Friday, July 25, 2008

Some reading notes on Ariana Reines' Coeur de Lion

I like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath's work, but they've never been especially important sources of inspiration/influence for me in terms of my own writing for several reasons. I'm not a Boston Brahman living in the 1950s, and I don't currently face the same degree, or even kinds, of gender and class-based social and aesthetic restrains that they did. I feel trite and mean when I say this, but I don't have to marry or be in love with a rich asshole and then feel abject and bad about it.

True, my family would probably, if I asked them their opinion about it, like me to marry. And like me to marry a nice, upper middle class NPR Democrat engineer or entrepreneur or political science wonk or perhaps a certain specific sort of academic who knows a little bit about music and literature and gourmet food, but it's not like there's any money for them to threaten to cut me off from if I don't, and I don't need the protection of a husband to live without the support of my family, and I can live and work and not starve and do more than not starve on my own.

I just remembered a dinner party that I went to with my brother and sister-in-law at one of their friend's houses in Belmont. I'd not yet learned to navigate parties with confidence and charm, but I'm sure I was some combination of overly energetic, friendly, and strange. I was uncomfortable being around Belmont rich people. I remember very few specific details about the evening. We brought guacamole. Someone was trying to decide between Harvard and Yale for law school. Someone had been on the Atkins diet who got really drunk ate half a pear tart. They were talking about their trips to Europe. I tried to talk about Singapore and Malaysia, but no one had been to either of those places, and I'd only been to England and Ireland and never continental Europe. I kept thinking about Plath and eventually Sexton at McLean, and how Sexton actually kind of wanted to go there and how fucked up it was that being at a mental hospital would seem a preferable alternative to being a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet outside of one. I remember looking around at the women in the room, most of whom were academics, becoming academics, or married to academics (I guess there were lawyers and business women and men, too) and wondering how many of them were depressed and/or taking psychiatric medications.

I'm thinking about all of this because I've just read Coeur de Lion, by Ariana Reines. And because Plath and Sexton are thus far the only non-contemporary poets to come up in any conversation about Gurlesque that I've read. I have a lot to say about Coeur de Lion. It's good. It's maybe the best book by one of my 20-some and 30-some peers that I've read in two or three years. It's got major energy. It's a super hyper-aware love poem aware of the historical and grammatical constraints and pleasures of lyric. It's perverse.

The poem isn't attempting to represent anything like Suzanne Muzard's idea of reciprocal love: "The idea of love is weak, and its representations lead to errors. To love is to be sure of oneself. I cannot accept nonreciprocal love, and therefore I reject that two lovers might be in contradiction on a topic as serious as love. I do not wish to be free, and there is no sacrifice on my part in this. Love as I conceive it has no barrier to cross, no cause to betray."

Coeur de Lion knows that "you" is always a constructed object, and that the world comes into the poem at you's expense (both in the poem and maybe even out of it). Lyric love traditionally depends on the beloved being a distant jerk and on the poet being alienated and economically disenfranchised--Coeur de Lion knows this though, and tries to push that dynamic as much as possible.

But, but. It did make me think of the dinner party in Belmont. That says more about me, maybe, than the book, but still...

(The poem made me think of a lot of other things, too, including some New Narrative, Bataille, most of French Feminist theory, Kathy Goes to Haiti, Djuna Barnes, and Freud more than Lacan or Zizek because even though Freud is often wrong his theories of subjectivity are so much more physical and bodily than Lacan or Zizek).

Long sentence: ...Something about how the poem chooses in a totally self-aware way to inhabit a traumatic series of neurotic loops that obsess about love and loving a rich, emotionally abusive jerk who is not a very good writer and the abjection and self-hatred that come from this choice, which does, yes, remind me of Sexton's desire to be McLean.

More later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Whenever I'm teaching too much, which is most of the time, I find it really difficult to maintain the level of energy and focus required to follow comment streams, blog posts, and emails. I want participate and have some kind of conversation that isn't with my (generally great) students, but it feels too much like work, and I get overwhelmed by the details--sometimes posting a comment feels about as exciting as commenting on (for the bazillionth time) a student response to "The Yellow Wallpaper." I love "The Yellow Wallpaper," but if I had any control over the content of the courses I teach, I'd take it off the reading list so that I can enjoy it again.

