Friday, March 26, 2010

The Specific Queering Work of the Gurlesque

The Gurlesque is about queering heterosexuality via a very specific set of aesthetic strategies.

The Gurlesque anthology is not intended as a catch-all for all queerings; it is a consolidation of female poets who, via the grotesque, artifice and camp, girly kitsch, and burlesque performance, etc. engage the pathology of heterosexuality by toying with the male gaze.

The crucial criterion for inclusion in the anthology was the poet’s engagement with these specific strategies on the page. A high premium was put on the use of artifice and formal exaggeration.

Queer poetics turn away from the pathology of the hetero, and that is a very excellent thing. Gurlesque poetics embrace and interrogate the pathology. This gesture also has its own political power.

My introduction to the anthology, which elaborates on the Gurlesque’s relationship to female grotesque, artifice and camp, girly kitsch, and burlesque performance, will be published online in Jacket very shortly. Curious parties can read all about it there.

Or you can order the anthology.


Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Again, saying that queer poets can't and don't examine the pathology of the hetero in this specific way is just plain reductive - and at odds with Gurlesque's queer influences (and name!). Um, femmes and queens don't embrace and interrogate the aesthetic of heteropathology? See my final comment to your previous post.

Is this *really* all that Gurlesque means to you? Straight girls using queer strategies (and using the words 'queer' & 'queering') but not allowing queers in your midst for "aesthetic reasons"? Sigh. This is the sound of me moving on. The monster is crawling back under the bed -- I know I look sexier when you can only glimpse me.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

"More recently, Gurlesque tendencies can be located in the work of Kathy Acker, Alice Notley, and Dodie Bellamy, all of whom have an expressed interest in subverting masculine forms." This is from your intro to "Gurlesque." Gertrude Stein, Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy, Djuna Barnes, Judith Halberstam -- you yourself identify their Gurlesque tendencies & trace Gurlesque genealogy through them. Yet in this post you say that queer poets CAN'T be Gurlesque. Which one is it, Lara? Do you have to be an older or a dead queer to be Gurlesque? Are you truly saying no queer poets are currently writing the Gurlesque?

Also: you say that you take from Stein "the unabashed quest for female pleasure at the center of [Gurlesque] poetics." You contrast Plath to Gurlesque poets, "who insist on the multiple pleasures of the female embodiment." Ie, Steinish (queer) pleasure, "multiple" pleasures -- not HETERO pleasure. So why are the poems in this book so predominantly those of hetero pleasure? Contradictions abound.

And that's not a bad thing. There's no way to think about these topics one-dimensionally, through exclusionary manifesto. But to intentionally exclude the sensibility Gurlesque clearly draws from and that enriches the complexity of its poetics - and now, a posteriori, to articulate who can or cannot do the Gurlesque here on this blog - is not a descriptive project. It's a defining one and a narrow, exclusionary one at that.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I don't quite understand what makes the gurlesque hetero? What makes the anthology hetero? It seems very much involved with queerness. Perhaps I need to read that long discussion on Amy's blog. But I don't quite understand why that is the case.


8:03 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

>>Um, femmes and queens don't embrace and interrogate the aesthetic of heteropathology?

Yes, of course, they do! Please see the distinction I made earlier.

>>Is this *really* all that Gurlesque means to you?

Of course not. The anthology, as I say in the introduction, is intended as a starting point for exactly these kind of discussions. It's an open-ended project.

>>to articulate who can or cannot do
>>the Gurlesque here on this blog - >>is not a descriptive project. >>It's a defining one and a narrow, >>exclusionary one at that.

The Gurlesque is an inherently unstable term, and I have no interest in defining who can and can be "in" it. It's not a movement; it's not something to be policed. You asked very specific questions: I tried to size things up as best I see them.

You seem to be unwilling to engage the argument that the anthology is largely about formal concerns. I wonder why this is? The formal concerns are the frame of the anthology. They are the heart of it.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

You know, Ana, I find everything you and Amy are saying to be very interesting. You seem to feel very invested in the term Gurlesque, which is great. I hope it drives you to do further work on the Gurlesque, in whatever form that takes.

The Gurlesque is very much an open-ended project, which is evidenced by the fact that the anthology has two very different introductions that give divergent takes on the Gurlesque.

The term Gurlesque is rife with contradictions, which is what makes it a useful term. I don't want to erase the schizophrenia of the project.

The anthology is not about claiming territory but exploring it.

