"We'll start out with an exercise I call tongue Pilates. Girl, please just let me massage your body," says Lenny Cane, a handsome man whose kinky braids resemble a jheri curl. While it would be nice, he's not speaking directly to me. Cane is the emcee of Risqué, an evening of "tastefully erotic poetry" at the Complex on Madison Avenue.
He's warming up the crowd of about 100 young African-American men and women. With each rhyme Cane makes, the women squeal with laughter.
The event, organized by Memphian James Davis from Memphis Live! Entertainment, took place last Friday and featured five local poets performing rehearsed pieces dealing with sex and love. Poets auditioned earlier in the month.
Cane introduces a man named Mike, a dapper fellow with close-cropped hair and a pinstripe suit. He performs a piece called "Three's."
"I'll show you how a real man removes a thong/My lips/My teeth/My hurricane tongue," says Mike during his performance. Somehow he manages to make "thong" rhyme with "tongue." As he does, the women scream.
Next on the stage is a woman named Ms. White. Her poem consists mostly of one line: "I love every inch of him that makes him a man." I'm bored.
The next performer is a man simply known as Mister. Also dressed in a suit, he's carrying a champagne flute of red wine. His poem is hilarious, especially when he says, "I got about $5/Put it in my tank/We go around the corner/Watch a matinee," in a comedic tribute to ghetto dating.
Although the event is billed as "tastefully erotic," my friend leans over and says, "These people are way too conservative. I won't be happy until I hear the word 'labia.'"
Hmmm, maybe-a, baby-a ... there are possibilities here, but it appears my friend is not going to be happy. The next performers take the stage. Michelle Montgomery recites a poem that's more about passion than sex while a man called "Fat Dude" sings low in the background.
The last performer is an award-winning local poet named Bon-Ton. Unlike the other performers, however, he doesn't rhyme about getting down and dirty with the opposite sex. Instead, his poem is about his love for another man ("I caressed her/ But I thought about him," he says).
After the poets finish the first round, a man from Black AIDS Memphis throws condoms on the stage and gives a lecture about safe sex. Women from the audience slowly sneak to the stage and grab handfuls.
It looks like everyone was listening.