If you have presented at a launch / festival panel / event and you have not done a wee, vomit or poo on stage you can consider it a success.
I know it is a low bar to set, but it is my bottom line. Don't urinate vomit or dedicate on stage and you are ahead. Except when you are reading nude at a poetry festival. Then, probably if you break one of the golden rules you can call it art and end up with extra kudos.
On Saturday night I read live, nude, at the Queensland Poetry Festival. Even when the bar was set so low that it was almost on the floor, it seemed like a mountain to climb over.
I was worried that as the 'feature nude reader' I would be the only poet to get up and read naked. I was worried that I would be judged for my considerable flesh. I was worried that the tone of the event would be exploitative.
It turns out that I was worried for nothing.
These things happened:
1. One of my oldest and dearest friends came along to the launch of my poetry collection Eating My Grandmother earlier in the day. She came with her daughter, my godchild, who is no longer a child but a wonderful young woman. We went for a meal afterwards and I told them about my fears about the nude reading later that night. They immediately said they would stay and join me, taking off their clothes even if all the other audience members were clothed.
2. We sprayed my pubes blue and covered them in glitter which made the disabled toilet look like a queer dance party had just taken place in there.
3. My other dear close friends Trent and Diana turned up and we added more vagazzle to the disabled toilet.
4. I had a couple of calming glasses of wine in quick succession.
5. I met the MC who turned out to be a strangely sweet punk/hippie/tatooed/bearded enigma.
6. The festival director David Stavinger hung tea towels on the backs of the chairs and it suddenly looked like the stage was set for a very polite swinger's party. This was strangely calming.
7. David opened the doors but did not let anyone in who was not prepared to nude-up. This was perhaps the key to an incredibly successful nude event. No tourists meant we were all in it together an no one could feel distanced from the action.
8. I was surrounded by the beautiful faces of my closest friends. Elissa, Summer (Godchild) Trent, Diana, Angela and Lucinda all sat close by. I felt the love, and the comforting hand of the wonderful Trent on my shoulder at regular calming intervals.
9. The MC suggested we all disrobe and we all did, together. No turning back. You could almost hear the throb of a collective heartbeat as everyone dealt with their own fears and insecurities all at once.
10. Diana read first. This was incredibly brave. The floor was thrown open to an open mic section and Diana got up and read beautifully. It broke the ice. This was the moment when I knew it was going to be ok. Not just ok, but more than ok. It was going to be beautiful.
11. A young woman got up and read a poem in public for the first time ever. She was nervous but I got the impression that it was not the nudity that was making her nervous. Reading your own poetry in public is being more naked than nakedness itself. It was a great poem. She read it beautifully. I was so touched to be one of the first people to hear her read her own work. The nudity was just a bonus.
12. I read a poem specifically written to be read in public whilst in the nude surrounded by nude people. Our nudity made sense of the poem. Our flesh made the poem a better thing than words on the page.
13. I read from my erotic novel The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine, which was fun but I don't know if anyone was aroused by the sexy reading because I was respectfully avoiding looking into everyones genital area. I realised for the 20th time that I am going to need to print things out in 16 point font from now on. Reading from my book naked taught me that yes, I am getting old. It is clear in my body but it is even more clear in my relationship to the size of my font.
14. People have all different sized fonts (yes, I might have peeked at the genital area of a few of the men, whilst respectfully trying to avoid a direct crotch ogle). Also I didn't look directly but got the distinct impression that women still generally have pubic hair which is also strangely comforting.
15. It is strange how much love you feel for people who you have stood naked with whilst sharing the intimacy of poetry.
16. It is impossible not to heckle your dearest friend just a little because heckling is kind of like polite flirting and it seems I can even politely flirt with Trent when he is in the nude. (Note: David Stavinger also partook in a little polite flirting with Trent so I was not alone in my heckling).
17. You don't hug the other nude poets but you grin at them a lot when you are naked and hug these strangers hard when you have been naked with them.
18. It is terribly daunting to be about to read poetry naked but it is incredibly great to have read poetry naked.
19. We were all asked to take our tea towels with us when we left. I suppose there might be a marked for them in some vending machines in Japan.
20. Reading poetry aloud is like being naked.
In closing I would like to share a poem that I wrote to be read naked with a naked audience:
Reading Poetry Naked to Naked People
We are with and out of artifice
Carefully directing our gaze
architecture, escape, the movement of my naked lips
We avoid the slip of eye
with it’s pricked nipple
and the tired old fade of aerole
by creeping excess
a body pawed and poured
into soft skin
like the thickening on top of overheated milk
beyond your gaze
you nervously avoid
the ripe tangle of steely lace
the startling question of an armpit.
You may not bring yourself to it
but I am happy to raise it
What if she bleeds?
on this one day
a curl of white
hiding it’s mousey tail between those blooded lips.
And here beside you,
other lips kiss their folded secrets
penises shrink back to their un
between trembling thighs.
The gaze shifts
from viewed to viewer.
The caterpiller crawl
of delicate sack
A whiff of secret flesh, with sweat revealed by the
dumb shriek of perfume
and the fecal reek just audible
above the drone of naked poem.
All your collective muscles braced to minimise
to hone a cut to unused muscles,
nip and tuck that arse.
A bodily effort
in the nakedness of poetry.
you will unpack this
reach for images
captured by the flash of a passing glance
hands around genitals
damp wieldy space
slicked now with
desire and spit
rub the words of the poem
and onto your