Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pop questionnaire for the poets:

How many of you grew up in the suburbs and left them for the city. And when? And many of you didn't grow up in the US at all, which is great, and I wonder how/if a suburban/urban tension might be relevant for you, too.

I think one (not the only) underlying element of recent debates about queerness and the Gurlesque anthology is a suburban/urban dynamic. Still thinking this through, though, and still waiting for my copy of the anthology to arrive.

I'm slapping my head a little here about, for example, how riot grrrl music and culture can be a reference point for many of us, but have it mean very different things (duh). I've always associated queer with riot grrrl--but a lot of the people that love Sleater-Kinney, for example, don't know that Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein are gay. Or they don't, maybe, care. I find this telling.


Matt said...

i grew up in a medium-sized town (not a suburb). always wanted to move to a city someday. always thought it would be chicago. but then i found new york. i've been here almost 4 years, since i was 24. i always thought i would like a city better than a small town, and i was right.

Patrick said...

I grew up in various suburbs and moved downtown asap (three days following graduation from high school). Sub- and urban landscapes, fiscal and eco- systems provide fodder for the modes of transit in question in a fair bit of my work.

I don't know much about the gurlesque as a category, but I heard someone read from the anthology the other night--a contributor--and the work seemed very suburban and very straight. I'm not naming names, though. I asked if Kathy Acker was a reference point when her contribution was solicited, and she said yes. Acker, insofar as she is a "maudit," is integrally linked to the urban landscape. The domestication of maudit impulses in USAmerican poetry seems to continue this suburbanization--even of urban spaces. The posturbane?

Riotgrrrl and gurlesque (knowing much more about the former) are not really maudit tendencies, as far as I can tell. It's a college town thing, maybe. This doesn't really seem to have been the case in the UK, where, in my estimation, the best riot grrrl stuff emerged.

Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

I think the underlying issue of the baiters of the Gurlesque anthology is territorialism. I don't see how it has to do with suburban/urban at all.

I also don't see how Amy and Ana can presume to know about the sexualities of all of the contributors.

It seems to me that they have picked absolutely the wrong target.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

@Matt--I think your story is similar to many poets (though not all, of course). Why did you think you'd like a city better?

@Patrick--Yes, this the direction my tentative thoughts were moving: "The domestication of maudit impulses in USAmerican poetry seems to continue this suburbanization--even of urban spaces. The posturbane?"

@Nada--Agreed that territorialism is a huge issue in the recent debates about the anthology. Maybe it's the main issue. To do an anthology is to be hated--especially to do an anthology that's trying to think about...undefinied territories.

But I'm trying to pick apart the nuances of that territorialism--part of it may be, yes, about who gets to call what queer, but I think it's more than that.

I'm really interested in these shared references that have come up in discussions of the Gurlesque--especially the Riot Grrl ones. I suppose all territorial debates to some extent are debates about the meaning and value of shared references.

My thoughts also stem from one of Danielle Pafunda's comments on Amy King's blog about the versions of Riot Grrl that the Gurlesque might draw on. Here comments were, of course, comments on a blog discussion, not an edited essay, but I think they were very astute:

"At the end of the day, I think the Riot Grrrl that the Gurlesque draws on (if it does), is the trickle-down version. The Sassy magazine version. Which I don’t want to belittle, ’cause it meant a lot to suburban girls like me who weren’t able to get to clubs or zines or anything but the mall. The ones for whom Riot Grrrl bled into Ghost World geek-chic."

Hey, US Postal Service, speed up my delivery of the anthology, so I can actually talk about it, and not just conversations people are having about it.

Matt said...

more stuff to do, basically. excitement. i mean, watching movies and tv from an early age, you know cities are where exciting things happen. ghostbusters was a big influence, i think. (how this all relates to poetry, for me, i don't know. i'm pretty sure i would be reading and writing the same stuff no matter where i am.)

Johannes said...


Of all the lame posts I've read about the gurlesque, your comment here has to be one of the lamest. Seemed suburban, had nothing to do with Kathy Acker, won't name names, not maudit. Really - this reeks of the typical dismissals. Really lame name-calling.


K. Lorraine Graham said...


If we were all at a bar discussing this, and believe me, I wish we were (maybe soon, at AWP?), everyone could all just call each other lame callers of lame names, or whatever, and then it would all go off into the ether. But it's a blog, and I'm attempting to have it be a conversation with people about something I'm really interested in. Please engage with the content of the comments. Or at least respond to my well-intentioned questionnaire.

mark wallace said...

