The Madame was conceived, but never born. She wrote on the dark walls of some womb for centuries, words dripping from the quiet of her solitude. One day she heard something from the outside: "We shall be fat, gentlemen, but never happy." It was 1944. A terrible violence swelled from her pen, she pierced these words through the walls, a reverse dissection, blood in her eyes, the sound of gunshots, a woman screaming and she took off across the plains. When she laid her lovers down in the fields, her hair would swirl about their faces, a fiery mahogany frame for no picture she might afford to see. She remembers, "It's a beautiful accent you have, ma vie en rouge, but where is it from?" She swore her mouth would never make that shape again. The surgery was a success. With all of their smallest things in her pockets, she would flee in the night. Millions amassed in a cluster of rock, metal and paper. Many an ocean liner, thumbs from pockets to the air, and she is here, doing her good work in worship of the two most vital traditions in this world. Do not ask of her origin. Do not question this work. Everything you need know of this woman, she can see-slathered all over your face in brilliant, black ink.
What little we know of Tennessee Pink we have pieced together, from bathroom walls, American folk songs, and the names he shouts in the rare moments of fitful sleep he suffers in the night. And from his poems, which mention the darkness of days in caves and crumbling houses, the exhaust of men and ancient machines, Crimean lips and the shipwrecks he has scavenged. We often think he is uncomfortable on land or above it. He would be more at home with a shovel in his hand or a tiller, but he is ours for now, perhaps by some spell or great debt, he is held here. He will read to you but be wary. Tennessee has traveled in many directions and knows where much is hidden, he is at ease in the darkness and will be happiest to find you there, going along with him, toward some perfect wound, enclosed in a tiny, imperceptible blossom, making pain.
Laura-Lee Gunstreet was born and raised on the top floor, in the darkest corner of the brothel. She collects feathers and words there. When she is writing she is searching for an alternate universe. When she leaves feathers she is claiming it as her own.
She enjoys walking barefoot in the parlor. Though young, she knows the town is sinking and the moon is baleen. She looks at it through glass bottles. There's amnesia in her kiss. She's a swan but a pistol. She can't help dancing to the sound of a piano. Mother, Jennifer has taught her everything she knows. Father unknown. The sound of the girls singing and the smell of a cigar is her mother's perfume.
The brothel has become her home and she will continue to collect feathers there. As she grows she knows that as long as it is snowing somewhere, the world isn't ending.
Ursula Giovanna de Gassion, a pale, devastated whore, was born in Paris and orphaned at an early age. She grew up on the streets and as soon as she reached her teen years she became a heartbreaker. Every one of Ursula's lovers has committed suicide. This sounds unlikely but it's true. Ursula has a penchant for looking off in the distance and sighing a lot. She would never approach you with verses. Lately, she's been afraid of getting close to anyone because she fears that being her lover might be the last thing you'll ever do. Ms. Gassion is terribly addicted to absinthe and has only become more of a mess since joining The Poetry Brothel. One minute, you'll think she's too reliable or straight for this business but then she'll then disappear from drinking too much for three maybe four days. When she returns to Madame, she is hungrier than the others. Ursula hates to be alone. Clients like her sadness because they think that maybe they can tear her out of this place. But the truth is, this is her home. This nihilistic girl can usually be found near her Ouija board... or the bar.
Oola Waistbinder is an artist and writer. Ms. Waistbinder has published three collections of poetry, "Ribeye," "The Discovery of Bones Should Be Frightening," and "The Beard I Knew I'd Find You By." Her dental floss mobiles have been featured at the Centre Pompidou, and she has choreographed two commissioned pieces for UNESCO," "Slick as the Fingers That Slapped Her," and "Somersaulting Crawfish."
Ms. Waistbinder spent her childhood in New England and moved to Switzerland as a teenager. An avid alpinist, Waistbinder has bivouacked on the Dufourspitze and much of her work draws inspiration from her experiences climbing.
Educated at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Waistbinder is the 2009 Barbe à Papa Fellow.
Originally corset-makers, the Waistbinders were among the first settlers to land at Plimouth Plantation. Ms. Waistbinder is working on a family history that includes a catalog of Pilgrim undergarments along with first-person accounts of romance at Plimoth Rock.
After seeing one of Ms. Waistbinder's site-specific installations in Amsterdam's red light district, she was invited to join the Brothel by The Madame. Ms. Waistbinder is delighted to be a part of this community where love and creativity is celebrated openly. She is currently developing a memoir based on her experimental collaborations with other members of the Brothel.
