In My Ohio

On Poetry at the Burlesque House

Darren C. Demaree
Last fall when I went to New York for the book launch of my first poetry collection “As We Refer to Our Bodies” I was blown away by how beautiful the space was at The Bowery Poetry Club. It was white and ivory, it had elegant seating, and it had a gorgeous staircase that led from a second floor all the way down to the stage. I remarked to the young gentlemen that were running the club on that day that the place was incredible, and I asked them how they were manage to pull off such a trick at a poetry establishment. I thought surely the rent alone in the Bowery would take up all of their surplus funds. They said that though it was still the Bowery Poetry Club on Sunday and Monday, on Tuesday through Saturday it housed a burlesque show. I was tempted then and there to demand use of the staircase and the spot lights they had available, but I was wary that an unrehearsed burlesque twist to my normal reading habits might lead to injury, so I stuck to the script.

I had a great time in New York and it became a funny part of the experience to explain that my first reading in New York had really just been a warm up for what the crowd were really waiting for in the subsequent nights, the women that knew how to handle those stairs in something much more daring than my black dress shoes. I hadn’t even taken my suit coat off during the reading. I felt guilty for that one, and I was reminded again of that guilt this Monday.

I was invited by the Columbus Poetry Forum to read for their group and whoever else dare hear me read my poems at Kobo, a local music venue, and I gladly accepted. It turns out, through scheduling errors by Kobo and a lucky catch by the Poetry Forum, that venue had to be changed to Bossy Grrl’s Pin Up Joint, a kitchen/bar/burlesque house. I would again read amongst the cast aside lingerie and good spirits.

So, we packed the house, which is always a lovely surprise for poetry, and the reading itself was tremendous. I was undistracted by the lingerie hanging from the light fixtures, and I have to thank the Bowery staircase for that one. Once you’re willing to stand next to such a cascading beacon of sexy elegance, a few red lacey things don’t really throw your energy away from the poems in front of you. After I read, an open mic of sorts broke out, and some other locals read some famous poems written by famous poets and even read some original works, as well. They did quite well. After they were finished, the bartender/sandwich marm announced to the poetry crowd that the burlesque show would be beginning in the next hour. After reading the day before the burlesque show in New York I was now a legitimate opening act for the ladies.

I left for dinner with friends and family before the real show got underway, but was sincerely tickled to take that stage, keep my clothes on (short-sleeved this time), and get a portion of the applause that would soon take over the joint.

Poetry and burlesque might seem like an odd family, but it’s starting to make sense to me on several levels. I have not signed up as an official opening act for the ladies, but a good poetry reading attempts to accomplish the same thing a good burlesque show does. My goal as a reader is to get your blood pumping the best that I can, whether it is to your heart, your head, or even sometimes the other active pieces of your body. A burlesque show gives you the same rush, though I will admit in a much more overt way, and good for them for getting your blood up at all.

At the very least, reading poetry in a burlesque joint relaxes you and takes a bit of the somber atmosphere out of the room. Poetry can be so damn serious sometimes, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; however, I enjoyed the levity and sexual twinkle of it. I enjoyed reading there.

This weekend I am a visiting writer at a university in Wisconsin, and I have serious doubts if the on-campus venue will have any burlesque. If it doesn’t that is fine. I will make do. I will just imagine myself priming the crowd with the best of my poetry, raising their blood just enough to be available to the idea of some uninhibited dancing.