While it would be easy to overread the differences here as rural/suburban/urban, I do think you're onto something, Lorraine (and Danielle as well, from whom it seems you've taken this idea, in part), in at least two ways.

One, the (apparent) relative lack (not absolute lack) of certain kinds of more politically overt and lesbian approaches in the anthology does mirror the more limited avenues for protest that mark rural/suburban/small urban locations. There's a kind of coding in some of the gurlesque that has some similarity (not equivalence by any means) to earlier generations of more coded queer literature, though I'm not expert enough to trace this in any detail. Just as an obvious for instance, there's the connection between gurlesque exaggeration and camp.

The differences between being queer or straight women in any environment can't be avoided, of course, as I'm sure everybody involved in the debate knows much more fully than I do.

Two: the much more literal geographical split between urban U.S. poetry scenes and the main sets of poetry connections of the editors of the anthology. Literally a function of whose work you know or hear about or find out about, but it nonetheless generates real divisions in the question of whose work "counts." And real theoretical divisions too, although the degree of such differences is certainly not something I can speak to effectively.

I don't say any of this to suggest that the queer/straight set of issues/problems/concerns that the anthology raises are secondary--just that they perhaps intersect with other questions.

Also, I think it's curious that Johannes leaps to the conclusion that your mentioning of the word "suburban" must be a put-down, as opposed to a culturally and geographically significant context. I have no idea what he's getting at--does he hate the suburbs himself, or just think that every poet does?

To answer your question, I lived in the suburbs of Washington, DC until I was 18, although I regularly went into the city as a boy for church and museums and then later for music and parties. Moved into the city when I was 18. I lived in Binghampton and Buffalo from the ages of 24-32, places that in different degrees were connected to our ideas of what makes a city, and where I went for grad school. From 32-43 I lived in the city of Washington again, and since then, I've been in the suburbs in southern California.

There's no doubt that I've always preferred living in the city, for the reasons Matt more or less suggests, but there's equally no doubt that if I were to be honest, I'd have to say that my life has been a bit of an urban/suburban/small city hybrid. I like to think of myself as someone who can feel alienated everywhere I might live!

Christa said...

I disagree--I think most people who like Sleater Kinney do know that Carrie Brownstein is queer and that she had a relationship with Corin Tucker. One point though. Its a bit disingenuous to identify Corin as "gay." She is married to a man and has a child with that man.

Johannes said...


My comment was directed toward Patrick who used suburb in a very put-down way. Not Lorraine. But I am working on a less testy reply on my blog.But, yes, I hate the suburbs. Of course I hate the suburbs. I had to live there for some years and it nearly killed me several times.


Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

I have never lived in a suburb. I don't believe Marin Country in the 70s really counts as a suburb. It was something else, some kind of lalaland. I think I have some kind of suburb envy actually: space, lawns, finished basements, drugs...

françois said...

I grew up in a French suburb, which sociologically means something quite different than an American suburb. Different organization of space, I guess.

Anonymous said...

@ Nada -- "Baiters"? "Target"? I realize your work is in the anthology but:

Apparently, you haven't actually read my problem with the book--at all. Anyone can call themselves a LUG, queer or once I fucked an X, and I can say I'm mostly straight too. I'm not going to rehash the entirety of my posts here in response to such reduction, BUT yes to part of Lorraine's reply and *yes* to part of Mark's reply.

pam said...

(cont. from comment above, apologies for the length)

On the gut level, I don't like it when queer content/lineage gets elided from the discourse. Contributes to more lesbian erasure and isn't there enough invisibility already? So I can definitely see, yeah, why Amy King would feel "territorial" about riot grrrl. My own peripheral experiences in that scene taught me that it was about building a coalition of young feminists-- straight, queer, and everything in between, but with an emphasis/valorization of the queer approach, the queer outlook. Socio-normative identity had nothing to do with it. Yeah, Corin Tucker is married to a man now, and so is Ani DiFranco (right?). So what? The music, like the scene & the consciousness meetings, functioned as a site of empowerment for young feminist women, and queerness of outlook was integral to the culture & energy of that site.