Like, I said, this is an open-ended project. I'm not interested in owning or policing it. I welcome whatever you have to say about it.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

>>Straight girls using queer >>strategies (and using the words >>'queer' & 'queering') but not >>allowing queers in your midst for >>"aesthetic reasons"? Sigh.

You think that all the women in the anthology are straight? Really? You're claiming a lot of knowledge there.

And you happen to be wrong.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Worth noting that Brenda Shaughnessy's Interior with Sudden Joy was nominated for a Lamda Award in the category of Lesbian Poetry, and this work is included in the Gurlesque anthology. See here:

12:24 PM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Hi Lara,

Amy's observations and mine did start as a form/aesthetic-based complaint -- that the content of the poems in the anthology was so predominantly not-queer while presenting as overtly, explicitly hetero (ie, cock-n-cunt.) We complained because we didn't understand Gurlesque to be primarily cock-n-cut, due to your vocalization, for some time now, of its strong roots in queer theory & gender performance (as well as the overabundance of references and usage of queer theory to establish its validity and enactment), yet the anthology shows otherwise. Its Tell is queer, its Show is decidedly not. As you yourself said:

"Queer poets turn away from the pathology of the hetero, and that is a very excellent thing. Gurlesque poets embrace and interrogate the pathology. This gesture also has its own political power."

It's an odd coincidence that after Danielle P realized one of the contributors was more than a decade ago a Lambda nominee (3 poems from that book appear in yours), you suddenly came out with this revelation today that you 'hesitated to share,' when only yesterday you so articulately and resolutely denied queer sensibilities access to the Gurlesque as currently practiced by our contemporaries. I've known this contributor as married to a male poet (a nice guy, I'd add) -- and, though far be it from me to concretely police who fucks whom, or who lives queer or not (all we really have on that is how people identify at a certain moment) -- formally, I fail to see enough queer cunt (not that that word is mentioned) action in her poems to balance out all of the cock in the book.

Queer theory and poetry don't come out of thin air. They are borne from the strictures/lacerations of the experiential. I don't see a Gurlesque of the lived queer in this anthology. I've read quite a few nods to the queer cunt strain/theory/inheritance (esp in your Gurlesque Genealogy section and in blog posts, both past and present). I see Arielle calling Gurlesque a 'term she coined,' when a simple google search reveals that the term originated in lesbian burlesque. I understood the anthology to be a mapping of the framework. I've read your statement that queer poets somehow have the option of turning away from (i.e. escaping unscathed?) hetero-pathology while "Gurlesque poets embrace and interrogate that pathology" (this is implicitly exclusionary). And now, today, you've changed your mind and decided that queer poets do embrace that pathology?

Thank you for the encouragement to continue considering the Gurlesque. I might do so beyond the scope of this book when time allows. I still feel that what remains missing and unacknowledged in the anthology (the fact that queers DO interrogate heteropathology through the kind of femme-y exaggeration, rupture etc that you deem is formally Gurlesque), juxtaposed with how much mapping has been done through the work of queer theory, is the biggest, most unconstructive contradiction here. You have certainly mapped a territory, via the representative work in the anthology, that is very specific in terms of the lens it sees through, and the gap noted leaves me feeling slighted and disillusioned. I had hoped for more from this book.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


1. There are, as far as I know, several gay/bi poets/artists in addition to Brenda S.

2. Is that what it comes down to: that there is too much cock in the anthology? Or that it doesn't seem "authentically" queer to you? Or a combination of those two?

3. Ana, what I would be interested in would be if you would give an exmaple of a poet you think is a "queer gurlesque" poet you would have liked to have seen in the anthology.


4:40 PM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

simply put, this was the source of my/our 'queer eye for the gurlesque' discontent: the theory (online, in the preface) was queer-heavy, yet the choice of contributors really did not reflect an anthology that made a point to include the spectrum of queer it claimed to investigate & that it's borne from: concretely, a number of poets that identify as queer and give the queer take on the gurlesque. There's talk of androgyny, of male and and female attire, "queer women and transgendered people" in the preface, on delirious hem, etc -- so the queer eye wondered, where is Julian Brolaski? Stacy Szymaszek?(Both specifically deal with drag. And these on only a cursory search.) MTF/FTM poets? If you look at Amy's blog, she gives more examples, which I won't reiterate. Queerness of some of the contributors shouldn't be this big reveal. If the anthology actually made it a project to reflect its theoretical ideals, it would have been easy peasy to point to all that queer content and queer-identified contributors and this whole back and forth wouldn't have ensued. I'm not saying the anthology is not *authentically* queer, I'm saying that, based on its theoretical promise, it's not nearly *sufficiently* queer.

