Who says you can’t make money with poetry? Well, okay, I may have said so, but that was before I discovered poetry brothels. Who would have guessed that you can make money doing one-on-one poetry readings in the back room of a bordello?
As explained on their website, “The Poetry Brothel is a unique and immersive poetry event that takes poetry outside classrooms and lecture halls and places it in the lush interiors of a bordello.” More-structured public readings are mixed with “spontaneous eruptions of poetry” and followed by private readings for clients in “back rooms” — though they note that poets keep their clothes on.
The poets are both male and female. Each poet creates a character, who operates “as disguise and as freeing device, enabling The Poetry Brothel to be a place of uninhibited creative expression.” Poets remain in character during the events, or at least during all of the public performances.
On The Poetry Brothel’s website, you can read about Antonius Funk, who helps The Madame manage the team, and Echo Rose, who was born in a boxcar, joined the circus and “insisted on living with the Bengal tigers as the circus traveled.” Other characters include The Butler, The Professor, Tennessee Pink and Fanny Firewater.
How It Started
The Poetry Society of New York produces The Poetry Brothel. It was founded in 2007 by Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski (also known as The Madame and Tennessee Pink, respectively) because the poetry scene in New York at the time “felt boring.” The events are sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit organization that promotes the arts.
Most similar “brothels” around the world are associated with the New York one, with the notable exception of one in Chicago. It has had some legal issues with using the name “Poetry Brothel,” a name trademarked by The Poetry Society of New York, LLC.
Poetry brothels are presumably less profitable than the usual ones and, like traditional bordellos, probably have difficulty obtaining bank financing. Thus, The Poetry Brothel used a KickStarter campaign to raise money for opening the New Orleans and San Francisco branches a few years ago.
How Poets Get Paid
Guests typically pay entry fees. For example, the Chicago Poetry Brothel costs “$10 at the door, $5 if you are dressed in Victorian (or Steampunk) garb!” The New York Poetry Brothel is a bit more expensive, with recent events costing between $25 and $50.
What about the poets? They make money primarily from the one-on-one readings. As Kathleen Rooney explained in her essay, “Pimp My Poem”:
Not only does the $5-per-poem fee cause the listener to be more devoted, so too does it affect the performer. Admittedly, I always try to do my best at any given reading, but when I’m at the Brothel, knowing that I’m about to get five bucks to do something, I’m going to try extra hard to do five bucks’ worth of that something and then some.
Clients are free to pay more or tip, of course, and Chicago madam Susan Yount mentions that patrons sometimes buy the poets’ books.
What do you have to do for your money? The website of the Chicago Poetry Brothel has this explanation of the one-on-one readings for clients:
Like the courtesans of centuries past, our poets will recite one of their own poems, chosen especially for you to enjoy, based on your tastes and interests, providing you a unique and pleasurable experience with contemporary poetry unavailable anywhere else.
By now you might be wondering…
Where Can I Sign Up?
The New York branch says, “The Poetry Brothel is always seeking submissions from new potential [poets].” You’ll have to send a photo of yourself, examples of your poetry, and a character bio. The latter does not need to include anything factual whatsoever, so let your imagination run wild. They will also consider creating positions for musicians, actors and fortune tellers.
Here are a few other poetry brothels around the country:
Your Turn: Do you like to read your poetry to others? Would you consider working at a poetry brothel?