The Poetry Brothel is An immersive literary cabaret that fuses poetry, activism, vaudeville, burlesque, live music, visual art, magic, mysticism, and private, one-on-one poetry experiences.
Inspired by the turn-of-the-century brothels in New Orleans, Paris, and Buenos Aires, many of which functioned as permissive spaces where marginalized, fringe, and avant-garde artists could experiment and perform their work alongside sex workers or while also performing sex work, The Poetry Brothel strives to promote empowered sexuality practices and radically open artistic expression. At The Poetry Brothel, a “madam” presents a rotating cast of poets, artists, and artisans who operate within self-constructed characters and share their work through staged public performances, spontaneous immersive eruptions, and, most distinctly, as purveyors of poetic goods, services, and experiences in intimate spaces. Central to The Poetry Brothel experience is the creation of character, which for each artist serves as disguise and freeing device, enabling The Poetry Brothel to be a place of uninhibited creative expression in which artists and audience members alike can communicate more authentically.
Artists performing with the Brothel are women, men, folx, people of color, queer, straight, emerging, established, local, and international, and their alter-egos are faeries, sea creatures, witches, aliens, virgins, whores, and everything in between. Some of the artists within The Poetry Brothel universe perform sex work in their off-hours. Because not everyone can take the mask of being a “whore” off at the end of the night, The Poetry Brothel uses its platform to support sex workers and to educate audiences about the sex industry. Sex and poetry are two of the oldest professions - both feed the human need for intimacy, fantasy, and desire. By entwining these two essentially human elements into a seamless, immersive experience, The Poetry Brothel fosters innovative artistic expression and a culture of consent by exhibiting radical inclusion, consensual intimacy, conscious communication, transparent compensation, and the fundamental value of beauty in all its forms.
If you aren’t already familiar with our partner organizations, all of whom are doing truly important work for the sex worker community, please consider familiarizing yourself and making a contribution to support sex workers’ rights and safety.
What is The Poetry Brothel doing to support sex workers?
The Poetry Brothel strives to support sex workers in three main ways:
By casting and hiring current and former sex workers, uplifting sex workers’ voices in the arts
By raising money and providing a platform for sex worker service and activist organizations at all of our events
By educating the public about the issues at play in the lives of consensual sex workers and generally de-stigmatizing the profession
You raise money for sex workers’ rights organizations at all of your events?
Yes! Every local chapter of The Poetry Brothel in the US is aligned with a local sex workers’ rights organization, and we all fundraise through our ticketing services, as well as on site at events. When representatives of those organizations are able to make it to the show, they also give talks to our audiences, exhibit at the events, and promote their current causes.
DOES THE Poetry Brothel REPORT SEX WORKERS?
No! Of course not. The Poetry Brothel community believes that sex work is work and should be treated as such. We would never report a sex worker - not to the authorities, not online, not for any reason.
Why have I heard that The Poetry Brothel “reports” sex workers?
We honestly aren’t sure. There are sex workers who have been vocal on social media about their issues with The Poetry Brothel’s name and concept, and our guess is that rumors started to spread that we had “reported” their comments after some of the comments were removed by the social media platform itself. But those rumors couldn’t be farther from the truth. We as a community have always tried to listen, discuss, and learn from these comments. It’s true that we haven’t done a lot of engaging with these comments online because we prefer to engage in sensitive conversations outside of public online forums when possible. A lot of nuance gets lost on social media, and honestly, once we discovered that most social media platforms remove comments about sex work, we veered even further away from engaging in delicate conversations on those forums. Many of these forums remove and/or shadowban content and media they deem inappropriate. We do not agree with those tactics, and so we always suggest talking face-to-face, or at least on the phone. We have never reported a sex workers’ comment on any social media platform, and we certainly would never report a sex worker to any sort of authority.
Why do you call yourselves “The Poetry Brothel” instead of, for example, “The Poetry Cabaret?”
We use “Brothel” because it's the word that starts conversations. We aim, among other goals, to de-stigmatize sex work; normalize sexualized words and actions; call in and educate around consent culture; and question the very stigma attached to sex, sexuality, and sexual expression of all forms. We can't start that conversation by naming ourselves something as palatable as the overculture wants us to be. We are a fun night out, but we are also an act of revolution: we don't believe the two have to be mutually exclusive in order to change the consciousness of a culture. We don't want to make sterile a mission rooted in passion.
Why is The Poetry Brothel interested in advocating for sex workers?
Since its beginning, The Poetry Brothel has been inspired by the sacred origins of sex work, the history of art in brothels, and the subversion of language and structures which have historically been oppressive but can now be used to empower marginalized groups. We have always strongly believed that as poets and artists, placing sex work at the center of The Poetry Brothel’s framework—and sparking conversations about it— is one of the best ways we can de-stigmatize the profession—and expressive sexuality more generally. As our network has grown over the years, more and more sex workers have joined The Poetry Brothel cast, and our community has therefore grown much more informed and engaged with the issues that face consensual sex workers today. In recent years, with some of the backlash we’ve received online and the passing of SESTA/FOSTA, it’s become clear to us that sex workers now find themselves in real danger, and we need to be doing more. That’s why The Poetry Brothel has become so committed to using its platform to affect real change — not just for poets and artists, but for all sex workers.
Where does the Poetry Brothel stand on sesta / fosta?
The Poetry Brothel stands strongly in opposition to SESTA / FOSTA. These laws do very little to minimize human trafficking, and they do a lot to put consensual sex workers’ lives in danger, making it nearly impossible for them to vet clients and share safety information online. As far as we can tell, these laws also unfairly jeopardize the health of small online businesses and threaten freedom of information on the Internet. We encourage you to read this short article, written by the folks at Survivors Against SESTA, about the dangerous impact of SESTA / FOSTA upon sex workers. Whether or not you know it, someone you love is a sex worker, and these laws put that person’s life in danger. We encourage you to support our partner organizations or get involved in your local SWOP chapter to show your support for sex workers’ rights to health and safety.
Free Writing Workshop For Sex Workers
The Poetry Brothel and The Poetry Society of New York have begun hosting a free monthly writing workshop for current and former sex workers. It will take place the first Friday of every Month. The first event will take place on Friday, November 1st, 7-9:30pm at Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, and Activist Center in NYC. You can find more information here. There is no RSVP required. If you have any questions about the event, please contact CJ, the workshop facilitator, here.