Stephanie Berger is set to sex up the city’s poetry scene on Sept. 9, when she’ll bring her Poetry Brothel to Oberon for its local debut, allowing guests to enjoy one-on-one readings of original works by their fishnet- and corset-clad authors, affectionately called “whores.” As co-founder of the series—born out of boredom at traditional poetry readings in New York—Berger plays the madame, acting as hostess and pairing guests with poets who perform one to three poems per candlelit session in bed in exchange for poker chips. After all, Berger notes, “The very best way to hear a poem is from a lover. … What better way to do that than in bed?”
The brothel theme is more than a gimmick, says Berger, who wants poets to be paid for their work and took inspiration from turn-of-the-century brothels in New Orleans and Argentina, places where jazz and tango blossomed before they hit the mainstream. “Because brothels are these places where social mores go out the window, for better or worse, there’s actually this opportunity for really experimental and avant-garde art to thrive,” she says. And thrive it has—her inaugural event in the East Village in 2008 was supposed to be a one-off, but it has since spawned 16 Poetry Brothel chapters across the U.S., Canada, Europe and South America. Already anticipating a successful turnout in Cambridge, Berger says a Boston branch might not be far off.
Guests at Oberon will recognize some familiar local faces: Harvard professor Steph Burt and former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will perform a selection of their works between musical interludes from Hounds on an Island and burlesque and aerial acts from the Lost Boys and Ginny Nightshade. Guests can mingle, sip cocktails and, Berger hopes, have fun celebrating poetry as an art form. “We kind of feel, generally within the Poetry Brothel community, that there just isn’t enough intimacy in the world,” she says. “The main thing we want people to walk away with is a sense that they connected with another human being and that they experienced art and beauty in a way they hadn’t previously.”
As the madame, Berger greets guests, explains logistics and plays matchmaker for private readings “based on what they may be looking for poetically that evening,” she says. Here are a few of the talents she’ll have available for one-on-one time.
“She’s just this really sassy girl. If there’s a group of young females there who I can sense might enjoy a sense of empowerment, she’s really perfect for that.”
“He writes in like seven languages. I would recommend him to anyone who is maybe international, or English isn’t their first language. … He’s very intellectual, as well. I might give him to people who I sense are extraordinarily well-educated.”
“She has kind of a spoken-word background. Her character is almost like Amelia Earhart-themed, like aviation. She’s super queer, as well. I might give her to a queer couple that’s there or if someone expresses an interest in spoken word specifically.”