THE GURLESQUE


WHAT IT ISN’T…

Over the past few days, there has been a flurry of recent debate on the Gurlesque (see my post below). Numerous contradictions, conflations, and confusions abound, coupled with not a lot of resolution or agreement regarding what has cumulatively “taken place” vis a vis the book itself (Ana Bozicevic touches on this in her guest-post below). So I’m here to offer my final impression of the anthology, GURLESQUE: THE NEW GRRLY, GROTESQUE, BURLESQUE POETICS, edited by Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg, with the hope that future editions of the book, should there be any, will remedy what I consider to be a problematic omission that ultimately limits the project of the Gurlesque.

I did not originally pay much attention to previous discussions of the Gurlesque before I finally encountered the anthology last week. No card-carrying member to any specific school of poetics, I was sideways-curious, but not invested in defining, describing, or “mapping” the concept. I do not write the Gurlesque, especially as it has now come to be defined through the book (more on that shortly). I did, however, register that the theoretical explorations relied heavily on the language of queer and surrealist investigations and performance theory. When the anthology arrived in the mail, I read through the editors’ introductions and took note:

Greenberg, excerpted: “Some only do it [write the Gurlesque] now and then.”

“…women were writing … the female body and of sexuality…” [sexualities? or exclusively heterosexual?]

“…public-art subversion and the glitter pasties and sneer and drag…” [drag]

“…some grrrls wrote words like ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ and ‘dyke’ on themselves…” [Where are the dykes?]

“Clitoral [instead of seminal] to the Gurlesque is Playing with (Fucking with) the Girly.”

Glenum, excerpted: “…neither men nor women but ‘creatures of an alien sex, parodying both.”

“There is no actual self, only the performance of self.”

“…Gurlesque poets put the unabashed quest for female pleasure at the center of their poetics.” [heterosexual pleasure only?]

“…Gurlesque poets, who insist on the multiple pleasures of female embodiment.” [“multiple”]

Many queer women, and what they practice/enact, are invoked to substantiate the Gurlesque: Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, Gertrude Stein [“insistence on female pleasure”], Djuna Barnes [her “baroque eroticism”], Elsa von Freytag, Riot Grrrls [a consciously queer-inclusive group], Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy [‘reads as Gurlesque’ to Glenum, but her work is not included in the book], Judith Halberstam, etc. There is also much talk of “camp” (a well-known performance mode originating in gay culture), gender performance (a la lesbian theorist, Butler), and other queer-originated concepts; these prepare one for the inclusion of “queering” from a queer perspective as well as a heterosexual one.

To boot, such abundant referencing, and the use of much queer theory, primed me to turn pages and find a variety of lenses to see through, but what I found did not reflect the set-up. I discovered instead what Glenum now calls, post-book publication (see comment below), “By embrace, I mean a very specific, physical embrace. The embrace of the cock. Of a field of cocks. As a performative mode.” I somehow imagined that the Gurlesque did more, that it also sought out and celebrated Greenberg’s “clitoral” (a variety of female pleasures and sexualities) through the hyperbolic, grotesque, camp, through the gaudy and baroque, together and apart, sexually and otherwise. The queer celebration of such has always been an ‘in your face’ challenge demanding that one process female sexualities, across the board, in unheard of ways, extending through and beyond heterosexuality, ways mainstream and status quo thinking delimits but cannot, ultimately, ignore (see Gaga below). Greenberg’s and Glenum’s introductions did not prepare me for the limited hetero-focus of the book, despite Glenum’s note that, “The anthology itself is a larger description.” In fact, where the introductions promise a multitude and variety, I found the book’s contents narrowed considerably.

In one exchange on Johannes Goransson’s blog, Exoskeleton, Glenum tacks on at the end of a post, “Lady Gaga, of course, is Gurlesque.” If Gaga is Gurlesque, then there is hope, though I don’t see it played out in the anthology. Lady Gaga enacts some of what I imagined the Gurlesque could do: she enjoys the obvious overt destruction/subjugation of the cock, but she also revels in the erotic of the queer and, in some cases, uses the grotesque clitoral as motivation for liberation from said “cock” and its lockdown structures (see “Bad Romance”) as well as moving into various sexualities and sexual modes: enjoyment and celebration of that clitoral by any means necessary (violence, parody, etc – view “Telephone” and see Tamiko Beyer’s “You Bring Out the Gaga in Me” for more). This spectrum of possibility eludes the contents of the Gurlesque anthology, especially as it relates to the elevation of the “clitoral”, a fact that truly left me, as a queer woman, feeling impotent (i.e. men can stroke it but we’re just escaping/evading it… ? When do we get to play with, amp up, and love the clitoral? Does the Gurlesque not?).

