Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gurlesque (Lara Glenum guest post)

Since there has been so much confusion about the concept of the Gurlesque (for example over at the Lemonhound blog site and over at Seth's Suburban Ecstacies), and so many people have asked me about it, Lara Glenum wrote me the following little bit to explain it a bit:

To start off, I should say that the Gurlesque is an entirely descriptive project, not prescriptive. In other words, Arielle and I are describing a set of aesthetic strategies/tendencies being engaged by a fairly disparate set of poets. We are not spearheading a movement or branding a product.

The Gurlesque describes an emerging field of female artists who, taking a page form the historical burlesque, perform their femininity in a campy or overtly mocking way. Their work assaults the norms of acceptable female behavior by irreverently deploying gender stereotypes to subversive ends. The theoretical tangents germane to the Gurlesque that I’m exploring in my critical writing include burlesque and camp, girly kitsch, and performance of the female grotesque.

Many people associate burlesque with its 1930s incarnation, the strip-tease, which was a far cry from the early years of the burlesque theater—the 1840s to the 1860s—which were pioneered almost exclusively by troops of female actresses under the direction of other women in Victorian London. Their dance hall repertoire was an antecedent of vaudeville, only much more socially explosive. Robert C. Allen, in his seminal work on burlesque, Horrible Prettiness, surmises that burlesque “presented a world without limits, a world turned upside down and inside out in which nothing was above being brought down to earth. In that world, things that should be kept separate were united in grotesque hybrids. Meanings refused to stay put. Anything might happen.” Emily Lane Fargo writes:

"Burlesque performers also literally usurped male power by taking on male roles onstage.... However, female burlesque performers were never trying to present a convincing, realistic portrayal of a man onstage. Instead, they were utilizing their masculine attire as a sort of fetish object, in fact emphasizing their feminine sexuality by contrasting it with markers of masculinity… These practices, of course, ultimately emphasized the constructed nature of both genders, calling into question accepted gender roles themselves."

The effect of such “unladylike” conduct led at least one critic to deem burlesque performers neither men nor women but “creatures of an alien sex, parodying both.” And parody, as Baudrillard tells us, is the most serious of crimes because it makes acts of obedience to the law and acts of transgression the same, canceling out the difference on which the law is based. The work of early burlesque performers embody Judith Butler’s insistence that we “consider gender as a corporeal style, an ‘act,’ as it were, which is both intentional and performative, where ‘performative’ suggests a dramatic and contingent construction of meaning.”

If the burlesque is always about the body on display (i.e. the gendered surface of the body), the grotesque engages the body as a biological organism. To Bakhtin, women represent the quintessential grotesque: they are “penetrable, suffer the addition of alien body parts, and become alternately huge and tiny.” Grotesque bodies, male or female, are no longer “clearly differentiated from the word but transferred, merged, fused with it.” Mary Russo writes,

"The images of the grotesque body are precisely those which are abjected from bodily canons of classical aesthetics. The classical body is transcendental and monumental, closed, static, self-contained, symmetrical and sleek; it is identified with “high” or official culture… with rationalism, individualism, and the normalizing aspirations of the bourgeoisie. The grotesque body is open, protruding, irregular, secreting, multiple and changing; it is identified with non-official “low” culture, and with social transformation."

In Gurlesque poetry, human bodies and human language (and thus identity) are not closed, discrete systems. They are grotesque bodies/systems—never finished, ever-morphing, unstable, and porous. The body, as the nexus of language and identity, is a strange borderland, the site of erratic and highly specific (and language-mediated) desires.

There is no experience of “pure” culture or language available to us, no “pure” identity, no unmediated desire. The concept of the pure lies at the heart of Western aesthetics—the word “catharsis” comes from the Greek verb “to purify”—and women, non-whites, queers, impoverished, or disabled persons have historically been labeled as social contaminants. Gurlesque poets deny catharsis because they deny the aesthetics of the pure.

For ruminations on the Gurlesque and kitsch, you can go here: http://www.actionyes.org/issue9/glenum/glenum1.html


Blogger Seth Abramson said...