A historically notorious mistress of whim and gypsy-influence, Car, has poeted through the ages as the secretly most influential woman to write and sail and ship-jump between Balboa and Columbus. Much later in her career, Car gallantly matched the daring entrepreneurial aggressiveness of Revere, Adams and Edison with poetical propaganda for the New World, those first rustic colonies and the little known advancement of Revere's silver and art trade. (It is also from her body that Edison imagined the womanly shape of the first light bulb). Iroquois Indian cave drawings have even depicted her trademark dress, black Rapunzel hair and bright green eyes. To be inside the mortar of a firework as it explodes into hot ash and golden air is to be inside the poem of Car. Each line dares you to a tryst with their Dali-esque twists, melting clocks and brilliantine booming.
It was a heavy walk through the Floridian swamps. Fire under her fingernails, fever in her heart. She developed the slow blink. Gasping breath. Irregular spasms of joy. Absorbed in guilt, she croons of lost hearts and the spaces we left abandoned. Harriett Van Os, of fire-breathers, tamed the hunger. What results is waste. Her poems, this story, seeping from her bones like sweat onto these sheets.
Oliver Durant like most of you has been orphaned by the trying times of the world; in his case it was the peasant uprising which left him all that remains of the royal line. He has spent most of the intertwining years in door jams and under neon signs. Surprisingly he's not soured by any of this, but still don't mention the scar. You don't want to know. He's happy you're here.
a small pale child dressed as the grim reaper
jaw dropped eyes rolled back teeth bared
to effect terror
a speeding train over thin ice
pulling into a station
waiting 6 seconds
you are missing it
the scene is in black and white
a pale man in dark clothes across the platform, rose in hand
a blaring red rose
another train comes
you let it pass
he is gone
when you close your eyes his grey angular face
let your jaw drop roll your eyes back bare your teeth
Simone was found floating between the edge of an ocean and reality, one foggy morning last spring. In these early days of her youth, she is bound to be someone you will never actually know. Although she will make you want to. Her ability to illuminate silence and cast shadows about words always leaves her audience wanting more. She is blunt, but seems to find a way to slip some subversion under your radar, registering in your emotion before you've had a chance to impose logic. Her work primarily aims to explore the relationship between the emotional palate and the ways language seeks to define it, which has proved a murky, sordid task. She lives and works in Brooklyn as a Night Creature.
Wants you. Now. The Professor is almost famous in several disciplines. An award-winning Historian of Science she is also adorable and a bit of a tart. In a recent Poets & Writers review of the Poetry Brothel, the Professor was called an "oracular poet" and that is what she wants to do to you: get Delphic all up on you. A bundle of riddles, barely wrapped in a chiffon enigma, she is a well-known atheist and yet practices the dark art of looking into the eyes of perfect strangers and reading their souls. Long before she met you, she heard the wail of your striving heart drifting over the spires of skyscrapers and she wrote a poem for you, for right now. Come get it. Women may touch her anywhere. The Professor has a PhD in history from Columbia University and is the author of five books of poetry, history, religion, and philosophy.
The Butler is most often of an indeterminate mood. In his free time, attires himself in gray sweat suits; rumored to have once shot a woman with a pistol; believes in robust exercise. Vents resentment through a series of tiny revolts; when alone, hums; when comfortable, can be witty; is adored by children though can't quite figure why. Practices amateur psychoanalysis, and pencils his fantasies into a notebook; has a recurring dream in which he walks up to a rude visitor, dips a large shrimp in cocktail sauce, then inserts it wordlessly into said guest's breast pocket. Frequently begins sentences, "Anyhow..." Self-reliant, possessed of unusual hand strength, he enjoys the pleasures of categorization. Prefers cats.
An indeterminate number of years ago, I decided to escape from my lush but confined life in the jewel city of China-- strapped with gold and jade, I headed for the Silk Road, soon forced to subside on nothing but powdered jade, a little-known Chinese elixir for immortality. Having roamed for centuries through the Middle East, I eventually found la Ville-Lumiere, and years later, London. It was in the city of Londres that I fell deeply in love with a brilliant bon vivant who united all the charms my imagination had dreamt of. Alas, it was certain that this was a love that could never be, as this young man had been engaged to a distant cousin since birth.
The thought of this impossible love haunted me during every hour of the day, and my mind became so tormented that I began to indulge in opium for forgetfulness-- repeatedly, constantly. From that point on, a life of hedonism became the vehicle I used to bide the fingers of time while drifting through an endless array of smoky, dream-like encounters. I was told that Hector Berlioz transcribed my stories in his Symphonie Fantastique. I was unaware.