There's a new issue of Galatea Resurrects out. I'm always impressed by the quantity and variety of the reviews in each issue, and it's one of the first places I look when I'm trying to find a review by a book I've not yet read or an author who is new to me. But looking at the table of contents makes me feel like I have vertigo. It's frustrating.

This tiredness also changes how I experience new work: I'm unlikely to really enjoy or be able to give full attention to anything I read, and I've never really mastered the art of being able to read without full attention.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

If you're in the Bay Area

Then check out two events.

1. A screening of "C Red Blue J" in conjunction with the 12th annual Mission Creek music and arts festival Sunday, July 20th, 8 pm, $7. "C Red Blue J" is an experimental documentary feature that uses the director Christopher Sollars' family to illustrate the complications of division during the 2004 Presidential election.

I went to high school with Chris Sollars and his sister, Jen Sollars and, at the time, knew them well. Chris is an artist in San Francisco and Jen works for the Environmental Protection Agency, I believe (I haven't seen her since I ran into her, randomly, on the roof top pool of the apartment I was living in in DC several years ago now). I've not seen the flim, and I don't know Chris' recent work well, but when I knew him he was talented. He's one of two people from my college and pre-college years that was interested in art and actually became an artist (the other is Matthue Roth, who I've blogged about before). So, if you're around, go check it out.

2. The Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics (BARGE) presents BURIED TREASURE ISLAND, a multi-platform investigation of Treasure Island, currently on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. For those out-of-towners who can't visit the installation, there is a guidebook, audio tour, and other elements online (website - nonsite?). The audio podcast might not yet be fully up & running, but you can download the guidebook & see some images at:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lester Attempts to Communicate with Hawks

The juvenile hawks continue to hang out in our apartment complex, calling, and crashing through the acacia trees outside our windows. Yesterday, Mark saw two of them playing with each other on the ground. Apparently that is pretty normal behavior; siblings will stay together and with their parents for up to two months until they can hunt and fend for themselves. On the ground, they practice hunting insects and inanimate objects. Yesterday I saw one of the hawks flying with what I'm pretty sure was just a stick. It was practicing, no doubt, for an actual hunt.

There have been almost no other bird sounds around here for the past week except for hummingbirds, who seem fearless. Even the jays and crows have been quiet. Thus far, the hawks haven't bothered the nest of finches next door. However, this morning I can hear finches calling to their fledglings. Or maybe calling to encourage their young to fledge--but they're not the finches next door. The call of a male house finch is one of the most nervous-sounding bird calls I know.

Lester always enjoys the extra bird activity, and he's been trying to communicate with the hawks. He doesn't know what a hawk is, or that the hawk would enjoy eating him, but he knows that there are a lot of birds calling right outside the window. The other birds Lester has known have been friendly, for the most part--all parrots and finches of various sorts, and generally very talkative. The hawks don't respond to Lester, though, they just keep calling their calls, regardless of what sound he tries.

Like many parrots, though, Lester is a focused and determined bird. Last night he made a sound that resembled the hawk call, which means he's putting a significant amount of effort into trying to communicate with them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Notes for a review on Danielle Pafunda's My Zorba

It's very tempting to get all Lacanian.

... (I just went to put the clothes in the dryer, and now I've lost my train of thought)...

But I won't get all Lacanian. Nor will I use the word subjectivity too much, but I will use it.

I should probably say "sex" somewhere in the review.

Probably I will also say "fracture" or "fractured," but I'd like to think of a better word.

Also, I will talk about puns and sound.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I like Plath and Sexton well enough, but....

I'm feeling more or less human again. In other words I am eating.

I've been enjoying sending and receiving emails. It's not as satisfying as sending and receiving something in the mail, but still. Some human social connection is better than none.