So I guess I see the use of riot grrrl by the Gurlesque as an appropriation of the lesbian queer. And I've decided over the years that appropriation is generally a good thing, it's one of the things that keep culture going, but that if you're going to appropriate you also have an obligation to acknowledge the appropriation and cite your sources, kind of like citing the driving samples in your songs. If this acknowledgement happened, then I don't think I would have any issue with the Gurlesque. I wouldn't need to see queer poets or queer poems included in the anthology, unless they actually spoke to the performance of "girl" that Danielle talks about. In fact, I'm inclined to think that the inclusion of overt queer lesbian "content" in the Gurlesque would actually end up watering down the project, both the Gurlesque project and the project of queer lesbian poetics. Gurlesque does seem to be about something specific, something specifically interesting about queering heterosexuality as Lara Glenum has suggested. Betty Boop sings Portishead w/Lady Gaga tactics?

The question of how a queer femme lesbian poetics would or would not be aligned with the Gurlesque, however, remains an interesting one. Queer femme lesbian poets! You are everywhere seen yet unseen. What do you think of all this?

pam said...

Patrick, I wanna know who those great UK riot grrrl bands are!! Who should I be listening to?

I grew up in the suburbs south of LA & the Republicans there nearly destroyed me. If I'd come out during high school, they would've literally killed me, as expression of yet another mid-level hostility to add to the mid-level hostility of xenophobic racism.

My family's move to the suburbs was seen as a sign of "making it," as opposed to our relatives who still lived in one of the various LA Chinatowns. The city was immigrant "ghetto." The suburb was normalization, assimilation, upward mobility. Yet I kinda enjoy my visits down there nowadays, it's like a vacation w/no pressure. California suburbs can be surprisingly diverse. I think you can get better Chinese food in the OC than in SF at this point.

I like a lot of what Danielle Pafunda has said during the course of this debate. I find her observations quite acute and I think she gets the closest to what Gurlesque seems to be about, at the root, from what I understand. Like others, I still have yet to see the anthology proper and am just gleaning from discussions on the Gurlesque that have transpired over the past years & recently.

When I was 20, my riot grrrl radio dj friend gave me a sticker which I still treasure today. It's of Hello Kitty raising her fist in the air, a big frown on her face and her mouth (yes, this Hello Kitty finally has a mouth) open wide in an angry growl. This sticker epitomizes the rebellious kawaii wing of riot grrrl that I believe Arielle Greenberg was referring to in one of her early Gurlesque talks, and that Danielle also references in her comments about performing "girl" which is not the same as performing woman. A more toxic, militant version of Isobel Campbell twee perhaps? Anyway, I loved the Hello Kitty image, and I immediately reappropriated it as an Asian American for the cover of my first self-published "chapbook" of poems, which I passed out for free at parties.

Joseph said...

I live in a place that looks like the suburbs but it's the middle of the city. Weird.

Michelle Detorie said...

I'm way behind in my blog reading, and have a lot of catching up to do in the latest discussion of the gurlesque, but is anyone talking about class? That may address some of the urban/suburban dynamics that you are picking up on. Like I said, I'm behind; gonna go try to catch up now.

I grew up in the suburbs, and have since lived in itty bitty towns and big cities. I much prefer the extremes of rural life and city life to the suburbs. There is so much waste in the suburbs. It's a wasteland. There are also weird distortions of scale and scarcity and abundance.

@nada I like your comment about suburb envy. It *sounds* good, but one mention of finished basements and drugs and I'm having flashbacks to the date-rapey world of under-the-bleachers at football games and the punishing fatigue of having to pedal forever on one's bike to get out of a sad little subdivision filled with chain-link fences. lalaland sounds good to me! But maybe those feelings aren't just about suburbia, but the pain and isolation of adolescence. I take it that is pretty similar everywhere. Part of my relief at having left the suburbs is probably more about growing up than anything else.

Ana Božičević said...

Nada, for an answer to your question, please read this post and comment stream:


I think we've resolved this particular issue. Just want to get this point straight. Or queer, as it were. Also, I never once thought that our critique of the Gurlesque was baiting. I know *I* take the project, and the editors, quite seriously.

Now we might move on to discussing the relevance to the Gurlesque of queer subjectivity/sex, queered cock, whether queer poetics actually turns away from anything, etc. The stuff that really matters.