Thanks for this. I think it emphasizes, even more than its implications for feminism, the relation of the gurlesque to (using the cultural and lit-crit sense of the word here) "queerness" (as opposed to the more narrow category of homosexuality). I think part of the confusion is that Arielle is simultaneously working with Rachel Zucker, as I understand it, on projects dealing almost entirely with a "normative" female process, to wit pregnancy. It is hard for me to resolve Lara's fascinating discourse on the grotesque and the burlesque, which pushes the envelope of gender roles and gender identity, with the more traditional feminism of the Greenberg/Zucker project, excerpts from which I heard live at Prairie Lights not a few months ago.

Be well,

2:52 PM  
Blogger Seth Abramson said...

P.S. I should emphasize that my own confusion on this one point in no way limits or curtails my interest in what Lara wrote, which I find genuinely intriguing. I'm very, very interested in the gurlesque as Lara propounds it.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Hey, Seth,

Why try/want/need to reconcile one project with the other?


11:10 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I haven't read the Zucker/Greenberg project. But I wanted to add that pregnancy is not inherently normative. It is quite often the site of abjection and all kinds of weirdnesses. The treatment of the pregged-out woman's body is fascinating.

As for the Gurlesque: Arielle identified a kind of strain or tendency among contemporary writers, but her interpretation of that strain tends to be more positive than Lara's (which tends to be more constructive than mine). Also, Arielle's is distinctly American-focused, while I think it applies even more to contemporary Swedish poets (and some folks are already taking up this lead).

Like Danielle said, there is on need to make different interpretations meld. In fact you can add your own (and to a certain extent you did the other day).


7:21 AM  
Blogger becca said...

It seems to me that some of your questions, Seth, are happily addressed directly by the critics Lara cites:

On feeling unsure about a woman taking on two somewhat contradictory--or at least not perfectly aligned--projects dealing with the female body:

"In that world, things that should be kept separate were united in grotesque hybrids. Meanings refused to stay put. Anything might happen."

On a coauthored lyric essay exploration of pregnancy and homebirth being "traditional" and "normative":

"women represent the quintessential grotesque: they are 'penetrable, suffer the addition of alien body parts, and become alternately huge and tiny.'"

9:55 AM  
Blogger Lemon Hound said...

Hi all,
I love Lara Glenum's essay on Aase Berg, but like Seth, I actually don't see the description of gurlesque holding up to any strand of American poetry...at least not what I have read.

Johannes, you say:
"As for the Gurlesque: Arielle identified a kind of strain or tendency among contemporary writers, but her interpretation of that strain tends to be more positive than Lara's (which tends to be more constructive than mine). Also, Arielle's is distinctly American-focused, while I think it applies even more to contemporary Swedish poets (and some folks are already taking up this lead)."

Which I guess points to my confusion and hesitation around the project: I don't see Berg's work in the same vein as those American poets being described elsewhere. Though perhaps, come to think of it, Elizabeth Treadwell might fit that description...

In any case, I should probably see the anthology before saying more, and certainly I will wait to see it before I post on it again.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

The one thing that I find most problematic in this discussion (which i find very fascinating - it's spurring me to do a hell of alot of reading) if the biological determinism involved:

"The Gurlesque describes an emerging field of female artists who, taking a page form the historical burlesque, perform their femininity in a campy or overtly mocking way"

or over at LEMON HOUND:

"ut Gurlesque is descriptive of girls/women/females/feminine manifestations camping up, kitsching up, f-ing up, xing out, troubling femininity--girl type, woman type, mother type, daughter type, hey-lady baby bitch...type, gorgon siren pillar of salt type, wife/girlfriend type, or vagina as social agent type gender. It is not the only mode of interrogating (feminine) gender norms, and all modes are not interchangeable. In my opinion."

It seems that the question Arielle asked "Can male poets be Gurlesque?" in her original essay has been firmly answered.

I personally think that this implies a far more normative idea of gender than is actually at work in these and other associated poetries, and paradoxically employs a trope of 'purity' - ie the biologically endowed status of female identity. Furthermore it seems reductive when it comes to what is being explored in the poems, and the relation between bodies and gender, which in much of what i have read (Lara's work for instance) has been far more complex then a simple subversion of the feminine.

