ian Young produced the first major bibliography with his works The Male Homosexual in Literature (2 editions, the second being expanded). The Australian gay poet Paul Knobel's CD-ROM 'An Encyclopedia of Male Homosexual Poetry and its Reception History' (2002) is the largest survey of the subject and comes to one million words with overviews covering over 250 languages and language groups. He has also published A World Overview of Male Homosexual Poetry (2005). Gregory Woods has produced other studies, including a history of gay literature with some reference to poetry.

The period since gay liberation (from 1968) has produced dozens of gay poetry anthologies (e.g. 2 edited by Ian Young alone and others by Winston Leyland producer of the excelleny gay lib periodical Gay Sunshine, which included poetry); this has mainly been the result of the increasing decriminalisation of gay sex in the Anglo world (male homosexual acts were decriminalized in France in the late 18th century and in Italy in the late 19th). Notable United States gay poets include Dennis Cooper, Gavin Dillard, John Gill, Dennis Kelly, Tom Meyer, Paul Monette, Harold Norse and Jonathan Williams. Jamse S. Holmes was a leather poet who emigrated to Amsterdam. Daryl Hine form Canada and David Herkt and Paul Knobel from Australia have written fine gay poems. New Zealand has a vibrant gay culture and has produced some gay poets. The Canadian gay poet Edward A. Lacey died after being run over in the street while drunk in Bangkok; repatriated to Canada, he remained bedridden. His complete poems were only published in the early 21st century. The British poet Thom Gunn lived in the United States and wrote a notable volume inspired by AIDS (which has produced several anthologies).

European poetry

The first modern European gay anthology was in German compiled by Elisar von Kupffer (1900); it was followed by the poetry and prose anthology Iolaus compiled by the homosexual British socialist Edward Carpenter, which has remained in print almost continuously until today. The 1978 anthology French gay anthology with much poetry and excellent illustrations, Lamoure bleu (French for "blue love", that is, forbidden love) has been translated into German and English and remains in print.

Italian has Michelangelo, the painter and sculptor, who wrote gay love sonnets while Sandro Penna is a later poet. The Venetian gay poet Mario Stefani died in still unexplained circumstances in the early 21st century. Renzo Paris is a notable contemporary poet.

In French there is Rimbaud and Verlaine, who were lovers; some of Verlaine's poems published in the early 1890s were the first open modern French gay poems and influenced Oscar Wilde. Jean Cocteau wrote in the twentieth century where Jean Genet also wrote some gay poems.

In German Adolf Brand wrote gay poetry in the early part of the twentieth century as well as producing the major gay periodical Der Eigene (The Special; 1898–1931), which published gay poetry. The Swiss gay magazine Der Kreis (The circle) carried the flame of gay poetry in the second world war when the Nazi regime in Germany imprisoned many homosexuals, leading to their deaths. Nils Hallbeck was a Swedish gay poet and in the opinion of Anthony Reid, his English translator, one of the finest gay poets ever. Danish and Dutch have also produced fine gay poets.

Spain produced Garcia Lorca, who was shot in the Spanish civil war, and many others. For South American poets, see the bilingual anthology Now the Volcano (San Francisco, 1979). Antonio Botto is the best known Portuguese poet to write open gay poems; he later lived in Brazil where he died. In Brazil, a gay anthology was produced in 1978 called Poemas do amor mandate (Poems of doomed love).

Baltic & Middle Eastern

Russian has Kuzmin and Gennady Trifonov (who was imprisoned for writing homosexual poems which were not at the time published). Valery Pereleshin lived in exile in Brazil where he produced a significant body of gay poetry. Poland had gay poets in the early part of the twentieth century and has an increasingly open gay culture. Brane Mozetic writes in Slovene.

Turkey has a huge gay poetry heritage as does medieval Hebrew. Hebrew gay poetry has been discussed by Norman Roth, Jefim Schirmann and Dan Pagis and dates from the Middle Ages in Spain. C. M. Naim surveyed gay poetry in an article in Studies in the Urdu ghazal and Prose Fiction (1979) and Ralph Russell has dealt with the subject in various books.

Very little is known about oral homosexual poems in African cultures.

Further reading

  • Paul Knobel, An Encyclopedia of Male Homosexual Poetry and its Reception History (2002; cdrom).* Paul Knobel, A World Overview of Male Homosexual Poetry (2005).
  • Anthony Reid, The Eternal Flame, 2 volumes (1992–2002); English language anthology covering all continents of the world.
  • Gregory Woods, A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition (Yale University Press, 1998).
  • Gregory Woods, Articulate Flesh: Male Homo-eroticism and Modern Poetry (Yale University Press, 1987).
  • Ian Young, The Male Homosexual in Literature, second edition (1982).


  1. ^ Daugherty, Leo (2001). "The Question of Topical Allusion in Richard Barnfield's Pastoral Verse". In Boris, Kenneth; Klawitter, George. The Affectionate Shepherd: Celebrating Richard Barnfield. Pennsylvania: Susquehanna University Press. p. 45. 

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