I do wish that I could get a few thoughts in response to my post "I like the Grotesque..." about the writers important to some of the women whose work has been called Gurlesque. Who? Who other than Plath and Sexton?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Food Poisoning = Not Fun

Or maybe it was a weird allergic reaction. Either way, yuck. I feel like I've been turned inside out and beat up.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Visitors from the East

Dan and Mike are visiting from the East, so for the moment I'm not writing any substantive blog posts. However, I will note:

1) There are three juvenile hawks in the area. After listening to them for several days, Mark and I at last saw all three of them a few days ago. They hang out on the roof of the building next door. I wonder if they are the offspring of the pair of hawks who nested here in the early spring...

2) I went to a hoop class and dance jam last night and learned some more arm moves.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

There are several juvenile/fledgling coopers hawks (I think, but maybe red tailed?) in the trees outside my window. I only catch glimpses of them, but I can hear them. Raptors are usually quiet--that's one reason why they're so dangerous to other birds--so it's quite strange and wonderful, really, to be listening to morning hawk song.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My butt is like, so not big, but whatever.

I've been following the discussion about gurlesque and valley girls at Johannes Göransson's blog with extra interest, because here in north county San Diego I live closer to the origin of valley girls than I ever have. I kind of enjoy being mistaken for just another blonde local. People have been asking me if I'm from California my whole life.

Ironically reclaiming / using the valley girl stereotype in poetry could be interesting, but it also could be boring--I suppose for me it depends on how the poem does that and if it has any insight into the stereotypes it's performing. I suppose I'll have to read Minnis' book now.

In the mid 90s in Washington, DC, "baby got back " was something that men would say to me on the street, usually something like "Aw, yeahhh, baby got back" when I was walking home from a club early in the morning. Obviously it was unpleasant, but since I was (and still am) a very white girl who knew pretty much nothing about hip-hop, I figured it was a comment on my butt, but beyond that I didn't get it.

What a total idiot I was to be wandering around DC in club gear early in the morning.

Anyway, today, I realized that "baby got back" is a reference to a hip-hop song from the early 90s called, duh, "Baby Got Back." You've all heard it. The song begins with two valley girls talking, in valley-girl speak, about the size of a girl's butt and how her but makes her look black.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I like the grotesque. Going back to the moment of horror again and again is soothing.

This is a great generalization, but I'm going to say it, nonetheless: the grotesque is a consistent feature of the avant-garde. It was, maybe, less prevalent in Language Poetry, but it's certainly present in New Narrative. To use an expression I despise: the grotesque is a part of the standard avant-garde tool kit (the tool kit part is what I despise).

I have New Narrative and the Gurlesque on my mind, so it's not surprising that I'd want to connect these two discourses--although I suppose Ron already did that in his post by attempting to contextualize Minnis' work through writers like Dodie Bellamy.

Bakthin & Bataille aside, I'd be interested in hearing more about the writers and artists that inspire writers like Lara Glenum, Chelsea Minnis, Danielle Parfunda--writers whose work has been called Gurlesque. No doubt that the cultural context of the 1970s and 80s is relevant, but the specific context of each generation is inevitably important for that generation. I suppose what I'm wondering is how they might situate themselves in the historical continuum of the avant-garde. That sounds really pompous--but I feel like I can always understand more about a person's writing and certainly their descriptions of their writing by learning who/what they're writing among and against.

In the interview about the Gurlesque on Delirious Hem, Arielle Greenberg says that "in some ways, the Gurlesque poets are harkening back to Plath and Sexton in this, while rejecting—though nodding to—the work of someone like Sharon Olds[12], whose work is most in line with what I think we want to mean when we use the term “Confessional.”

So, we've got Plath and Sexton. Who else? I know what writers and artists I'd put on a list writers and artists interested in the grotesque and gender (and honestly, confessionalism doesn't immediately come to mind for me), but I'm curious who else they might include.

Still thinking about Bad Girls, and also Gurlesque

I was looking at a dialogue that Jessica Smith and I did for an forum on poetry and women's embodiment in the second issue of Traffic (2006-2007)--it occurs to me that we were talking about some issues relative to good girls and bad girls in art, and what to do with the cultural pressures we've grown up with. I'm still thinking about Silliman's post on Chelsea Minnis and also the forum on the Gurlesque up at Delirious Hem.

