The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
A Bordello for Verse
The Poetry Brothel is a poetry lover’s wet dream come true. Patrons indulge in a decadent cabaret experience that allows them to fully engage their love of poetry. The cast consists of “whores” who are actually poets in the guise of burlesque personalities. Following a traditional burlesque practice, the whores perform on a public stage. Meanwhile, audience members have the opportunity to buy private readings in an intimate, one-on-one setting with a poet of their choosing. The Poetry Brothel intoxicates its guests not only with the sensual and sexual delivery of skillful verses, but also with booze, music, and an ever-changing assortment of side attractions. It is a true den of iniquity which debauches all with its rogue sophistication, old French elegance, and masterful artistry characterizing the whole spectacle.
Since being established in 2007, the event series has helped forge a sense of community, appreciation, and exotic revival among the poets and poetry-lovers of New York City. The mere knowledge that The Poetry Brothel exists is refreshing for anyone looking to commune with others over a mutual love of poetry. The brothel liberates poetry from the traditional boundaries of academia, allowing the solitary minds and hearts of readers to freely revel in a literary bacchanal that celebrates the art form's raw expression. In essence, The Poetry Brothel's brilliance brings poetry to life.
The Quail Bell Crew asked The Poetry Brothel's 'Madame,' Stephanie Berger, also co-director of the New York City Poetry Festival, a few questions:
Describe the magic and mystery of the period bordellos that inspired the concept.
There was a lot that went into the inspiration for this concept. Initially an interest in Louis Armstrong and the history of jazz got me reading about New Orleans and its famed turn of the century red-light district, Storyville. It occurred to me then that brothels were places where artists on the fringes of society could find work and experiment with new forms, no matter who they were or how they were viewed by society-at-large. I came upon E. J. Bellocq's photographs through that reading, and I was totally and completely captivated by the imagery of those brothels. I love the looks on those women's faces. I love their fashion, the various poses, both natural and awkward. I love the decor of those houses.
Soon, I read a memoir by one of the madams down in Storyville and a diary of one of the prostitutes. They both sounded sassy and tough and in control, and both of their stories seemed to imply that they felt they were feeding their clients' true and deep-seated needs for intimacy, fantasy, love, violence, and freedom. They enjoyed the work they were doing because it felt real despite the artifice, and I was drawn to that. Poetry feels real too, and it is also artificial; that's why I do it, and it fills similar kinds of needs.
As an avid reader, I then read a lot about brothels. I read about the Everleigh Club in Chicago, a gilded double mansion that catered to princes, governors, and society's elite, where both visually and intellectually stimulating entertainment was a large part of its draw; the whores were made to study the literature of Balzac and were taught to perform poetry for their clients. I read about Le Chabanais in Paris where Toulouse-Lautrec and Guy De Montpaussant hung out and made art, and King Edward VII took champagne baths with his favorite prostitutes. Poetry and prostitution are the two of oldest professions on the planet. I am particularly interested in that 1890's-1920's time period because it was such a rapidly changing time for both art and society, and I love the art from that time period, but poetry and prostitution have, in my opinion, always been destined to be bedfellows.
How do you recreate the "lush interiors of a bordello"?
We create those lush interiors in many different ways depending upon the space we are using. At the Back Room, they make it easy because the space is already so beautiful. The venue is lined in flocked wallpaper, ten-foot tall oil paintings of nude women, and sconces. It is filled with velvet divans, wingback chairs and a roaring fireplace. And it is set up as a 1920's speakeasy, right down to the alleyway entrance, drinks served in teacups, secret room behind a bookcase, and emergency escape hatch. There, we basically light a hundred candles, hang sheer lace panels to create shadows and silhouettes and divvy up the secret room, and we bring in a bevy of talented and attractive poets and entertainers, intricately costumed as their brothel alter egos. In other venues we have filled clawfoot bathtubs with champagne, brought in four poster beds, and built entire lighting schemes. This summer we will turn an old officer's house on Governors Island into The Poetry Brothel for the New York City Poetry Festival on July 26th and 27th. However, our plans for transforming that space are currently classified!
What was the process of choosing and developing your characters?
Everyone admitted to The Poetry Brothel has written his or her own character's story. Everyone develops their own character individually, out of pure fantasy and introspection, although some of the characters who have been involved in The Poetry Brothel for a long now have their relationships with one another fleshed out and built into their characters' histories. Character development within the brothel happens pretty organically. Most of the characters have a sort of origin story about why they came to The Poetry Brothel and how they met the Madame.
What is the relationship between the "Madame" and the "whores"?
Nicholas Adamski and I run The Poetry Brothel together as our alter egos, Tennessee Pink and The Madame. If we get an application from a potential poetry whore who intrigues one of us, I meet with him or her to see if her or she seems right for The Poetry Brothel. A good poetry whore should be a good poet and performer, good with people, interesting to talk to, and totally stylish. I introduce all the poetry whores as The Madame early in the night at our events, and I also try to greet and interact with all the audience members who attend, offering poetry whore recommendations to those who are unsure about who to have for their reading. In real life, I am very dear friends with many of the poets who are involved in the brothel. We are a family.
Where does the poetry end and the performance begin? How much is scripted and how much is improvised?
That also depends on the event. Mostly the poems are predetermined, and our Master of Ceremonies, Charley Layton, and I usually prepare some remarks to say during our public addresses, but the rest of it is totally improvised. Sometimes, we will create planned interruptions or acted-out scenes or bursts of poetry that feel improvised but are predetermined. It's a living project, we are always coming up with new ideas, and we are always trying to tread the line between reality and fantasy inside The Poetry Brothel. That's a big part of what it's about—that fine line and all its messiness.
#Otherworldly #Interview #ThePoetryBrothel #Bordellos #Performance #TheWorldOfPoetry #NYCPoetry #NYCArt