Amy and (perhaps) I will sit on this for a day or two and post a final and exhaustive comment, with the view of being constructive, & elaborate further on issues raised here by all of us. I'm going to bow out until then, as the weekend fades, and there's much other writing to do. thanks, as always, for engaging. I'll read on.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

It strikes me that Julian Stacy would be perfect for an anthology entitled "Boyleseque"

7:41 AM  
Blogger Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

Julian & Stacy. I meant.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Johannes, just want to point you to Amy's latest post, where she gives some great examples of who might have been included:

1:36 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Many of these could fit into the gurlesque label; some wouldn't. Some are poetry about gender roles, but not necessarily gurlesque; the gurlesque is a little more specific (and here Max's support of specificity is worth noting).

I loved the Gaga poem; that is great. Sure, many of these could be in the anthology; but then every anthology has to include/exclude. I think you should put together another anthology on line (or in print). Why not. You're off to a good start.

However, I think many of the poets in the anthology are in fact gay; so that critique is not working for me. That was not the criteria of exclusion/inclusion.

And for example if Brenda Shaughnessy is not gay, then certainly Dodie Bellamy (who I included in my "gurlesque issue" of Action, Yes, but I think is outside the age-range of the anthology) is not gay either (since she's also married to a guy). In shady territory with that kind of taxonomizing.

So the critique should be something else. So far the main critique seems to be that there is too much cock and not enough explicit lesbian sex in the poems. That could be an interesting discussion, but so far you guys haven't really expanded on that. I'd like to see more talk about that.

I think one of the strengths of the anthology, as Max suggested, is its specificity; that means we can have a discussion about it.

Perhaps, Nada's suggestion of a Boylesque is what's needed.

What I take exception to is the great moral indignation and the "queers not allowed" stuff. Certainly we can have a discussion about what "gurlesque" means without getting all antagonistic. And that's in part because you based so much of your opposition to an intuition of not enough gay poets being included.

I think it's great that Amy mentioned those poems; I'll be glad to read them. And in some cases I think they would have been good for the anthology (not however because they are *more* gay, but because they're good, they would add to the "constellation"). And certainly some of the poems that are included I wouldn't include (because I don't like them or because I don't consider them "gurlesque" - my definition has of course been roundly criticized.)

As far as "appropriating riot girls" - that critique I take great exception to. To me this reads again like the authentic vs the fake, community vs kitsch. And it's quite obvious that that sensibility has had a great influence on the very idea of gurlesque (though one might add that horribly abject figure of Courtney Love to the mix, she might be the great unnamed here). You can't control influence.

As far as "appropriating queer theory" - again I don't believe in this line of argument. I think queer theory tends to have some of the most interesting ideas about gender around; so of course I"m going to use it. Furthermore, "queer" (as Aaron Apps suggested) is in many ways a kind of Ultra-Other; so that when I first came to the US I was tackled and beat up at my school pretty much every day for a year or so (and this has continued in other ways throughout my adult life) because my attacker perceived my foreigness as gay-ness.

These experiences have the force of an originary myth for me; these are experiencs that I go back to to understand society because it's in this violence (and the violence since; big shout-out to Iowa City and your rocks!) that society became apparent to me. So of course I"m going to appropriate queer theory to talk about for example being a foreigner etc. It explains stuff better.


2:23 PM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

I just saw this comment, Johannes. The conversation seems to have moved on, hopefully toward the bigger + brighter/dirtier, just wanted to thank you for posting it. I hope that the 'intuition of not enough gays in the book' now makes sense -- it sprang from that poets/poetics misunderstanding or redefinition, whatever it was. Your AWP panel sounds really great. I'm interested in what you have to say about the American suburb. They're really their own forcefield and it's a mistake to regard them as anything else. Living as a poet in the suburbs gave me this wild sense of freedom/the uncharted: all those poets in the city were writing about the city, and I was the only one in my particular manicured subdivision trying to find words for what dyeing a grass lawn with green coloring to look more 'real' does to the notion of the Real. How does one process that as an immigrant, etc.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, I hated the suburbs, but it is a very placeless place.


11:30 AM  

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