Of course I'm not pushing an agenda here of the kind with boys saying "us too! we want in!" (my poetics for one is a far cry from this work), I'm just trying to interrogate the discussion and see what gender in the poems, as well as the associated theorizing, is actually doing. I think there is far more going on here.

Any thoughts?

4:27 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

When I'm teaching the Confessional, I often think it's difficult to communicate as a well-defined strand of American poetry. It refuses coherence, has internal contradiction, etc. But when you assemble Berryman, Lowell, Plath, Sexton, up through Olds, Bidart, maybe even Trinidad, then Confessional becomes not the well-sealed bubble surrounding these poets, but a fascinating nexus through which each passes. Or, a recognizable strain (like, virus, like, infection) running through the lot of 'em.

Okay, the anthology, whatever it contains will surely be a more carefully considered well-wrought vision, but for the sake of putting some concrete in the discussion, very fast and very loose assemblage of poems that I'd say mine the same vein of Girly Kitsch re: Lara's essay on Aase Berg (and in keeping with what Lara & Arielle say elsewhere on the topic):

Tina Brown Celona Sarah Vap (particularly "hemisphere-semi-precious")Lara Glenum (tho' wish I could find better example from MG)Ariana ReinesChelsey MinnisElizabeth Treadwell (yep!) Dottie Lasky (scroll down to "Boobs are Real") Juliet CookFarrah Field me

4:28 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, I think Ross is right about that.

Chien: we had this discussion some months ago when I first broached the topic on the blog. I said then that I thought the wideness of the definition is both a problem and a positive. I think that's why you have some very varying interpretations going on.


4:48 PM  
Blogger becca said...

Ross, I think part of what Lara is saying when she says the concept of the Gurlesque is descriptive, not prescriptive, is that they have only *noticed* this trend among women poets. That's much different from saying that it's an inherently female style, and that only biologically female poets can/could write Gurlesque poems.

To Arielle's question (let's ask more!), I think we could still say Maybe, say Hell Why Not. I also imagine that Lara and Arielle would consider a biologically-XY poet for the Gurlesque anthology if someone could make a case for his work. Who knows. But I could imagine it! I just can't think of a male poet who would fit the bill.

(Just imagine scare-quotes littered everywhere in this post ... "woman" "his" etc.)

5:00 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Yeah, I think that's right about the positive/negative.

Arielle says that she's proposing the term as a framework rather than a prescriptive or movement, and i tend to think of the term as a point of entry to discussion of what poets are doing, and how different poets approach the same subjects/problems/whatever in different ways - for instance how Ariana and Lara treat femininity.

I think arguing over what does/doesn't fall under saif banner may work to obfuscate what is essentially a bunch of poets doing some very interesting things, though on the other hand lack of discussion may result in the term getting hijacked.


5:18 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Hey, that's my blog, not Chien's Lemon Hound! You can read the whole entry here: Iron Caisson Gurlesque is for XX, and the post title's a bit tongue in cheek.

Neither Lara (to my knowledge), nor I are talking about "the biologically endowed status of female identity." I'm talking about the culturally constructed status of feminine identity, which is necessarily linked to the female body, but doesn't require some pure state of female biology. I'm talking about the explicit interrogation of normative feminine gender roles.

If there are male poets interrogating the feminine as such, performing feminine gender roles in campy/kitschy/burlesque/grotesque/etc. way, engaging girly kitsch, do tell. Do write an essay! It'd be fascinating!

If male/men/etc. poets are using similar tactics to explore masculinity, then as I say in the linked entry, I think it's something that shares affinity with Gurlesque, shares space under the wider umbrella of gender-bender poetics, but is not the same deal.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

I happen to think that the Gurlesque is about performing gender in a way that causes gender binaries to fray, skew, collapse. It is absolutely about queerness (in the broader sense that Seth describes), and in my book, men can be Gurlesque, too. Vladimir Mayakovsky and Johannes are prime examples of this. So's Letters to Wendy's.

