Are you getting what you need at home? Do you have the intimacy you crave? Can one person really meet another’s every little need? Not when it comes to....poetry? Get ready to meet the Poetry Whores at where else? The Poetry Bordello, an event boasting a unique combination of Victorian costume party, performance art, musical performance and poetry readings. The evening includes interactions with “Bordello Regulars” who dress and act as characters from a Victorian-era brothel as well as authentic burlesque. If you’re thinking, big deal, my partner provides all of that on a nightly basis, then you won’t want to miss the evening’s highlight: a chance to purchase a one-on-one poetry reading with one of the Poetry Whores. Our Town spoke with creator/Madame Susan Yount and Poetry Whore Nate Lowe aka Carlo Matos about what to expect from this naughty literary event.
Our Town Describe Poetry Bordello’s genesis.
Susan Yount Our resident historians inform us that it all started at the 2007 Brighton Fringe Festival in the U.K., when Jimmy McGee and Chris Parkinson created the idea to sell poetry directly to the people within the setting of a brothel. Their brothel setting was a bit tongue-in-cheek but ultimately received numerous awards including "Best Literary Event"! The idea traveled to other cities, including Chicago. The first show in Chicago was organized in mid 2010 and included poets from New York and Chicago. Our first all-Chicago show opened on 24 September 2010.
OT Why take the Victorian age as inspiration?
SY It was during this time that Chicago quite literally raised itself from the ashes of the Great Fire, like a great Victorian Phoenix, and as a result its culture, history and architecture are intertwined with the gilded age in a manner that is distinctly Chicago. Also, during the conception of an all Chicago Poetry Bordello, I was inspired by Karen Abbott’s book, Sin in the Second City, a fabulously researched and brilliantly written historical novel about the Everleigh Club. It made sense to choose the same age the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution existed. Finally, there is also a strong & supportive Steampunk community here who set a very high bar with their impeccable wardrobes (and of course, also an impeccable taste in poetry). We love seeing and interacting with them at our shows!
OT Nat, what’s the benefit of having poetry read in a one-on-one situation?
Nat Lowe When I was young, I wanted to be a poet, but I had this notion that poetry was something that people didn’t do anymore. Sure, we could marvel at the great poems of the past, but no one was writing anything new. I don’t know where I got this idea, but I find that many of my students share a similar idea. The Bordello shows them that poetry is alive and well. It also takes a lot of the bologna of poetry performance and brings it down to a very personal level without it having to be confessional. I find that my clients like to suggest topics or genres. For example, I’ve had clients ask for poems that are funny, or poems about zombies, or poems about stuff that really happened to me. When I get a more knowledgeable client, I sometimes get to have interesting discussions about poetry and poetics. It allows for a tailor-made experience, which for many people—like my students, who sometimes come to the events—can’t get anywhere else.
OT How do guests respond to the intimacy?
NL Return customers know that the ultimate bordello experience is in the one-on-ones. It’s a little bit poetry, a little bit illicit affair and a lot of fun. For some of the new guests, I am sure it can be a tad daunting. When I get a guest to myself, I relax and try to give them what they want. They paid good money for me, after all. Mostly, I want to maintain the air of fun and debauchery and not turn it into class time. Poetry at the bordello can still be dangerous.