There’s a lot more ‘adult’ about Scarborough Ren Fest than bawdy cosplay and flagons of beer
If you’ve never been to Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie — or any cosplay time-warp to Medieval times when lutes outnumbered iPods and people carrying broadswords did not scare you into thinking you were trapped at the Texas Republican Convention — you probably imagine it’s all a bunch of nerds in tights and big-bosomed girls in tight-fitting corsets selling overpriced turkey legs.
And, well, yeah, there’s that. But it’s not all that. Not even close.
People attend Renaissance fairs for a variety of reasons, from the artisan gift shops to the quirky cuisine (steak on a stake? Count me in!!!) and the chance to see how you look in chain mail underwear. But one of the draws at Scarborough is definitely Arthur Greenleaf Holmes, the Wildly Inappropriate Poet.
How inappropriate? How about poems with titles like “I Built My Love a Menstrual Hut,” about a man who banishes his wife during her menses to guest quarters. And he explains why. In vivid, vivid language. Hey, he’s a poet; language is the poet’s toolbox.
Holmes is a cagey and fearless performer. His venue is tucked inconspicuously behind a pub, so that no passers-by could accidentally step into his den of depraved doublets. That doesn’t stop attendees from packing in tits-deep for four shows daily during the fest (at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m., each filled with at least 45 minutes of debauched sonnets).
But like the best shock comics, though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. Holmes brings people in on the joke. He’s a genuine connoisseur of verbal gymnastics (his father was a professor of English as a small liberal arts teaching college), so the poems are well-constructed, the imagery invasively pointed, the rhyme schemes accessible but classic. (Think of it as Dr.
Seuss by way of Howard Stern, or Shel Silverstein channeling Lisa Lampanelli, as read by Stephen Fry.) He actually spends time teaching spectators about poetry. And for this privilege, they pay him. (“Between you and the beer, this is the most money I spend every year at Scarborough,” offered one audience member to Holmes when dropping a fiver in his tip basket.)
It’s not as if they don’t know what they are in for. At each show, Holmes allows an audience member to select the level of offensiveness before launching into the most hardcore of haikus.
“Madam, on a scale of one to te…” “Eleven,” she shouted back without hesitation. “Really?” Holmes verified. “Sure you don’t want to ease yourself up the side of mount filthy?” He went ahead with the “11.” And no one walked out.
But walk-outs do occur. That’s fine. Holmes isn’t a standup insult comic who heckles at those whose cup of tea does not include his brand of bitter dregs. He won’t mock people (although he does refer to the awkward grin on some audience members as “the Christian smile”). “No one gets to choose his sense of humor,” Holmes suggests. His is self-deprecating but also smartly literary, with quick twists. At one performance, after reading a wedding poem that ended with a man taking his wife, Holmes clarified his position.
“Now, when I wrote this, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal yet, so please don’t read into it,” he cautions. “Although personally, I consider sex between two men to be the most disgusting thing I can imagine… that gives me an erection.”
Although Arthur Greenleaf Holmes is one of the highlights of the bawdy performers at Scarborough, he is by no means the only one. Sisters Iris and Rose’s Wild and Thorny show pairs two sisters who tell blue jokes and sing salacious sea chanties. They also encourage audience participation. And Christophe the Insultor is just that — a Tudor-era Don Rickles who slings outrageous one-liners at not-so-innocent audience members.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2016.