poetry brothels

January 10, 2012

original promo photograph

Back in 2007, me and Jimmy set up the world’s first ever Poetry Brothel.  It actually probably started in October 2006 after a mid-afternoon drunken conversation outside The Windmill in Brighton, and somehow (unlike hundreds of other similar ideas) we actually registered the event in the Brighton Fringe and did it. We spent a couple of days turning Jimmy’s house into a den of iniquity (not the most difficult thing in the world), got a few poets to come round, bought a load of gin, made some cucumber sandwiches, wrote some outraged letters to the local paper under assumed names, and waited for the punters to come flocking in.

To our astonishment, it was a massive hit. We reached the dizzy heights of being regularly featured in The Argus (which is about as famous as you can get in Brighton), got on the BBC, read a lot of poems to a lot of punters, and ended up winning two awards (an Argus Angel Award, from Brighton’s aforementioned organ of repute), and a Latest Festival Award for Best Literature (which was given to me by Jimmy Carr, who I offended by complimenting him on his stop smoking book). It turns out we were also nominated for Best Venue in the same awards ceremony, and it’s probably good we didn’t win that too because we weren’t even in the room when it was announced, having found the free bar. We made about £130 from the brown envelopes we left in the rooms, and I’m proud to say we blew pretty much all of it on gin.

The concept was simple – punters arrived at the Poetry Brothel, and were led down to the waiting room where they could eat cucumber sandwiches (I think it was Amy‘s idea – I’d never really associated cucumber sandwiches with brothels before, but I shall always do so now), drink gin and tonic, and then choose their poet from the menu. The poet then led them into an upstairs room for an intimate one-on-one poetry reading. Afterwards, we left them in the room to reflect on their experience, fill out a comments slip (if they liked) and leave some money in a brown envelope (if they liked).

Afterwards, we thought about doing it again the following year, but it never really happened. I felt like we’d already done it, and it was time to move on to new and exciting things. Maybe that wasn’t the right decision – we tried various other techniques to bring poetry to people in new and exciting ways, including a big red velvet booth on legs (which I hated because it weighed so much it took about four people to carry it about and about an hour and a half to put together in the mornings. Like a really bad sedan chair) and an incredible event called Glue Gun ’91 which was like a poetry night but with dinosaurs and strobe lights.

Maybe one day we’ll put on another poetry brothel in Brighton one day. I’m not sure. But in the meantime, poetry brothels were popping up all across the world. Leicester, Barcelona, New York, Chicago…   it seemed that me and Jimmy had started an international movement (albeit a small and niche one) that tipsy afternoon outside the Windmill. They all seemed to operate in fairly different ways (and were often a bit more sexy) than our poetry brothel, but people were taking the idea and seeing where it would go, setting up poetry brothels in their own towns.

I thought it was incredible – like we’d started something entirely new. And good luck to them – poetry’s never the easiest thing to bring into people’s lives (writes a struggling poet), and anything like that can make it exciting and fresh.

However, it seems (and I’m going to be careful here, as I don’t have what could be called ‘hard evidence’) that one branch of the poetry brothel seems to be putting pressure on another branch to stop using the phrase “poetry brothel”, due to intellectual property and all that. I’m not going to name names at this point, but if this is the case, then I find this a) disappointing, and b) outrageous. If anyone has any claim to the phrase or concept of a “poetry brothel”, it’s me and Jimmy, and we’re not about to start wrestling it back from anyone who’s been using it. I understand that I don’t necessarily know the true facts of the case, and I’d invite anyone involved in the dispute to get in touch with me, especially if I’ve got anything wrong here.

