The Chicago Poetry Brothel is a place ripe for stories, an event worth telling stories about. Very much the sort of thing that embodies our ethos by proclaiming: “Here’s the story.” Right here, right now, you are in it. The Chicago Poetry Brothel is about experiencing the story. As soon as you enter you are part of something bigger.
It’s held at Al Teatro 1227 West 18th St. in Pilsen. Just a shot away from Halstead where the Gallery Walk is held.
One is encouraged to dress up in Victorian, vintage, or steampunk garb. Upon arrival you’ll be introduced to the Madam and her Doctor. Either are capable of taking care of you… if being taken care of involves the gentle caress of poetry in a darkened room.
“I’m nervous about the dancing,” I tell Emily, a writer whose curiosity was piqued by the uniqueness of the event, a writer who just happened to sit next to my bag while I was away.
“All the Catholics I know have guilt issues,” she replies. Then changing the subject she asks, “Which poetry whore do you think you’ll take?”
“I don’t know.”
“A girl?” She asks, and I wonder now if she was sexing me out. Questioning my sexuality: not perversely, or puckishly, but matter-of-factly, as though I could be anything, as though my heterosexuality isn’t worn upon my sleeve. In a way I like that idea. Though I fear it’s not true.
I wonder now if this is a progressive way to be. A way I might embody a newer notion of what it means to be queer. I meet more and more people who espouse, “Fuck the Gender Binary.” I don’t think that I feel that way. I always suppose that those who say that are, well, saying something akin to, “Fuck Dan Boyd.” I feel a kinship to my binary role. It feels like it suits me. I am comfortable in the role of male as negotiated by myself, my consciousness, and the flowing cultural other that informs such things.
Perhaps a more sex positive slogan would be, “Embrace who you think you are at any given moment,” or simply, “Be honest.”
Fuck the gender binary has a better ring to it – I don’t deny that. Even, “Fuck Dan Boyd,” has a better ring to it. And I don’t deny a possible need for a little righteous indignation when it comes to those that pigeonhole others, others who don’t want to be pigeonholed with questions of, “Are you this?” or “Are you that?”
I felt keenly that this event smartly avoided much of the brothel’s emotional and psychological trappings, the history of abuse, the subjugation of women, the knowledge that brothel’s still exist, and instead took for it’s own, only it’s movie’d draperies as a kind of play house. Perhaps there will be room to grow into these deeper questions. Perhaps they will find ways to confront them. It seems a noble goal from my vantage, but it also seems daunting. So for now, let sex be sex and poetry be poetry. And let a Chicago Poetry Brothel be a place for calm readings, a safe place to dress up, and enter a magical world where play is just play.
But anyway, I don’t wonder any of this when she supposes that I’ll request a girl poet. Rather I joke, “I’ll be more comfortable with a boy. Two hetero boys in a room reading breathy sonnets to each other, or one to the other as the case will more likely be, is the sort of thing that’s funny. Less awkward by being more awkward.”
“That way there’s no chance for confusion, for inappropriate innuendo. Unsolicited innuendo, accidental misunderstandings.”
“YES! I hope that it’ll be quiet clear that I wish to be misunderstood.”
We smile at each other.
Emily makes a similar choice; she takes up with a haunting poetess. And the two girls disappear into a dark corner. Afterwards, smitten by experience, she tells me she must be leaving, but that she hopes everything goes well with the boy. She emerges two lyrics later with a new book of poems in her clutch.
“I was very satisfied with my experience.”
For those wondering about my private reading experience, I present to you an excerpt of Nat Lowe’s salacious reading of a found poem I had him read for me: