Why didn‘t Emily Dickinson think of this?

Poetry Brothel’ at Live Arts Festival

2 minute read
What's your pleasure, big boy? Straight or iambic?
What's your pleasure, big boy? Straight or iambic?
While visiting Philadelphia a few weeks ago, I searched for a good time on a Saturday night. The Fringe Festival was on, but I wasn't drawn to the high-priced presentations, often from outside the city, that have come to dominate the local festival. As a former Philadelphian, I thought I remembered the days when the Fringe was a freer and more open opportunity for local artists to share themselves with their community.

But what the hell— that's probably my delusion. Besides artists deserve to make a decent living, whoever they are and wherever they come from, especially in these hard times. So I paid the admission price to the "Poetry Brothel" that the Secret Order of the Libertines was operating on Callowhill Street, in the city's darker recesses down near the river.

The interior of the theater-- normally a venue for magic shows, with a sort of turn-of-the-20th-Century décor, a small lobby bar and a good sized proscenium stage—had been transformed into a cabaret with café tables and dim lighting. On the sidewalk outside as well as in the lobby, playful Tartlettes beckoned to customers with naughty and nice come-ons.

Whispering sweet nothings

The audience was introduced to the performers, dressed in provocative Victorian-style déshabillé— who were our "poetry whores" for the night. We were told that we could "buy" a poetry whore for a $5 token, purchased at the bar. The chosen whore— male or female— would then intimately share a whispered poem with the paying customer.

The stage show consisted of various spoken word artists and singers, accompanied by the jazz musicians Elliott Levin and Ali Richardson. At least ten stage performers offered humorous stories and poems, testing the limits (yes, even today) of public taboos about sexual language and bringing new meaning to the term "free verse."

Genital poetry

At the later Open Brothel, during a break in the stage show, I was serviced by the poetry whore Doctore Bluez while my wife enjoyed the pleasure of Southern Belle Violette.

The last set of the stage show included three performers offering poetic variations on the theme of "Letter to My Genitals" (my favorite was Rachel Fogletto's "Dear Pussy"). Some excellent singers were on hand as well: Lady Omni, M.C. (Geri Vanore) and Alexa Gold, as well as Plum Dragonette (Gabrielle de Burke), whose body language accompanied the powerful rhythms of her words.

Leaving the show, I bought a cheap T-shirt declaring, "I'm a Poetry Whore" across the breast. I realized the point of the event wasn't about making poetry sexy or even palatable. Above all it was an "experience" "“ which is what performance art should always strive to be.♦

To read a response, click here.

What, When, Where

"Poetry Brothel." Secret Order of the Libertines production for Philadelphia Fringe Festival, September 12-20, 2012 at Grasso’s Magic Theatre, 103 Callowhill St. (215) 413-1318 or

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