As far as suburbs vs city, I
grew up in a small seaside town in a socialist country, and didn't really register this tension until coming to the US. There was not much commercial choice when I was a kid. Sometimes there was no chocolate (I grew fond of the weird-ass substitute they called "sugarboard.") But recently I've had the experience of living in a very uniform Italian suburb in Long Island, after many years in Brooklyn, and this experience has actually jumpstarted my thinking about kitsch. In that sense the suburbs have been incredibly generative. The world of flashing strip-mall signage one drives through, very abstracting to a Euro-born eye, the abandoned or tsotchke-filled malls, the ritualistic celebration of Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter... At first language totally collapses in contact with this desert of the real. Then, though on the one hand it's a much more recognizably kitschy/commercialized folk culture, it makes it gradually & painfully obvious to one that the city, eg Brooklyn's hipster mecca Williamsburg, is its own register of haute-aspirational kitsch just a bit different in its coding from the suburb. City/authentic - suburb/inauthentic might not be the most useful or functional binary anymore. Can we even talk about the 'authentic' in a generalized way in the US at this point? Reading the NYT, one might conclude that only people who can't afford to make a choice are authentic, unadulterated. Unstained by having the privilege of choosing a brand.

charity. said...

@Pam: Huggy Bear!

Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

No, Amy and Ana, I choose not to participate in what I see as a kind of frenzied territorialism, so I am choosing not to read about this anymore. If nothing else, it's inthe rhythm and volume of your comments, which, really is what peole respond to online more than content. I really think that your critical energy could be better employed elsewhere. Me, I'm going to go convene with my inner trannie in the meantime and make all the real drag queens mad again (which is also ridiculous; would they rather I didn't relate to them at all?). Life is appropriation. Get used to it, everyone!

Lara Glenum said...

Lorraine, I think these questions and discussions are so valuable and fascinating. My hope was that the anthology would open up new kinds of discussions about poetry and gender, and that's exactly what's happening. It's very rewarding, whether people like the anthology or not.

Anonymous said...

@ Nada - Online convo is about what's said, and if you were actually concerned (instead of just defensive), you would engage what has been said rather than reducing your uninformed 'input' to so much ad hominem mud. You "choose not to participate"? ..."frenzied" "territorialism" "target" "baiters" we talk too much (women always do!), etc - um, transparent much?

I should "employ" my "critical energy elsewhere"? You should engage your critical faculties period.

Michelle Detorie said...

OMG HUGGY BEAR! One of the best bands EVER!

Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

Right, women talk too much. Goddesses forbid that women should publish an anthology of women. Let's make sure we complain about that instead of the patriarchy, because it's a soft target consisting of female people who will try to graciously listen to repeated pointed attacks as if they were really critique. I think Lara & Danielle have responded as classic placators. They are nice ladies. I'm not so nice, and I'm not suburban, and I can say what I think, and what I think is that you and Ana come off sounding relentlessly antagonistic (as is evidenced by your comment above), and you haven't discussed the poems at all.
Rather, your attacks have hinged mostly on the provenance & ownership of a word. That word is connected to your notion of your identity, and that's why it is important to you. Hence, territorialism.

Online conversation, like F2F conversation is never merely about "what's said." Come on, you are ostensibly poets, so you should know that.

Patrick said...

Ana's question rings a rich chord for me: "Can we even talk about the 'authentic' in a generalized way in the US at this point? Reading the NYT, one might conclude that only people who can't afford to make a choice are authentic, unadulterated. Unstained by having the privilege of choosing a brand." (And not just because of the odd but irresistable stand off at Johannes' blog.)

Pam's remarks on appropriation illuminate the ways in which authenticity and sub-/urban imaginaries have material ramifications. I want to add a personal observation: that it works both ways. I was a poor kid in a rich suburb (or steadfastly middle class suburb, anyway) during the formative years. And I was working class, culturally, consciously. That consciousness was fraught with worries about authenticity, as one, when young and coming (ab)out in one's various ways, needs to still the center of the self enough to find that empathetic (appropriative) subcultural space that, for some of us, even the boys, was at one time Riot Grrrl. At another time maybe experimental poetics. The temporary center serves as a figure ground relationship to the authenticity of one's relative privilege. If one marks their origins as suburban in some way, the "urban" becomes fated: the ground to the figure of purchasing power. And one strives to transform that into purchase on one's power of self-determination, despite it all. The point seems to understand that that privilege exists, for whom and how is it exercised. That's the "tension," Lorrraine, as I see it.

pam said...

Oh I must embrace me some Huggy Bear at once. Thanks for the tip, peoples!

