Whores (and I say that in the most sex-positive sense of the term. I am one, too, after all) are not hard to find in New York City, I’d say. Intellectual literary whores, however, are another story. Though towards the end of last month, I found a delightful conclave where many of them seem to gather en masse once or twice a month.
On a late-October Sunday, I ventured down the stairs and under/around an old building in the Lower East Side, then back up the stairs to find myself at the entrance of The Back Room where The Poetry Brothel takes place once a month or so. The event plays on the idea of a brothel, but instead of whoring away their bodies, the beautiful (and talented) women (and some men) seduce you with their poetry. They read some aloud to the entire audience and are later available for a small fee to do private readings in separate rooms. I can’t vouch for what happens in these rooms, as I didn’t go to one this time around, but I did notice that the ladies, who had started out in elaborate fancy evening gowns, had later dressed down to intimate little slips and lingerie. Some had also let their hair loose, so something intriguing must go on in there…
The Madam, Stephanie Berger, who runs the event, in particular, went from a gorgeous Victorian looking gown and large pieces of sparkling jewelry to a sexy little slip towards the end of the night and let her long luxurious mane of strawberry-blonde hair run wild and free. She read some tantalizing poetry, as did many of her cohorts. I managed to jot down some of the lines that particularly spoke to me in the beginning of the night, before I had a bit too much absinthe (oh, yeah, did I mention there was absinthe?). That beverage and every other one was served in what looked like teacups, since the joint was a speakeasy-style bar. No alcohol allowed (ssshhh).
But back to some lovely sexy lines from a few of the poetesses:
“There is an evil inside you that I kiss out.”
“I fuck him so I can know him, so I can leave him, so I can understand.”
“People bruise your body and you love them.”
One of the guests of honor that night was Tim Donelly, the former director of Columbia University’s Creative Writing program. He read a poem I loved about all the ways we do damage to ourselves (we revolt ourselves, we appall ourselves, we annoy us) that kept coming back to the line: “We become like those that seek to destroy us.” It reminded me of the lyrics by a band called Irving that I’ve loved for a while: “You were so lost underneath the weight, you became the kind of person that you used to hate.” So many of us crumble under peer pressure and the quest to be unafraid, after all.
The evening was complete with burlesque and other dance performances, a jazz band, a makeup artist that painted masks on guests that forgot to wear them (I’m afraid to admit, I did too. And it was the Masquerade Ball night and I have so many masks! Shame on me!), a tarot card reader and many other delights. The place was full of marvelously dressed creative types, hidden behind masks (what was it that Oscar Wilde said? “Give the man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth”). I met a man who ran his own short story fiction reading night. I collided with one of the dancers at the bar right after her performance. She was completely out of breath and running to order a shot of tequila.
I went there with my friend David, who is a very talented artist in his own right and had his face painted and masked like so:
He had his fortune read that night, and although he didn’t elaborate on what the fortuneteller told him, he said he agreed with some of it, but not all (isn’t that always the case?) “The last card should always be love,” he said. I’d agree. Or hope he’s right.
And I loved the venue. I had surprisingly never been there before despite the fact that it’s just downstairs from my friend Jen’s place. It was dimly lit, red-hued, outfitted in dark-wood and plenty of antique furniture. It had the air of Imperial France about it and that old-style speakeasy vibe. It seems to me, speakeasies in general have been getting popular and cropping up all around NYC, which is funny considering that we don’t actually NEED speakeasies now. Alcohol is legal. But I suppose in a place like my dear Gotham, where anything is possible, whether it’s technically legal or not, a sense of the subversive and illicit, even if it’s just for show, is often enticing.