To my thinking, the Gurlesque is not at all an exclusively American phenomenon. It's global. As Johannes notes, the Gurlesque is alive and kicking in Sweden, and there's Kim Hyesoon in Korea, Yoko D'Holbachie in Japan, Can Xue in China, and scores of others all across the globe (Bjork anyone? Matthew Barney? Frida Khalo?) working in the Gurlesque vein. This is one of the few places where Arielle and I part company. Arielle roots the Gurlesque in 70s American girlhood, and that's a compelling take, too.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Sorry Danielle! I was reading both your blogs at the same time and got confused!

Becca, in addition to the poets Lara mentions I'd add Tom Whalen's chapbook "Dolls" - published by Caketrain.

Lara - yeah, that was one of the things that made me uncomforatble (Arielle's rooting of the term in American girlhood) - one of the formative experiences of my questioning of gender roles, masculity etc was my involvement in the Gothic subculture, and falling in love with people like Daniel Ash, Peter Murphy, Robert Smith et al.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

(Me! I'll take some Bjork! & swan gown!).

Interesting! But why aren't these beloved dudes performing some yet unnamed grotesque rooted in the interrogation of the masculine? Because, while I agree Gurlesque skews the binary, frays & deranges even the spectrum concept, and queers things (perhaps a la Halberstam), the Gurlesque I'm familiar with does all this by challenging the feminine norms, the cultural policing of the female form, etc. It's not itself buying into some concept of inherent feminine, but unseats gender by exploring and eviscerating those culturally constructed ideas of feminine that often get passed off as natural.

And isn't the relationship to power necessarily different when an explicitly masculine/male speaker (however variant) interrogates gender?

Maybe I'm stubbornly overspecializing here--but I see a lot of value in distinguishing between those projects that proceed by tackling recognizably feminine norms and those that proceed by tackling masculine...at least at the present moment in cultural history when we are despite our better-frayed selves still viciously subject to the binary. It's a messy assertion, to be sure, but to my thinking Gurlesque + Mantasia + some third that perhaps trucks in a Written on the Body refusal to subscribe = the larger category of gender trouble poetics?

Danielle, who will not really continue to refer to the Mantasia poets...unless it sounds really good to her in the morning.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

I should add that while male poets and artists certainly can be Gurlesque, they by and large aren't. You don't see too many male poets camping as both genders in their work or doing bi-gendered mash-ups or queering the gender cage (certainly very few straight male poets do this). And D's insight that it may mean something categorically different for a man to engage the Gurlesque may well be true.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Lemon Hound said...

"I happen to think that the Gurlesque is about performing gender in a way that causes gender binaries to fray, skew, collapse."
Can you tell me how this plays into the American poets that have associated themselves with this description? That would be very helpful. Love Shana Compton for example, but I don't think that's what she's doing at all.


9:56 PM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

What about Todd Solondz’s films as another example of a man making work that’s gurlesque? Welcome to the Dollhouse and Palindromes, with their dreamy pastel 90’s visuals, and their disturbing/over the top explorations of female adolescent sexuality, seem very gurlesque to me. Palindromes in particular, with its rotating female lead (the main character switches every few scenes to different actresses of varying body types and ethnicities, though they are all meant to be the same girl), and its central tension around that teenage girl’s body as a troubled site of potential reproduction (and abortion), seems very applicable here.

It might also be interesting to consider how Faux Queens might fit under the umbrella of the gurlesque. Faux Queens, as opposed to Drag Kings (women dressing as men) are women who dress up as Drag Queens—so they are women performing super campy femininity, who are often mistaken for men dressed as women. They are especially interesting in that they point to the performative aspect of femininity in a way that even Drag Queens can’t, because they are women born as women who would theoretically have no need to “perform” gender, unless gender truly is solely (or mostly) performative. They also might be more in line with some of the original burlesque performers Lara mentioned in her post. I read about Faux Queens not long ago in an issue of Bust magazine, surprisingly enough.

One question: is the gurlesque limited to girls (i.e. younger women)? Can it be applied to older women (specifically much older women)? I think the answer is probably yes, but it seems a slight sticking point b/c of the name (I do like the idea of a spinsteresque).

12:34 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I love Palindromes. Especially the Christian rock band.


