Oyster Boy Review 19  
  Fall 2010
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Sacred Lust: Sam Hamill's The Erotic Spirit

Reginald Harris

Sam Hamill's The Erotic Spirit
  The Erotic Spirit.
Sam Hamill, editor.
Shambhala Press, 2003.
210 pages, $16.95 (hardcover).
ISBN: 159030005X.

In The Erotic Spirit, Copper Canyon Press founding editor Sam Hamill has collected a global, century-spanning group of poems that celebrate desire and physical experience, love, and loss expressed in the body. While many well-known poets are included, from Sappho to Marvell, the true value of this rich gathering is Hamill's choice of lesser-known poets and works. Roman epigramist Paulus Silentiarius celebrates an older woman's beauty, "Your autumn outshines a mortal spring, / your winter warmer than a summer sun." American poet and student of Indo-European cultures, Maurya Simon extols "Shiva's Prowess" in ever more dizzying heights: "His wide neck taut with cords of rolling muscles, / his chest an orchestra, his heart a ship's hull." Moving work by anonymous authors from indigenous cultures is also included, breathtaking in its simplicity.

Many of the poems are as much concerned with "spirit" and the beauty and suffering of lost love and separation as it is with the "erotic," ecstasy being both a sacred and secular experience. Hamill has filled The Erotic Spirit with the intensity of small moments, the joy lovers feel in little things about the beloved. A number of the poets focus on objects representing their lover so intently they become fetishes, like Yuan Chen's "Bamboo Mat":

I cannot bear to put away
the bamboo sleeping mat:

that night I brought you home,
I watched you roll it out.

This is a collection to be read slowly, leisurely, savoring each of its jewel-like pleasures.