Culture
Reykjavík’s First “Poetry Brothel” Opens Its Doors

Reykjavík’s First “Poetry Brothel” Opens Its Doors

Joanna Smith
Words by
Photos by
Rachel Saltzman

Published May 9, 2017

The term “Poetry Brothel” is somewhat oxymoronic. Poetry is, of course, the age-old art of manipulating language to express one’s innermost emotions and desires. A brothel, on the other hand, is a place associated with debauchery, deviancy, and often times, cruelty. The two words just don’t seem to fit together. The Poetry Society of New York, however, thought otherwise. They set up the very first “Poetry Brothel,” an immersive event set against various backdrops, from the fin-de-siècle Parisian bordello to the Prohibition-era speakeasy. Instead of prostitutes, there are “poetry whores” who will indulge you in an intimate sonnet, all while jazz plays and burlesque dancers entertain. It’s always glamorous, it’s always fun.

Reclaiming and empowering

The Poetry Brothel branched out from New York, setting up residence in LA, New Orleans, London, Paris, Barcelona and elsewhere. “Madame” Meg Matich, who has been involved with The Poetry Brothel since its infancy, decided to set up a new branch right here in Reykjavík, after moving to Iceland.

“The idea originally was to reclaim the function of sex work and reinterpret the intimacy behind it,” Meg explains. “But we are not using the terms ‘brothel’ and ‘whore’ this time. I spoke to many of my Icelandic friends who thought it was just too crass. It has a different meaning to it, a different subtext. I felt that appropriating the term ‘whore’ would be an uphill struggle here. People just don’t respond in the same way.” Instead, the event is called “Rauða skáldahúsið” meaning “Red Poetry House.” It’s still a nod to the red light district, but far subtler in tone.

The art of escapism

I think part of the appeal of this immersion into a different world, especially one that has undertones of illegality and subversion, is the freeing effect it has. When we see depictions of the roaring twenties, for example, there is a sense of revolution, of progress which is hugely appealing to a society that can often feel stagnant and somewhat unexciting in comparison.

“It makes you feel vulnerable, but also empowered by that vulnerability.”

For Meg, though, the appeal is the escapism itself. “It’s an opportunity for people to dress up and play pretend as adults,” she says. “It gives them the permission to be carefree, to be someone else for the night. In Iceland, especially, people really seem to be drawn to the idea of blending art forms—poetry, music, dance. Also,” she laughs, “I just love the glitz of it all.”

One of the most intriguing additions to Rauða skáldahúsið is that of a tarot card reader. “She’s a practising witch,” says Meg. “Even if you don’t believe in the magic or power behind it, it’s sort of like therapy. She reads your cards but also talks to you about your life and your experiences. It makes you feel vulnerable, but also empowered by that vulnerability, which is the point of the entire event really.”

Pure decadence

The event is being held at Iðnó, one of the oldest cultural centres in Iceland. “The venue is beautiful,” says Meg. “It has tall ceilings, and it’s decadent and ornate. We’re going to decorate it with red velvet and beads and flowers everywhere.”

From the venue, to the entertainment, to the costumes, it’s sure to be a night to remember. Meg, your Madame for the evening, invites you to dress for the occasion and get lost in the romanticism, the extravagance and, of course, the poetry.

Rauða skáldahúsið takes place at Iðnó on 18th May. Tickets are available at midi.is.


Culture
Plant-Based Fabulosity: Honey LaBronx’ll Bring You To Vegan Heaven Tonight

Plant-Based Fabulosity: Honey LaBronx’ll Bring You To Vegan Heaven Tonight

by

Honey LaBronx—a.k.a. The Vegan Drag Queen—is back in Reykjavík with an environmental extravaganza that will leave you gagging. Along with

Culture
Museums in Strange Places #19: A Visit to Eldheimar

Museums in Strange Places #19: A Visit to Eldheimar

by

Hey there. I’m Hannah. I’m an American museum professional and Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík, and I’m the host of

Culture
Stelpurnar Okkar: Iceland’s National Women’s Football Team On Way To The World Cup

Stelpurnar Okkar: Iceland’s National Women’s Football Team On Way To The World Cup

by

After the extensive reporting on Strákarnir Okkar’s (“Our Boys”) journey to the World Cup, it’s high time we focus on

Culture
But It’s All In Good Fun!  Iceland’s Troubling Summer Of Blackface Raises Concern

But It’s All In Good Fun! Iceland’s Troubling Summer Of Blackface Raises Concern

by

While Iceland is known worldwide for being socially progressive, the homogenous country still has some problematic moments, particularly in regards

Culture
The Birth Of The Pop Alien: Katrín Helga Evolves Into Special K

The Birth Of The Pop Alien: Katrín Helga Evolves Into Special K

by

Chances are, if you follow Icelandic music, you’ll have seen Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir. A founding member of Reykjavíkurdætur and Kriki,

Culture
Fancies: Katrín Lena Þrastardóttir

Fancies: Katrín Lena Þrastardóttir

by

Fancies is a Grapevine series where we highlight an individual with supreme style. Our latest subject is Katrín Lena Þrastardóttir

Show Me More!