Purchase for self-determination, that's really beautiful, Patrick.

The more I look at it, the more I think that my use of the term "appropriation" in this context may be, well, inappropriate. A broader term might be incorporation, or even more simply, influence. In its worst top-down sense, appropriation implies that a more privileged group has taken something "belonging" to a less privileged group and is (mis)using that thing to the detriment of the less privileged group. I'm not sure that is at all what's going on here with Gurlesque and riot grrrl. This seems to be more a case of lateral appropriation, or simply influence. Again, I'm operating without having the actual anthology in hand, but judging from Ana Bozicevic's synopsis of the intro on Amy's blog, it looks like Gurlesque acknowledges a whole slew of feminist and queer-related influences. And then I found this from Lara Glenum's essay on Aase Berg:

"The Gurlesque’s appropriation of the grotesque, like its appropriation of burlesque, camp, and kitsch, stands in outright defiance of the cannons of classical aesthetics and their masculocentric practices."

So the Gurlesque is quite aware of itself as a synthetic, recombinant practice. (The essay, btw, reminds me of depictions of teenage girls in Dario Argento films like Suspiria and Phenomena--the cruelty, the horror, the pent-up frustrations & aggressions, all phenomena thoroughly explored/"exploited" by Gurlesque practitioners, no doubt.)

On another topic, I don't like it at all that the Runaways film de-queers the historical facts. This reminds me of my adolescent peers who listened avidly to The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys but vehemently denied any homo implications in the songs, going out of their way to recast the lyrics in such a way that enforced homophobia and heteronormativity.

Sometimes, as M.I.A. has said, you can be magnanimous about letting your personal facts be "disposable information"; but sometimes you do have to mobilize a guerilla unit to ensure that you even have some ground, period, to walk on. That's where the theory ends and life begins.

[word verif: cysts]

Joseph said...

Pam, did you see the Runaways film? It was pretty explicitly queer -- I mean, it wasn't hardcore or anything, and I can sort of see Susie Bright's criticism; not having lived through the period myself I can only imagine what wildness went on. But it didn't shy away from presenting Joan Jett as a lesbian. It was a fairly central part of the movie. In fact, I read the movie as a love story. I thought the final scene, with the awkward conversation between Cherie Currie and Joan Jett on Rodney on the Roq, to the tune of Crimson & Clover, was as touching a moment of love and regret as I've seen on film in awhile.

Anonymous said...

What? They're 'nice suburban ladies' and 'classic placaters'-- and you're 'not nice or suburban,' which goes hand-in-hand? Do Lara, Arielle, and Danielle know how they are, according to your stereotyped, condescending characterizations?

Calling women involved in this anthology, who have clearly developed their thoughts and theory before and in response to my critique, whether they agree with it or not, "soft targets" is about as offensive as the patriarchy you're reinscribing in your faux-"defense." Do you really think they need *your* kind of defense, or anyone else's for that matter?

Could your replies be any less constructive, more obvious, and most of all, antagonistic? Shall we get our gats because we're so 'street' and pop a cap in each other's asses while we're at it? Re-frame and call it a duel?

Yes, Nada, we should reduce a discussion everyone is invested in, except you, bc you boastfully "choose not to know" what's going on, into some bogus online "urban" face-off because you're too lazy to take up what's really happening ...

If you're really interested in entering the discussion, start with the link Ana pointed to and with my most recent post at http://amyking.org , where I discuss several poems (which you'd know if you actually read rather than just trying to reduce and reframe the discussion); otherwise, we can play the game of who's a tougher bitch, but we'll have to do it offline or backchannel bc I'm not going to bog down Lorraine's blog by responding to any more of your baiting, posturing slag...

pam said...

Ach no, Joseph. Obviously I didn't see the film myself and was relying solely on secondhand reportage. Thanks for the clarification. I'll just let my remarks re: queer erasure from pop culture stand in relation to the examples that I can actually speak knowledgably about.

Re: the sprawling suburbanesque landscape of LA, that is a fascinating topic in itself. More cities are starting to resemble LA in this respect, it seems.

Office of the Cultural Liaisons said...

Early childhood near melrose and western in LA but at 7 moved to Canoga park. till i ran away at 14, ended in the Haight and Vancouver (67) then back into the city-echo park by 70. so back and forth.
the suburban dream is universal and the dissolution also.