From Iceland — Reykjavík’s First “Poetry Brothel” Opens Its Doors

Reykjavík’s First “Poetry Brothel” Opens Its Doors

Published May 9, 2017

Reykjavík’s First “Poetry Brothel” Opens Its Doors
Joanna Smith
Photo by
Rachel Saltzman

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

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