LitFest: Literary Burlesque 5/15

LitFest: Literary Burlesque 5/15

Seven talented women writers reveal vulnerability through Literary Burlesque. “Close to the Bone,” Friday, May 15, 7 p.m. at the Ah Haa School.

Lit Fest poster

What’s beneath the language of poetry? What does it mean to be vulnerable, to be a woman exposed? How much is too much to reveal? Join some of the region’s more daring women writers for a bare bones evening, where layers and language are shed – right down to the essentials. “Close to the Bone: An Evening of Literary Burlesque,” takes place this Friday, 7 p.m. at the Ah Haa School. It is part of the second annual Telluride Literary Arts Festival, which runs May 15-17.

Originally conceptualized by award-winning author Amy Irvine McHarg, Literary Burlesque premiered in 2014, bringing five regional women writers together on stage to perform their most risky work, peeling back layers to reveal tender hearts, tender words, bare souls – and a bit of skin.

Amy McHarg, bySusie Grant

Amy McHarg, by Susie Grant

“The idea of Literary Burlesque was largely inspired by Telluride Theater’s Burlesque Show,” explains Irvine McHarg. “What Sasha Sullivan, Christopher Beaver and others do in that show is ask how a woman can truly reveal herself within the cultural constructs of sexuality and entertainment, and in doing so, they demolish those projections and assumptions entirely.”

After witnessing time and time again women sharing very vulnerable and revealing work, Irvine McHarg started thinking about how writers could do something similar:“How much more honest and exposed we could be, if we took what we do with our writing and made the removing of layers, of stories, more visual,” she says.

With the help of writers Kierstin Bridger, Ellen Marie Metrick, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, and Sarah Gilman, the inaugural Telluride Literary Burlesque was born.

“Last year we started with the idea that we were going to be metaphorically unveiling ourselves,” explains Bridger. “This is what writers do every time we sit down to write. We unpeel the layers to see what is underneath. If allowed to evolve, that work becomes increasingly more vulnerable,” she continues. “For this show we’re playing with what it means to be female in the world, especially as it has to do with sensuality, sexuality, desire and longing.”

Kiersten Bridger


This year the troupe plans to make the show a little bit more about the writing and a bit less about the striptease.

“We still want it to be very playful and flirty, but it comes from a place of strength and ferocity,” says Bridger.

“We have three new writers, which is exciting,” she adds.

Erika Moss Gordon and Corinne Platt are both familiar voices in the Telluride community, but not in this type of venue; Rachel Kellum, a respected poet and performer, is joining in from Colorado’s eastern plains. Telluride Theatre’s Colin Sullivan is also stepping in as emcee, and Kyra Kopestonsky will punctuate each piece with her cello and Russian guitar.

For her part, Bridger will be reading from a larger project she has worked on for the past year about women who worked in Telluride’s red light district during the late 1800s.

“Burlesque was in its heyday back then,” she says. “The most scandalous thing was showing curves. Modest women of the day wore big skirts and multiple layers; ladies of the night showed their legs and their curves – they wore corsets and wraps.”

Bridger aims to put their experiences in a more human frame.

“These women were largely illiterate – no one cared what they had to say; they were objects of desire and icons of vice.”

Irvine McHarg’s Literary Burlesque pieces fall from her nearly finished second memoir, A Fire Burns Near: Motherhood & Other Adventures at the Edge of Madness (Counterpoint Press, 2015).

“Fire has played a major role in my life in so many inner and outer journeys, and through varied landscapes,” she explains. “So there is a passionate, incendiary tale in each of my three acts; each one is a layer burning away, reduced to ash, so that the next one can be revealed.”

Irvine McHarg’s final act was a showstopper last year, so you’ll have to see the show to find out what she will do for an encore.

When San Miguel County’s two-term Poet Laureate Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer said “yes” to Literary Burlesque, “like most wonderful and challenging things, I had no idea what I was getting into at the start,” she says. “Our original idea was that burlesque and writing both involve an un-layering, an unveiling, a tease. With burlesque, this exposure is often increasingly playful. With writing, this exposure can be increasingly vulnerable, even scary. And so this is the line we are trying to dance.”

Rosemerry by Darbu Ullyat

Rosemerry by Darbu Ullyat

Along with most of the other women, Trommer will perform three acts. The first is a full on tease.

It honors our tendency toward fantasy and the way we think we might like things to be,” says Trommer.The second piece undresses the fantasy. And what’s underneath? Well, it’s a bit of a surprise.”

The third piece goes into the stories we women tend to tell about ourselves and about each other. It’s an un-layering in two voices, done with Corinne Platt, and it touches on the most vulnerable parts of being a woman.

Platt is an Ophir-based nonfiction writer.

Corinne Platt


“Reading and writing poetry is fairly new for me,” she says. “I’m intrigued by burlesque. I’ve put myself in a lot of physically vulnerable places over the years, but seldom do I expose myself emotionally –and definitely not in front of an audience.”

Platt’s and Trommer’s piece explores the “uncertainties that women feel toward each other, toward their bodies, their work, their entire identities,” she says.

For fellow poet and past San Miguel County Poet Laureate Ellen Marie Metrick, this year feels very different for her than last year.

Ellen Metrick by Kit Hedman

Ellen Metrick by Kit Hedman

My pieces are more raw and immediate. Unveiling the layers for me is still about baring my soul, to myself really, and being in that new place in the world and sharing whatever joy or wretchedness exists,” Metrick explains. “I love being open to connection at this really human level with myself and with others. Words are not the soft, solid animals they used to be for me. I am exploring writing more from my dreams and working to find and write into the places I jump over in my poetry, the places where I am afraid or backing away for any reason and don’t even realize it.”

Metrick loves the exploration of soul that happens on stage at Literary Burlesque; loves the depths of an open-hearted and multi-layered performance, adding that it is unlike any other poetry reading she has ever experienced.

Ridgway poet Erika Moss Gordon sees burlesque as an opportunity to say “yes” to one more aspect of her life that is scary.


A life long writer, Gordon writes as a way to find clarity in life. Her pieces will explore how women develop into their sexuality, “how life and experience mold us and how we mold our lives, primarily around sexuality and freedom.”

Recently, Gordon read with Talking Gourds and the Open Bard Poetry Series in Ridgway. She views Literary Burlesque as a doorway to the unknown that she is excited to walk through. “In the past couple years, I’ve learned that any decision that makes me feel queasy has been one of the better choices that I’ve made. I want to take more risks in everything I do.”

Rachel Kellum’s progression of poems will be more about the metaphorical stripping of layers of desire: sexual, emotional and spiritual.

Rachel Kellum copy

In the first poem we encounter an illicit love. In her second poem, an aging woman and her lover open to sexual desire with a letting go of ego and an acceptance of body. Finally, a third piece is about the letting go of desire and the human body altogether.

Kellum is a Bön Buddhist practitioner and a teacher of the visual and language arts in Fort Morgan, Colo., and says that much of her writing refers to the struggle or practice of “trying to find space within myself and allow experiences to move through me without getting attached.

“It’s hard in poetry,” she adds, “to move through that. It’s a grasping and a letting go. Poetry is a meditative practice. A practice of gratitude.”

If the writers had a collective voice, it might say: “We have turned ourselves inside out, asking what it means to be the female – beyond story, exposed, through all our fears and wounds, rage and desire.”

Literary Burlesque begins at 7 p.m., at the Ah Haa School at The Depot, 300 S. Townsend.

Tickets are $10 at the door or in advance at Between the Covers Bookstore.

For more information on the Telluride Literary Festival, go here,

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.