The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Stephen Gibson

Victorian Underground Erotica


Naked Wood Nymphs


                       Gerard Manley Hopkins, priest-poet, believed the world was charged

                       with God’s grandeur and that it would flame out like “shook foil”—

                       perhaps, like light from a drawn sabre, bright as a lightning discharge—

                       that was how His furious grandeur would be revealed. For him, Nature

                       in God waited, for now. Hopkins wasn’t naïve: materialism, the “toil”

                       he laments, wasn’t only the obsession for things by the working-poor

                       but wealth’s ownership of them—as in this photo, a different child labor.



Nude Girl on Table with Fruit


                       Poet Gerard de Nerval took walks in the park with a pet lobster

                       at the end of a blue silk ribbon leash, saying he preferred this pet

                       (it “did not bark”) and later used the Queen of Sheba’s garter—

                       or so he claimed—to hang himself with. Such cynicism can get

                       better: in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby, the auction of Brooke Shields

                       in a brothel (carried on a platter to the banquet) covers a wide field,

                       not just in Storyville, or this photo—but such gluttony includes her.



The Picnic Lovers


                       This censored pic was reposted on a social networking site

                       and ridiculed by male and female posters “tagging” friends:

                       a much overweight 1860s couple is screwing. Horace writes,

                       cruelly, about an old mare males no longer want, who begs

                       one of them to put out the fire still raging between her legs

                       but the stallion won’t oblige. Meanness isn’t some carpe diem

                       about beauty being lost in time—we all know that happens.



Harem Girl in Chains


                       Here the erotic fetish—with her veiled, naked body on display—

                       anticipates a granddaughter generation’s wish for the seraglio

                       and post-Great War escapism (e.g., The Sheik with Valentino)

                       or a still later generation’s escapism ( James’ Fifty Shades of Grey)

                       because while her restraints could be slipped off with a shake,

                       others can’t: Europe’s “Sick Old Man” Ottoman Empire (today’s

                       Middle East) exists—war can occur at any time, and by mistake.




STEPHEN GIBSON  is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently Self-Portrait in a Door-Length Mirror (2017 Miller Williams Prize winner, selected by Billy Collins, University of Arkansas Press), The Garden of Earthly Delights Book of Ghazals (Texas Review Press, 2016), Rorschach Art Too (2014 Donald Justice Prize, Story Line Press, West Chester University), Paradise (Miller Williams finalist University of Arkansas Press, 2011), Frescoes (Lost Horse Press book prize, 2010), Masaccio’s Expulsion (MARGIE/IntuiT House book prize, 2008), and Rorschach Art (Red Hen Press, 2001). He has been a recipient of Individual Artist Fellowships from the State of Florida in both poetry and fiction. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such journals as Able Muse, The American Journal of Poetry, American Arts Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Gargoyle, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Lake Effect, Louisiana Literature, Nimrod, North American Review, The Paris Review, Per Contra, Pleiades, Poetry, Quiddity, River Styx, Salamander, The Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, The Texas Review, Unsplendid, and The Yale Review. He taught for thirty-two years at the Belle Glade campus of Palm Beach State College.



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