5:46 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

Ross: Goth culture, yes! All those ethereal, gender-indeterminate men. And Riot Grrl. Think zombified Courtney Love in her babydoll nightie, who somehow managed able to make female nudity threatening and aggressive rather than erotic.

Kate: Well, they're not "much older," but Alice Notley and Dodie Bellamy read as Gurlesque to me. And Hannah Hoch made her Dada photomontages until quite late in her life. And then there's Kathy Acker. Quite a few of the women in the anthology are in their 40s, which is hardly old, but they're not exactly fresh out of their teens. And yes, Faux Queens! My daughter is actually named after Sasha Foo, my friend and spectacular Faux Queen.

6:30 AM  
Blogger becca said...

I love Palindromes, too. I wouldn't exactly call this clip Gurlesque, but I would call it AWESOME:

I think I am a Faux Queen Lite.

As for gurlesque being applied to older women -- I think the fact that someone must be "gurl"-like (though not "girl"-like! gurl-lite?) is built into the term, so I'd say it can be applied to anyone "gurl"-like. For me, the "u" is very useful in pointing away from biological girlhood and gesturing toward culturally-created gurlness, much as a triple 'r' might.

I like the idea of the spinsteresque! It raises some really interesting questions. Liiike, what would it look like? The fact that girliness/gurliness is so commodified helps those who discuss it be able to gesture toward its "symbols." But really, the pop culture and the poems are separate; I tend to think of the pop culture as a sort of shorthand, albeit one that's confusing a lot of people about what the poems are like! So maybe too "short."

We should start a Gurlesque family restaurant where instead of signed T-shirts and record covers and bullfight posters on the walls, there was all the pop culture detritus of the Gurlesque. Poems in every napkin holder, etc. And the Muzak would be only covers of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights," which my partner recently found a TON of, so lemme know if you want me to send you a CD.

6:57 AM  
Blogger François Luong said...

I never thought I would start thinking of Japanese visual kei bands (X-Japan, Malice Mizer, Shazna, early Dir En Grey, Phantasmagoria) as Gurlesque.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Re Lara and Danielle's comments on "boys writing" (if i may coin a term) - I find the performance of masculinity to be quite threatening, which, by and large, is why I don't do so, preferring to play with the idea of the poet as a "voluptuary, a vat of mushy ideas and disgusting feelings" (To quote Ariana).
I find that a lot of boys i know are threatened by the idea of a boy-poet, as a result of the whole confessional thing, the idea that poetry is about deep-seated emotional truths etc ("you fucking faggot" etc). Therefore the whole "be hysterical" thing (cf Johannes' earlier post on Plath).

I think the problem here is that culturally ideas of masculinity, especially of the white heterosexual variety, are inextricably bound up in questions of power and dominance. I'm not sure how to approach this, rather that simply doing/becoming/performing something different.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Hi Danielle,

I'm so sorry for being so late to return to the discussion; yes, you're right, there really is no need to resolve these two--they're separate projects--and I should have acknowledged that in my initial comment. Thanks for pointing it out. Best wishes,


8:08 AM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

Johannes—Sunshine Sin!

Becca—I would definitely go to (or work) that restaurant.

Lara—That’s spectacular that you named your daughter after a faux queen!

2:47 PM  
Blogger Cathy Park Hong said...

I just taught Lara's introduction to the Gurlesque anthology to a class at Sarah Lawrence. I also gave them a packet of poems but I took the liberty of also picking women poets who are not necessarily in the anthology.

Overall, they were quite thrilled with the essay since it seemed to align with third wave feminism: an emphasis on irony and camp, gender as a construct that should be dismantled, the grotesque as an example of the mutating self. They also really identified with its punk/rrrriot girl sensibility. One interesting point a student made, that I might have to agree with here, is the lack of discussion on race within the Gurlesque definition (yes, race always does seem to snag feminism), especially since the Gurlesque is attempting to describe a contemporary phenomenon on subversion and feminism. I’m curious to know how race would work within the framework of the burlesque and grotesque. I can think of a direct parallel: black poets, for instance, who reappropriate vaudeville and black face. I know that Lara and Arielle might have already thought about this since Kara Walker is also featured in the anthology.