The Chinese surmise I was kidnapped by Turks during the An Shi rebellion; the French speculate that I was murdered with an ivory Laguiole in the 19th century.
Anais Anais emerged, fully formed, from a glass orb that winked above the filthy smokestacks of Detroit. Having thoroughly wiped the oil from her silken slippers, she now entertains herself by drifting down the Seine on her houseboat, working on her eye makeup, penning erotica for private subscribers, and keeping up with the Millers. Kept by Hugo Hugo, she flits alone through the European capitals, collecting patrons and adding notches to her well-carved bedpost. This multilingual libertine makes her powder money in the analyst's chair, teasing out the repression from your dreams and occasionally joining you on the velvet couch, in a strictly professional capacity, of course. On her off days, she can be found reclining in her garter belt and stockings, reading Slavic poetry and crooning to her pet chinchillas.
Born into each of the three rings, Cosette Chapiteau fell, as if from some upturned corner of the sky, three times into the cradle of the fete and has been running away ever since. She has grown beneath circus tents, and held by strange gravity, she orbits those rings, a dark balance held by her holding. She curls up amongst the tigers on most nights, lost in some dead town, dead asleep the whole year except those four gypsy days when the big top rises and the light from her eyes reminds the world it is a living thing.
She was raised on the dances of contortion, flung from a trapeze at four, held a horse's mane with her teeth and nothing else at six. She practices these arts she learned before she tried, again, to fall back through the clouds into the real world: the soul-measuring, the necromancy, the meaningful looks. And though the white cats whisper, "turn back into yourself sister, leave this walking cage of skin," she remains until the next show, the next town, where she tells the portion of a man's soul (yours, maybe) by running her hands along the shape of his skull, where she tames wonder like a white dog, holding it close and leashed but always aware of the true slope and sharp of its canines. To curb her mind's endless visions she slays language, carries the sugar bones of tamed words from strings around her neck as a warning to the ones who refuse to play.
She leaves coded notes in pillowcases and the code itself in the spaces between seagreen fishnets and breath. Her body exists here but is fueled only by what remains of the night's concessions, a faded grip of glitter, ten drops of sweat, and blue blue saltwater. She will let you in tonight love, so long as you swear your purse to keep her confidence and never breathe a word of her whereabouts to the man in the long coat and the top hat, screaming out from the center of those three rings...
Rusalka once entranced entire opera houses with her ethereal voice. But it did not take long for her patrons to recognize the devilish spirit that lay behind the bobbles and bangles and lights of the theater. Caught one night luring a young stagehand into the Vltava, she was expelled from the whole of Europe, fleeing to the shadowed slums of Manhattan. No longer allowed near even the old Amato Opera, she sleeps her days away at the bottom of the East River dreaming of her lost voice, and her nights slinking through alleyways in search of young men to lure to their watery deaths.
Luna Liprari came from a Sicilian father and French mother, from whom she ran away when she turned 15 in 1925. She was to become the secret love of Hemingway and Anais Nin, living in a tiny room above a butcher shoppe in Paris. They helped her publish a book of her poems. When she grew up, she moved to Argentina and was said to be seen in Mexico, teaching poor women to dance for their husbands. She was a clairvoyant they said, always dreaming of explosions, always making men explode from the inside. Her lips brought rainfall to its knees, her hips were said to have been the inspiration for the holy design of Vesuvius. Years later, she was the first Pinup painted on the side of a World War II bomber plane, her black hair and long legs dropping like webbed-spiders into sleepy French streets and Japanese cities. She had predicted weapons, slapped Oppenheimer in the face, seduced (and poisoned) two-dozen Nazis, and finally became a Pinup girl and burlesque dancer, touring the world with the Poetry Brothel.
Fanny Firewater was born on a barren farm in western Montana to humble frontier parents. Fanny was left to her own devices as a child, while her parents worked the dry land and herded the cattle. Always capricious and easily bored, the red-headed rascal made her playground the brutal wilds and sulfuric fires of Yellowstone National Park, where she learned the ways of the wildlife.
Her fiery temperament and early-recognized tendency toward sexual deviance frightened her good, hard-working mother and father, as did her hair-neither of them had a single redheaded relative. By the time she was seven, Fanny;s proclivity for running naked on the prairie, with or without the company of wolves, had convinced them she;d been seeded by the devil. Terrified, they left her with a passing band of Lakota Sioux in the hopes that the heathens might understand her better, or sacrifice her to their pagan gods.