In any case, (and I’m fairly sure it’s not the gin speaking), I’d just like to say that I give the official endorsement for anyone to set up a poetry brothel anywhere they like. You may have to check with Jimmy first, but as far as I’m concerned, bring on the poetry brothels! Let there be solicited one-on-one poetry on every street corner! Yes! Bravo!

unreal city

January 7, 2012

Unreal City

for W. B. Yeats

technicalities of the word City

the bright red devil

soldiers, freaks

and all in between


architecture spills like scattered pebbles

homes built for heroes

concrete monoliths

Georgian terraces

and a great ocean liner

beached on the shoreline

great green domes

steps bowed from years of feet

south coast sprawl

and we are in a wind tunnel

you and I

aerodynamics found wanting

and duck into the slipstream


teapots dot the horizon

descending weather ball silenced

follies and fragments

the machinery of whim


hunched round the back of shops

I see the future in Orange Row

someone elses hands grow liver spots

in neon light

homeless starlings circle uncertainly

echoing cell formation in a futile dance

a sea voyage on wheels

another gust

and 40 pence postcards spin with the leaves

dreams of reformed piers

and dolphins that never were


the seafront is littered with sequels

nightclubs reshuffle in endless repeat

the concorde is full of fish

whilst a lift to nowhere stands forlorn

projects shudder to a halt on the front pages

circling like merry go round

with a Möbius strip

of barrel organ

these are the satisfied horses


one February day

the ghost train caught fire

sharing a bottle of wine

on seafront

it was bonfire night

children huddled

in hats and scarves

padded the shingles for a better view

all that was missing was the sparklers


seagulls wake with the dawn

the mournful peep of the young

searching for the red button

the food dispenser

and the full throated

call to the sky

of their elders

seagulls live a long time


and in answering chorus

from hotels and apartment lofts

windows slam shut

lovers turn and spoon

and visiting businessmen writhe

wrap pillows futilely round heads

these are not the sounds of the city


the end of the line

bill boards shriek improbable phrases

dawn breaks

a morning stroll

half blind

the viaduct in snow

that melts within minutes of settling

forking paths


this is not the city of legends

of angels

the windy city

the streets are not paved in gold

but chewing gum

and warnings not to drop chewing gum

Siamese twins

at the hip


there’s a shark in the water

the beaches are closing

candy floss melts on the stick

at the Marina

the floating Chinese restaurant breaks free

nose to the east

a bear gets loose on west street

and hundreds of panicking clubbers

snap the glowing cones

as oceana sinks


into the ground

the main event

the pavilion shudders

as blood drips from the palms

of the statue of George IV

books pop into existence

a hundred a minute

on the first floor of the Jubilee library

screaming librarians

running out of places to put them

the model shrimp

having devoured the whelk stall

storms the fishing museum

for fresh meat

in cafes

croissants drop to the ground

full English breakfast abandoned

with sausage still pinioned

and egg running everywhere

the honey club?

a mass of swarming bees

spelling out directions

by dancing to funky house

the North Laine is filled with electricians

grocers, cobblers, stationers, ironmongers

running over boutiques and juice bars

whilst crystals and dream catchers heap up on the street corner

students start using the word “real”

to describe actual real things

there is a walrus in regency square

although no-one really knows why

the open market is closed

despite the name

swimmers in the prince regents

all get cramp at the same time

a thousand screaming crows

descend on the bird whistle man

who falls skeletal to the ground

leaving jaunty cap and sign

the zombie walk gets attacked

by actual unimpressed zombies

with no known survivors

the falmer stadium

snaps shut

trapping the audience

who are forced to watch

perpetual re-runs

of that Crystal Palace game in ‘86

but nobody really notices

on the beach

photographers run for tripods

and external flash

as the great wave hits

and loll in the undertow

one last great capture

buskers hit one final saxophone solo

which might never end

until dissolved

by precisely aimed lightning



Straight from Southhampton

The Argus leads on

“Is this Sussex’s most expensive guinea pig?”

Whilst Adam Trimingham

Bemoans the rocketing price

Egg and chips will set you back these days

Unimpressed residents

Brush flecks of ash from their fountain pens

And ponder on the letters page

About how this will affect the weekly bin collection


Amidst the remains of the city

As survivors wait for buses that will never arrive

Or reconsider that move back to London

There comes a man

As it was written

His clothes bedecked with flames

With a music only he can hear

Dancing whilst Hove burns

Dancing, dancing, dancing,

Dancing like there’s no tomorrow

Dancing like there’s no yesterday

Each step honed from hundreds of rehearsals

Resplendent in flaming suit

Amidst the smoking ruins

He dances on