I think there are female poets of color who would perfectly fall under the rubric of Gurlesque like Wang Ping, Barbara Jane Reyes, Dawn Lundy Martin and Wanda Coleman, who is badder than bad bad bad bad. (Someday, Coleman will have her day.)

And speaking of Bad, I was thrilled and tickled when I first read Minnis’s second collection but now, I feel honestly divided about it. The book is one of your raunchier, more subversive examples of poetry as institutional critique. But does it go beyond institutional critique?

12:33 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Yeah Cathy, I agree that race/ethnicity could be dealt with here, under the rubric of the continuing interrogation of de/constructed paradigms of identity and social norms/roles etc, and the continuing theme of performance.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Savvy student, Cathy! If you scroll down to the last question in Part I of my 2008 Gurlesque convo with Arielle, there's some prelim, by no means complete, discussion of race...In which Dawn Lundy Martin(!), among others, makes appearance.

I think Gurlesque has an awkward and interesting (and underarticulated!) relationship to race/class/sexuality/disability/etc. All the lenses that snag!

I'd love to see someone spin out the gurlesque/black face...I love to teach LeRoi Jones's "An Agony. As Now" with Plath's "In Plaster"--a kind of precursor to this parallel?

Maybe someone (Cathy!) will do it for the Delirious Hem forum I'm planning for fall (on non-normative bodies in the field of the poem)?

2:09 PM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

Cathy, thanks for this. I'm actually writing a longer piece about the Gurlesque and race (and class) just now and will post more as soon as I'm able. I can say that a number of the poets and artists in the anthology are non-white or mixed race.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

As to whether or not male poets can be Gurlesque, if I squint one way, I think yes, if I squint another, I think no. There's a real use in the Gurlesque being used as a very loose, provisional (and thus inclusive) term and there's also a use in defining the Gurlesque in terms of micro-climates.

The interesting question in all this, to me, is that of male poets queering heterosexuality, no matter how you or I might choose to label them.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I have to say that my concern (i'm not sure that's the right word, but it'll have to do) regarding the question of male poets stems from a lot of work and discussions i've been involved with lately regarding gender, and if it is a performative social construct, us this discourse tends toward, then to exclude male poets paradoxically reinforces the binary, biologically determined and normative conception of gender which the process is meant to be interrogating.

2:17 PM  
Blogger becca said...

Ross, I'm not sure that it's true that the Gurlesque enforces a "biologically determined and normative conception of gender" if you look at it in cultural terms -- i.e. those who are arguing (not even arguing -- wondering) for only women poets existing under the umbrella of Gurlesque are saying that these are people who have been cultured/reared/raised as girls and women. When they entered the world, people said "It's a girl!" and so on and on and on.... Or, if they looked at the parts and said "I dunno what it is!" they then decided to raise the child as a girl. (That last scenario reads pretty G-esque to me.) In other words, Gurlesque poets were probably raised as girls, or treated as girls at home, school, or any place where they learned what "girl" meant to the culture. And as I understand it, a big part of what the Gurlesque does is eff with the experience of being raised as a girl, i.e. show how fucked up and absurd and hilarious and bloody and sparkly and deformed and leaky and over-the-top it is.

See also Danielle's #2 here: http://daniellepafunda.blogspot.com/2009/05/gurlesque-is-for-xx-ii.html

5:15 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I wasn't asserting that the Gurlesque does this, but that the characterization of the gurlesque as a biologically female phenomenon runs this risk.
Furthermore this not only excludes the biologically male, but also those who do not identify themselves as belonging within this framework - see Seth on "queerness".
Your point seems to demonstrate what I am saying, that using the term in terms of those who are biologically/culturally designated female paradoxically reinforces this gender-binary in the process of it's subversion.
One of the things that I find most interseting about Lara's work is the treatment of the body, it's distortions of coding and subjectivity, where become asubjective assemblages and grotesque hybrids that “bleed sublexical characters and pink cartoon rabbits” (Hounds of No, 35). or where the "Hermaphridite Sock Monkey" pleads that s/he “need[s] a wedding cake to sink [his/her] duplicate bodies” (37).

