by Jeanie Riess
This Thursday, when you're all alone, there's a number you can call. No, not that kind of number, but for the verse-inclined, one no less intimate: Every week, The New Orleans Poetry Brothel's poetry hotline invites curious callers to dial (504)-264-1336 for a personal poetry reading over the phone, free of charge, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Poems range from traditional ballads to free-verse yarns, with a mix of influences depending on which poet you get on the phone.
The hotline, like most everything the Poetry Brothel does, invokes a degree of sexuality in how it's framed, though Director and poet Jordan Soyka says he hasn't gotten any heavy breathing on the other end of the line just yet. The Poetry Brothel was born at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and appropriated as a sustainable event by a group of New York poets a few years ago. A New Orleans chapter formed last year (which is fitting, since the whole concept was modeled after Storyville to begin with), and the group regularly holds events at different venues around the city (recently Crescent City Books and the AllWays Lounge). At the events, so-called poetry whores, who all read under pseudonyms, can be hired for a sliding fee, and they will take you to a dark corner and...read you an original poem (or a few if you play your cards right).
The Brothel and its other gigs, from the hotline to an upcoming performance at the New Orleans Fringe Festival, to posting unlabeled QR codes around the Bywater (which linked inquisitive smartphone users to screens revealing poems), are all part of an effort on Soyka's part to make poetry accessible without dumbing it down. "People are sometimes intimidated by poetry," he says. "We're trying to present it in a more approachable way." For more on the poetry whores, upcoming events and the Brothel itself, visit the website.