Sunday, December 21, 2008

Poetry Brothel

I'm conflicted over the Poetry Brothel. Here is their MySpace “about me” spiel:

"The Poetry Brothel is the first event of its kind to seduce New York City. A new and dreamlike twist on a poetry reading, The Poetry Brothel is foremost interested in the presentation of excellent, original literature. However, it is also an interactive performance art event based on the concept of a brothel. The "Madame" presents a rotating cast of this city's finest poets (both men and women) engaged in a night of literary debauchery and private poetry readings. Here's how it works: The poets play "whores," visitors play "johns" (and are also encouraged to attend incognito!) but instead of physical intimacy, the poets offer the intimacy of their poetry by giving private, one-on-one readings in curtained-off areas. For a small fee, all of the resident "whores" are available for private readings at any time during the event. Of course, every good brothel needs a furtive "front" or cover business; ours is part saloon and part salon, offering a full bar, blackjack table (played for prizes), tarot card readings, live painting, and live music, with newly integrated performances and installations from our poets, performers, and artists each month. Each night "The Madame" will also introduce "the new girl," a surprise featured reader who will punctuate the evening with a few special public performances. "
"The Poetry Brothel, organized and hosted by The Madame and Tennessee Pink, is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. It is funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc. with public funds from The New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency."


1) The remnant of fun-loving adolescent in me thinks: What Fun! All that make-believe, safe, ersatz naughtiness where poetry is centre stage. Sexiness and poetry what more could you want?

2) The literary event programmer in me thinks: what a clever way of getting money out of funders who really hate poetry; especially general arts festival programmers who feel obliged to cater for poetry somehow but hate the fact that the average poetry reading appears to them undynamic. They would rather invest the poet’s reading fee into something spectacular like a naked man, chest smeared in pig’s blood, sticking thumb-tacks through his eyelids in the name of performance art.

3) The Feminist in me thinks any suggestion that there is no harm in women being portrayed as “available” for the Yankee dollar is at base evil and ultimately likely to lead onto the patronising of the genuine sex industry where all women are exploited victims, will lead to an increase in incidence of casual rape and an increase in human trafficking.

4) The poetry curmudgeon in me thinks that anything used to dress up a poetry reading whether live music, various sound effects, slide shows, dramatic lighting, free wine or Moulin –Rouge attired motts is an appeal to bastards who at base don’t like poetry anyway, proves the organiser has no confidence in the power of poetry alone and once again wastes money which could be spent directly on poets and poetry.

5) After all these thoughts I think how the idea of my daughter or sister (if I had one) working in a lap dancing establishment (or titty bar as an American writer of my acquaintance succinctly refers to them) is a definite No! No! but I might not be upset at the idea of my daughter (when she reaches 18) (or myself after losing 20 pounds) acting in a “poetry brothel”. Does this gut feeling mean that my Feminist response is too tight-assed or that my inner adolescent has managed to conveniently justify himself?

Answers not on a postcard please.


  1. Hi Pat. Nice blog (so far). Good luck with it.
    As regards the Poetry Brothel, agree with everything from 3 onwards above, plus the thought that this is not actually a fun new way to experience poetry, but really just another unfunny way to experience other things (not necessarily, but possibly, sex) while feeling superior while doing so. The language is objectionable and patronising to a whole raft of people. In addition, the separation of poetry and sex is detrimental to both.

  2. Hmmm. The 21st Century feminist that I am objects to this. Poetry and sex go very well together on the page and at ordinary readings, but this seems contrived, sexist and kind of moronic.

    The poet in me thinks: 'An audience of one? How awful could you get?'

    Delighted you are blogging, Mr C; you always have plenty of interest to say. Good luck but be warned, it is majorly addictive!!