If you designate whether or not a poet can fall under a term by whether or not they were raise as girls, this becomes deterministic, whether it is biological or cultural - what about Drag/Faux Kings/Queens? those who identify themselves as trans/post gender, or intersex? This is the crux of what i'm talking about with regard to the false binary thats at work.

5:32 PM  
Blogger becca said...

This reinforcing of the binary is something that feminism has had to deal with from the start. As soon as we group ourselves together and call that group "women" (in order to fight for equal pay; in order to describe a poetic trend), a woman/man binary is reinforced. Yes. But it's a theoretical sacrifice made for practical ends. Until we live in a gender-blind world, i.e. never, there is still a use for the category "people raised as girls."

So, first I would take the "biologically" out of this sentence ("Your point seems to demonstrate what I am saying, that using the term in terms of those who are biologically/culturally designated female paradoxically reinforces this gender-binary in the process of it's subversion"), and then I would say yes, as I understand it the Gurlesque recognizes at least one binary -- masculine/feminine (different from man/woman, different from male/female) -- a cultural one that undeniably exists, and from which the poems stem (in part).

"What about Drag/Faux Kings/Queens?" indeed -- I think they throw a fascinating wrench into this argument. But the question leaves poetry behind and reaches out toward the larger culture. If someone could point to a drag/faux king/queen poet doing what they think is Gurlesque work, then we could all dig in. Until then, I'm just not sure the hypothetical nature of the question does us much good. This feeling goes back, again, to Lara's distinction: the Gurlesque is descriptive, not prescriptive.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Drag kings etc is totally beside the point. Of course men and martians etc can all exhibit elements of the gurlesque. All this talk about who can do it and who can't is trying to police the concept. Not interesting.


9:49 AM  
Blogger Arielle Greenberg Bywater said...

I mostly want to stay out of this conversation, but one point needs clarifying: I came up with the term and notion of the Gurlesque; I do NOT consider myself a Gurlesque poet, mostly. Some of my work veers that way; much of it definitely does not. The Gurlesque is (some of) the critical work I do, not the creative (by and large). So you might be understandably confused about the term indeed if you were to look to my own work to define it (as it seems some are).

But also, just as I have some pretty Gurlesque poems and other not Gurlesque poems, some of the folks Lara and I talk about in our antho are Gurlesque in one project and not in another. I don't exclusively write one kind of poetry--in fact, the pregnancy stuff Seth heard in Iowa is creative non-fiction, not even poetry, and is a political project. It's unlike any other creative work I (or Rachel) has done. Just a note to say it seems a little silly to completely define any one artist by any one work--and this was never my intention by coining the Gurlesque term, nor was it my intention to limit the term to one gender or one nationality or anything like that. I was/am just mapping a constellation I see happening, and trying to figure out where it's coming from as far as I can tell (hence the focus on the USA; I claim no in-depth cultural literacy about most other countries) and am interested in the expansions and exceptions everyone is suggesting.

But also, finally, there's nothing inherently "normative" about pregnancy any more than there is about sequins, drag, abortions or what have you, in terms of poetics, as far as I'm concerned. It's what you *do* with the content, not the content, that counts. And, too, believe me: pregnancy, a state in which you grow a live being inside of your body, and a time which is full of blood, excretion, discomfort, etc., can be pretty darn grotesque, not to mention burlesque!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

yes Johannes, I agree - I think that's the point i'm trying to make - maybe the framework doesn't work work for me - that saying that G is for (x) is a form of policing - an policing leads to exclusion.
Prescriptive ideas of who is/not entitled to use or be described by the term it think goes against the idea that Arielle put forth in her essay that G is a framework, not a movement - and thus something to be explored, not policed.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seth Abramson's phrase "traditional feminism" made me smile. As did his disappointment with Arielle and my book, Home/Birth, which he clearly finds unfascinating. The difference between normal and normative is huge. The idea of birth as a "normative" process is terrifying and bears discussion. How wonderful that Arielle can manage to work too such different collaborators!

8:20 AM  

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