Yesterday was a seriously good day. There were bike rides, gelato (espresso! ummm) in the sunshine, good books, and, yes, naked women. I spent most of my evening at Naked Girls Reading, a new monthly event hosted by Michelle L'Amour at her studio in the west loop. Other nights have involved things like bedtime stories and naked Guitar Hero, but last night's theme was poetry. I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting into, although the website is pretty clear as to what the concept behind the evenings is: naked girls, reading things. But even so, I wondered. Would they really be naked? Like, fully naked? (Answer: yes.) And more importantly, what kind of poetry would be read?
Poetry is pretty much the ultimate undervalued art, especially in the United States. We seem, as a culture, to care so little for the grace of a handful of words on a page, for the cadence of those words coming off the tongue. I'm sheltered, what with all the creative writing majors in my life, but when I talk to "normal" people about poetry they often become awkward and turn away. It makes me sad; there's so much more beauty in the world than most of us see.
And really, that seemed to be the point of the evening, much more than nudity or wine or burlesque. When I arrived at the studio, slightly nervous but also pretty excited, I was greeted by a bunch of people standing around sipping wine, which is pretty normal except that half of them were gorgeous women wearing negligees. We settled in and waited for the reading to start. It began with said lovely ladies walking behind a screen (pointless except as a prop, as we could see them reflected in the window behind them) and removing their clothing, leaving on their high heels as they stepped out in their altogethers. They settled onto the couch (divan? settee?) and then things got serious. Mimi First gave the introduction, reading excerpts from great writers about the art of reading aloud. She noted (interestingly, given the setting) that more than other art forms reading aloud is not about the body of the performer but that of the audience; the point was to make us gasp, to move us, to reach us through the medium of words alone.
This serious opening set the tone for the evening. Make no mistake, these naked girls are passionate about poetry. Instead of using the evening to air risque verse--well, there were a few dirty limericks--we heard poetry by Frank O'Hara and Pablo Neruda. Somebody read a poem by Sharon Olds that was not this poem, the only one of hers I'd previously seen. Dierdre Doll lectured at length about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, reading their poems together and exploring their interconnectivity; Plath and Hughes both wrote poems titled "Rabbit Catcher", with his being a response to hers, and both are excellent. Aside from the high-minded poetry being read, I was impressed by how intense the readings were. As each poem reached its climax the reader would lean forward, voice intensifying, and the energy was palpable. The nudity was almost more of an afterthought, an incidental hook that was used to bring people in so that they could be exposed to powerful words.
Of course other things happened too, most notably an interview with Dave Kapell, the inventor of magnetic poetry. He was interviewed sitting on the couch between two naked ladies, talking about the genesis of the cultural phenomenon (he stuck magnets on the backs of words while he was attempting to write song lyrics) and the positive things that have come from those little magnetized word bits. They're used in therapy with noncommunicative patients, and he received an email from an eighty-something woman who told him that she wrote her first poem using magpo and discovered a whole new part of herself and now writes poetry on her own. In honor of this and magnetic poetry and poetry in general, each table had a magnetic poetry stand where we wrote poems that were judged by the Naked Girls, and thanks to the artistic stylings of Anna and Ellie my table won. Our prize? Writing sticker poetry on Mina Méchante's lovely bare back. Just call my life complete.