Why Are These Portland Poets Proud to Call Themselves Whores?

Brothel-style readings open up poetry to a new audience —complete with booze, burlesque, and "private shows."

By Katie Vaughan October 14, 2015

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Photo by Rachael Saltzman.

If the thought of a serious evening spent listening respectfully to poetry in a crowded cafe raises your hackles, fear not: the Poetry Brothel, en route to Portland, is poetry kicked up a notch. “It’s what we imagine an 18th century Parisian brothel would be but, instead of getting taken upstairs for sex, you get taken upstairs for poetry,” says co-founder Nicholas Adamski.

He started the Brothel with co-founder Stephanie Bergen in New York City in 2008 because of the uninspiring live poetry readings on offer. “They were so boring and poetry readings have a bad rap anyway,” says Bergen. “I knew there was a better way to present poetry to an audience.” They’ve been hosting brothels across the country (and as far as Spain) since 2009, featuring local poets in each city. The Poetry Brothel's Portland appearance will be at the Vie de Bohème and we’ve got the scoop on the “poetry whores”—both local and touring—who'll be offering up their services on the night.

Here’s the jist: Poetry Whores—in thoroughly-developed character and costume—perform short readings throughout a vivacious, booze-friendly evening peppered with live music and burlesque. You’re not expected to stay in your chair and clap quietly: grab a drink, dance, yell bawdy things at the poets. It’s less poetry slam and more turn-of-the-century cocktail party. Anyone in the mood for a more intimate reading, can purchase a “whore” for some private poetry (let’s just be clear this is actual poetry, not Moulin Rouge “poetry”). It’s a unique opportunity. Says Adamski, “unless you’re best friends with a poet you’ll probably never get a private reading. You get to experience art from the maker first-hand.” Feel free to engage your poetry whore in some lively discussion afterwards—they’re at your disposal, after all.

And should you care to peruse your Poetry Whores in advance, here's a sampling for your delectation. . .

Rob Schlegel (aka Julian)

  • “I’ll probably show some skin but not a lot.”
  • Schelgel is a Portland native. His character, a contemporary version of St. Julian the Hospitaler, will be reading narrative-based persona poems.
  • Best Trick: whispering sweet nothings from Alice Notley’s The Prophet into your ear. "If you discover one morning you are a drug addict / or an alcoholic, You are words."
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The Madame. Photo by David Burstein.

Stephanie Bergen (aka The Madame)

  • “Don't ask more of her origin. Do not question the work. Everything you need know of this woman, she can see - slathered all over your forehead in brilliant, black ink.”
  • Your evening’s host and matriarch of the Poetry Whores hails from New York City
  • Best Trick: you’d have to be very lucky to get a trick from the Madame herself.

Laura Winberry (aka Lucciole Donatella Volupté)

  • “A Jersey Desperate Housewives-mermaid-poet-whore.”
  • Winberry lives in Bend. Her character Lucciole hails from New Jersey by way of Italy. Lucciole is the Italian word for “firefly” and “prostitute”. She "whored "it up in Italy before relocating to the Jersey shore. Her prose-style poems might be an easier intro for poetry noobs.
  • Best Trick: smatterings from Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer winner, Life on Mars
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Tennessee Pink. Photo by David Burstein.

Nicholas Adamski aka Tennessee Pink

  • “What little we know of Tennessee Pink we have pieced together, from bathroom walls and American folk songs.”
  • The Madame’s right hand man, the drunk, the fool hails from New York City
  • Best Trick: performing a drunk sing-song version of the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot

 Sarah Borsten (aka Lucy St. Pyre)

  • “Those lost in the heat of this vixen’s attention often stumble home with singed fingers, smoke in their eyes and pockets empty as her smoldering heart.
  • Corvallis-born, Portland resident Borsten prefers to explore the darker side of human nature and a more surreal style of poetry.
  • Best Trick: if you’re lucky she’ll show you her e.e. cummings tattoo

 The Poetry Brothel will be housed at the Vie de Boheme on Wednesday, October 21. 

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