cover image The Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present

The Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present

. Scribner Book Company, $16 (300pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-3746-5

Lehman's cheerfully eclectic, determinedly accessible and defiantly sex-positive collection\x97a savvy extension of his successful Best American Poetry franchise\x97marches from an unlikely beginning (\x93On a Young Lady's Going into a Shower Bath\x94 by Francis Scott Key), past Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, through the modernist era (Conrad Aiken's truly sexy \x93Sea Holly\x94) and on to the present, where poets male and female, gay, straight and bisexual, describe bodies and pleasures in an array of verse forms. Sestinas abound; Lehman also finds a villanelle, a pantoum, a brace of sonnets and, not surprisingly, lots of swinging free verse. Lehman's best choices give off both heat and light: Dennis Cooper remembers the aches of eighth grade; Maggie Wells's \x93Sonnet from the Groin\x94 approaches her own sex organs with bounce and honesty; and Bernadette Mayer's echoic couplets in \x93First turn to me...\x94 evoke the lucky days at the start of a great romance, when sexual wishes are commands. (Feb.)