JS: “…[I]t’s not all bad—the fractured, fragmented, nervous sounds of sexual violence performing itself on and off the page—it can also be that culture/class specific impositions (‘a good girl must do x’) can bring interesting otherness to the table. Of course, ‘interesting otherness’ can come from all directions, but I want to celebrate rather than hide at least one of these odd, culturally enforced ‘instincts’: the pressure on women not to ‘make it new’ (faster cars! smaller computer chips! bigger bombs!) but to ‘make it pretty.’

“(A hastily sketched aside: ‘make it pretty’ as a response to—a backlash against?—the postmodern art of the last quarter century that celebrates the ugly and grotesque. A move toward the embellished, decorated, made beautiful, as you put it, ‘not clear…what is artifice and what is authentic.’)”

KLG: “…I’m usually torn between wanting to celebrate my interesting, culturally enforced otherness and wanting to reject/question it. So, while I read about Martha Graham and her versions of Greek heroines, I’m attracted to Merce Cunningham’s rigid and ‘unnatural’ movements and the cultural critiques they imply. Perhaps, like you, I want to explore what is, as you say, ‘embellished, decorated, made beautiful.’ But I admit to still being focused on the perverse and grotesque.

I'm thinking about this part of our dialogue (which was quite long, and covered a lot of ground in addition to what I've quoted) relative to some of what Ariellle Greenberg says on Delirious Hem about the Gurlesque in poetry, and how it has something to do with being "unabashedly girly, to talk about things like ponies and sequins, while also trying to be fierce, carnal, funny, political, irreverent…all these things at once."

A few things strike me: embellishment is a way of being unabashedly girly. The frames of reference that Greenberg mentions on Delirious Hem are mostly pop culture ones--popular Feminism of the 1970s and the pop culture of the 1970s. But she also mentions the carnavalesque as being a common element in a Gurlesque poem--which makes me think Mina Loy and Djuna Barnes and, before them the gender-bending and exoticism of Decadence.

I'm not sure what to say about narrative.

And camp has to be important, too.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


If you want to be a virgin, you need to die before somebody screws you.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Shame and so on

Mark and I were talking about shame and badgirldom (badgirlness? being a bad girl? writing bad girl poems?) last night, prompted, yes, by Silliman's post and the footnote in his post:

"Schneeman was never a “bad girl” that I can tell since she has always lacked the one thing that binds all the bad ones together – a sense of shame, some concept of all this being somehow dirty. Hers truly is a sex-positive position, with no sense of what Sianne Ngai calls Ugly Feelings. It’s interesting to contrast how Acker relies on this framework of social (and self-) condemnation whereas a later writer, such as Dodie Bellamy, is far more playful with these borders, able to evoke & examine but not be ruled by them."

Being a "bad girl" does require that there are very real social and cultural forces at work that 1) try to prevent you from asserting your subjectivity in the way that you want and 2) condemn subjectivities that they don't approve of but which are asserted anyway. You can't be a bad girl unless someone with more power than you points at you and says that you are bad.

If no one is there to tell you that you've done something wrong, then there's really no point in being a bad girl. This is one of the reasons why I like reading Acker and Mina Loy but could never get into Sex and the City--it was boring. I'm not that interested in free-spirited wildness and sex in the interest of finding The One and having a great career and looking professionally cute and stylish.

I'm not sure how to connect this all to bad girls in writing, or bad girl writing, or bad girl personas in writing.

Abjection and negativity must be a part of this, too.

Shame is one of those cultural narratives--whatever form we make it in--that we all rely on to make sense of abjection.

Abjection and negativity (which I love love love) are pretty standard avant-garde fare, no?

It's probably the "girl" part of the "bad girl" that interests me most. At least in terms of the term.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bad Girls

Ron Silliman's recent post on Chelsea Minnis reminded me that I have a whole finished but unedited manuscript that's a vaguely procedural rendering writing through/of/with the Be a Bad Girl journal by Cameron Tuttle.

I'll have more thoughts about bad girls etc in about a week, well after blogland has grown bored with the discussion, I'm sure, if they haven't already.