Telluride Lit Fest: 4th Annual Literary Burlesque

Founded by award-winning author-poet-teacher and Telluride local Amy Irvine, Literary Burlesque is the signature, (read, always sold-out), event of the Telluride Literary Arts Festival, or Lit Fest, May 19-21. Tickets, $15, are on sale now at Telluride’s Ah Haa School or Between the Covers Bookstore. You snooze, you lose.

(Other than Burlesque, all Lit Fest events are free, but pre-registration is required for featured author Lydia Peelle’s Saturday workshop at the Telluride Library, which is sponsoring Peelle’s visit to town. Oh and Peelle is part of the Burlesque troupe.) 

Year after year, Literary Burlesque proves that fiction is no stranger than truth. Just a whole lot more fun. And way more sensual and essential than messages delivered by any talking head on TV, on the Beltway, in the mainstream media. In other words, the show is fake news at its best, no holds barred.

The 4th Annual Literary Burlesque takes place Saturday night, May 20, 2017, coincidentally designated in 2016 by Colorado lawmakers as Colorado’s Public Lands Day.

This year’s troupe includes Kierstin Bridger, Daiva Chesonis (co-owner, Between the Covers, a founder of Lit Fest), Craig Childs, Erika Moss Gordon, Elle Metrick, Corinne Platt, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Samantha Tisdel Wright, Peelle, and Irvine.

Doors open at 7 p.m. with a cash bar opening reception that will feature—wait for it—miniature mules as special guests, a nod to featured characters in Peelleʼs new (and brilliant, page0turning, taut) novel, “The Midnight Cool.”  (See related story and listen to Peelle’s podcast here.)

Below is Amy’s spin on this year’s happening.

Amy Irvine by Susie Grant.

Talk to the Hand:

In January, just days after our latest president was inaugurated, I saw a burlesque show in Paris. The performance took place in a small, musky theater aboard a barge moored on the Seine, in the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The performers consisted of three French women, a French man, and a woman from Brooklyn. Every piece tantalized. And while the show was sexy—sometimes downright raunchy—and rife with humor, what struck me most was the political ferocity. But then again, we’re talking about the Land of Resistance, where schoolteachers, grandmothers, and seamstresses smuggled revolvers in baskets of pommes de terre, where Nazi plans were drilled into the center of hot-from-the-oven baguettes and delivered to the Allies.

I described the show to Burl Gurrls, Telluride’s troupe of female poets and writers (which includes one “Burl Boy,” science and adventure writer, Craig Childs), who will perform May 20th as the featured event of the 2017 Telluride Literary Arts Festival, and thus was inspired our 4th annual show: “Geography of Resistance: Body Politic, Body Erotic” –  Because even the least political members of our group feel that, this year, we must respond to and resist the tyranny thrust upon women’s bodies and rights, as well as the attacks to develop and diminish our public lands.

The challenge for us was and remains finding a way to celebrate the topographical maps of both landscape and women; the impulse is to speak and perform from an aesthetic grounded in liberation—as madams of our own ecology and as stewards of the planet.

Notice I didn’t use the word mother here, to speak of our bodies or the Earth. This is despite the fact that every member of the Burl Gurrls is a mother (or a father). This is because even as we love and give everything to our families, to our children, we must insist that we are more than that.

We are also all middle-aged. Meaning we are peri or post-menopausal. Meaning things are a bit wrinkled and sagged. But that is the point: To step onto the stage not as objects of the viewers’ desire, but as subjects of our own making. As one of the French burlesque performers told me at the bar, after the Paris show (this was a woman who had appeared on stage dressed like Ronald McDonald and proceeded to hump a giant inflatable Big Mac), “When I’m on stage, I am the projection of my own imagination, and my own opinions,” she said. “I’m not someone else’s fantasy.”

This year’s Literary Burlesque show begins with hands. The stencils of female hands from an Ice Age cave in southwest France. Handprints made by women who were shamans and artists and hunters. Women who were never merely mothers.

We’ll be in resistance to other hands—those who have committed pussy grabs and land grabs (the verb choice here is intentional, meant to be sound criminal).

We’ll raise our fists against the de-funding of Planned Parenthood and the effort that is underway to reverse the executive orders that established the Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments.

But our hands will also be open and beckoning—to the possibility of a new vision, of how we might live with one another, on this planet, in a way that is both physically and psychically sustainable.

Meaning we’ll caress contours.

Tease topographies.

We’ll erode and expose.

And we’ll peel away playfully the projections (and clothing) that seek to reduce us to mere resources for the taking.

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Amy Irvine

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