Fanny was given her Indian name of Firewater at the age of fifteen by the Oglala and was officially adopted as the daughter of the band;s heyoka. The sacred clown had recognized a kindred spirit in Firewater, whose rages and whims took her as fiercely as had his own before he;d been visited by the thunder spirits on his hanblecheyapi. The heyoka are protected by the fire spirits and can hold flaming coals in their bare hands; Fanny, being composed, as far as anyone could tell, of pure fire, was named accordingly, and with a nod to the wicked brew the white man had brought to the Sioux Nation years before. Firewater had developed a taste for it by the time she;d become a woman.
On the second day of her own vision quest, alone and exposed on the hillside, a piebald horse and rider approached. Thinking this was her vision come to find her, Firewater stood to greet the figure, naked as the day she was born. But this was no vision-this was Rotten Gut Jack, the Old West;s most notorious outlaw. He was on the run from local deputies after holding up yet another bank in a tiny outpost town just west of the Black Hills, and he was looking for shelter with the Oglala.
Entranced by the solitary and sensual figure of Firewater, Jack scooped her up on his horse and the two rode back to camp, where Firewater, delirious with hunger and thirst, set up her teepee with him. Firewater, true to her passionate nature, fell deeply and helplessly in love with the outlaw, and he responded in kind. The couple stayed with the tribe for but a few months in conjugal-and coital-bliss until the bourbon he;d brought as payment to the Indians for taking him in ran out. Jack went on the prowl again, looking for a sucker to rob at gunpoint with his fire-haired woman riding behind him.
The pair became infamous in frontier towns in what;s now South Dakota, holding up banks, saloons, post offices... hell, anything with a cash register. Fanny thrived on the danger and adrenaline... and the bourbon. But their spree could not last forever, and when Johnny Law shot Jack off their sturdy piebald mare, Fanny streaked off into the wilds and began a new life as a prostitute, her spirit maimed but not broken. She;s been hiding in brothels ever since, drifting from town to town, quenching her spirit and her woes with firewater, writing sad poems, reading her dog-eared copies of Wuthering Heights and Grimm;s Faerie Tales, and, of course, fucking the pain of her broken but still beating heart ever so slowly away.
Echo Rose was born in the last boxcar of a westbound train. Orphaned at thirteen, she became the fascination of a tiger trainer named Mabel Stark. Dedicated to the art, Echo insisted on living with the Bengal tigers as the circus traveled. Nearly digressing into a feral state, Echo became the youngest woman to wrestle a tiger in front of an audience. The scars on her body, she claims, are not injuries from the big cats.
Straight from the rafters and in through the out-door, scratching clean this crystal grit, Calico Cowl is the unclean incarnate, a true dust bunny. Born into the lot of a chimney sweep and later, when her womanly figure made her literally more fit for flinging sud-buckets and swashing streets than rappelling ash she became the Madame's Scullery maid. A dog's body and then some. She soon began repelling sidelong glances from sideways gents too surly or seedy to attain invitation into the brothel down below. Having envied the lavish life of the literati within the Madame's brothel since she could first smear the soot from her lash lines, it was only a matter of misfortune when, at the last minute, the Madame's sloppiest escort slipped out, as sometimes happens in brothels, on a mid-mopped morning and ran face-first into a fire trowel...twelve times. Calico consoled the distraught Madame and offered to fill the slot, as it were. Perhaps all that glitters is not gold, but all that's been blackened is certainly incendiary.
Takes her sugarcubes with a splash of absinthe. She grinds crystals in between her teeth to free the fairies. Melody doesn't know what it means to be "brutally sweet," yet has been termed so.
Still a child, in Oosterhout, Holland, she spent her days behind the pastry shop's coinbox, filling the bellies of penniless children with stroopwafle and taart. The baker thought her a thief, so she stole his son's heart.
Her days in the pastry shop taught her the correct measurement for compassion towards men but not flour for bread. Recipes aren't her strong point. She writes villanelles, plucks guitars, and sings in verse.
The incident with a kitchen knife nearly left her wordless. Cut cake. Velvet red.
A word or two left, she washes her hair with molasses.
Antonius Funk sidled his way up to the Madame one fine evening, a mischievous glint in his eye, and set forth a proposition. Whatever he suggested must have been good, as he's been handling the girls ever since. Watch out for this one. He'll take your money and only leave you with a good time.