To seduce the public with culture, some saucy Spanish poets are prostituting themselves for money, but not in the way you imagine…
The client calls the brothel, eager to experience new sensations. On the other end of the line, the woman he has ‘chosen’ whispers words that give him goosebumps. She is a poet, revealing some of her most moving verses to him. The client cannot live without her weekly dose of poetry and has purchased three appointments at Hotline Poetry.
Prostíbulo Poético is an alternative, imaginative ‘poetry brothel’ in Barcelona that’s enticing an unlikely audience with its cabaret vibe. We spoke to the woman behind it, actress, director and poet, Sonia Barba – aka ‘Madame Taxi’.
Prostíbulo Poético landed in Barcelona from a collaboration between Sonia and creative writer, performance artist and poet, Kiely Sweatt. Both work to build an empathic, creative world.
Sonia explains: “Kiely created this project in New York in 2009. She called it The Poetry Brothel. Shortly after, she travelled to Barcelona, where we worked together on the visual aspect and the staging of Prostíbulo Poético. It was wonderful. When she returned to New York, she asked me not to let the Prostíbulo die. And I have not done so to this day.”
The non-profit association is made up of poets and performers (‘prostitutes’) who are dedicated to expanding poetry in a seductive way. Their face-to-face events follow the dynamics of a brothel. There is an opening presentation in which each of the poets, dressed in suggestive cabaret-style clothes, shares a presentation poem with the audience. Next, attendees get to choose with which of the poets they want to be alone to live the experience of a poem ‘Vis a vis’ (meaning face to face). It’s a sort of poetry lap dance.
The poems are recited in Catalan, Spanish or English. Once, a group of French tour guides visited shortly after the Bataclán attack and one of the poets recited a poem with some phrases from ‘La vie en rose’, and almost everyone there cried. “Poetry can create emotional moments. There are people who cry.”
Every year, around the Catalan day of Sant Jordi (St George’s Day on 23 April), Prostíbulo Poético publishes an annual poetry anthology called El Libro Rojo (The Red Book) that showcases the work of the poets and that can be purchased on their website or in some selected bookstores in Barcelona and Madrid. They also have a membership club that anyone can join to have a closer and more continuous relationship with the artists. In 2018, Prostíbulo Poético was launched in Madrid and a year later in Valencia.
Telephone ‘chat lines’ are just one of the ways that the poetry project can reach an excited public during the pandemic. They also offer digital appointments, after having to cancel the face to face private encounters with poets. In the ongoing nightly Desenmascaradas (Unmasked) virtual encounters on Zoom, poets “undress” to talk about their private self, their creation process and their day-to-day.
“In the Zooms you can discover who lives behind the character,” says Madame Taxi.
Next, the team is planning for their poetic brothel to return with a bang in Barcelona art space Tinta Roja and they are creating large events for 2021 also in Barcelona, with poetic activities, vis a vis experiences, video fun, audio explorations and an art gallery with photographs for sale.
Until then, we can continue to enjoy the ‘vintage’ experience of their Hotline Poetry, with nine poets and a tarot reader. It was inspired by the Dial-A-Poem public poetry service established in 1968 by the late poet, artist and activist John Giorno.
For lovers of theatre or poetry, for those who feel alone and for seekers of new experiences … everyone is welcome at Prostíbulo Poético.
Journalist and blogger, Oscar has worked as an editor for several travel, nature and science magazines for the last 20 years.
Kiely Sweatt, Founder, and Sonia Barba, Director
This project has been selected as part of CultureFutures, a new storytelling project that maps creative and cultural projects with a social mission – and the artists, collectives and entrepreneurs behind them.
Atlas of the Future is excited to join forces with Goldsmiths Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship and the British Council Creative Economy.
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