DIY Poetry Brothel

or, How I Became a Poetry Pimp (and You Can Too!)

The Toronto Fringe Festival is the city’s great theatrical equalizer, meting out stage space by lottery to established performers and companies as well as to those new and break-seeking. This year’s festival, held in early July, saw the expansion of the Visual Fringe, an outdoor gallery space originally launched to host visual artists, providing tents in which to hawk their wares.

A few weeks before the festival, I fell in with a bad crowd: WORKhouse Theatre, a company who’d lost the stage lottery but devised a plan to pack a Visual Fringe tent to its PVC rafters with performers, visual artists, and writers. The tent, dubbed Fort Awesome, would be a site of collaboration across the arts and of playful interaction between artists and visitors. It would be your childhood clubhouse among so many market stalls. And the WORKhouse producers were open to event suggestions.

I stumbled on the Poetry Society of New York’s Poetry Brothel the way you might stumble over a small end table as it waits on the sidewalk for garbage collection and—you being six pints deep and the night demanding minor larceny—drag it home only for the morning to complain that you’ve nowhere to put it. Well screw you, morning, I found somewhere to put it. Giving full credit for the idea to the PSNY, I suggested hosting our own poetry brothel, I offered to issue a call and edit submissions, and (although I forget exactly when this happened, I like to think it did almost immediately) I earned the name Madame Andy.

Four Steps to a Brothel You

I initially conceived this post as a reflection on our brothel, an opportunity not only to record the event (and so resist its transience as performance) but also to theorize the correlations among sex work, performance, and poetry that it might foreground. While I will offer some reflection, I believe there’s more value in simply relating a process that worked for us and encouraging other small art collectives or collaborators to adapt it for their own purposes.

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