The problem is that the “performance of self” found in this book is really, simply put, an anthologized “constellation” of mostly hetero-selves and little girl culture.  It is recognizable and I did not locate Glenum’s aforementioned “alien” parody within.  In fact, I’d dub what’s in the book, “Straight Eye for the Straight Guy” (how different the original Queer Eye TV show would be if only hetero-women were “making” men over). The lack of queer poems, ones that are as harsh and grinding and do power ‘fucking’ as say Ariana Reines’ “Blowhole” (“…then the cock slid in and no sound come out, only a maw gaping, grind hard into ground.“), Catherine Wagner’s “from White Man Poems” (“His anus smells like an old dollar bill…”), or Danielle Pafunda’s “Fable” (“When he was mine, I’d milk him.”). I like this kind of fucking, but want to see where else it can lead, what else it can mean.

In earlier debate, I noted that it is not my responsibility, but the editors’ to consciously seek out poems that represent the work of queer women’s sensibilities in the book. Having done just a cursory internet search, I located several powerful examples that embody what I’m referring to: Tamiko Beyer’s “Our Lady of the Gaga Gives Us Our Excesses” (“Christina said: I didn’t know if it / was a man or a woman… you want it –/ my cunt-fist-fame /darling god and darling gays / all the world shudders /my body my body my body my fist / my fame a fist my dick a fist”), Trish Salah’s “to blank, your name” (“to know last summer’s corpse or intuitive / shift, politely from a girl with the empire (waist) II / arousing skritti politti fagginess, simmering / a halter toss slam,”), Betsy Wheeler’s “Compartment for Homecoming”, kathryn l. pringle’s “[obscenity for the advancement of poetry: 4]”, as well as in, possibly, work by Brenda Iijima and Stacy Szymaszek, Metta Sama, R. Erica Doyle, Michelle Tea, Daphne Gottlieb, Megan Volpert, Tisa Bryant, Rachel Zolf, Erika Kaufman, Staceyann Chin, and others on this list (click here). With a little research, I’m sure any editor could find that many have enlisted Glenum’s outlined burlesque/grotesque through a queer lens, working through and beyond the framework of the cock. The inclusion of such work should have been ample and obvious, not a quest of wishful hunting, especially as the alignments to queer culture allude to such inclusion (& queer women are also the “women” noted in the editors’ introductions, no?).

If I can locate such examples in such a short period, why did the editors not seek out and include work that extends beyond the primarily hetero-lens of these performed selves as represented? We’ve now been told that the Gurlesque simply “queers heterosexuality” and “Queer poetics turn away from the pathology of the hetero, and that is a very excellent thing. Gurlesque poetics embrace and interrogate the pathology.” I don’t know if Glenum still stands by this last claim, but if she does, then she has not only defined and limited the Gurlesque project itself, but she has also, in one fell swoop, declared just what queer poets do: “turn away from the pathology of the hetero,” which disproves her most recent description of the fluidity of identity and essentializes gender performance, etc. Such claims are in bad form and are very much about defining, though the editors stick to the notion that they are simply “mapping” what has happened. In my estimation, actions via editing, have proven this most recent cock-focus exclusivity true.

The narrowness of this primarily hetero-lens makes this project feel reactive, overall, rather than transgressive or rendering visible/birthing the “alien,” as I imagined it would. If we’re just “embracing” or mocking the cock, we’re not owning and re-vamping the cock (& by default, undoing/re-defining it), something queer women work hard to do deliberately. Queer women’s work also elevates Greenberg’s “clitoral,” whereas the poems within the book do seem to try to mostly engage (Glenum’s “physical embrace” of the cock) and “take back” from the cock. I don’t see enough of Stein’s insistence on female pleasure or Barnes’ “baroque eroticism” or Gaga’s elevation of the female, post-liberation/escape.

I like and enjoy the work of many poets included. To be fair, there are a couple of poems that come close to what I’m thirsting for such as Brenda Coultas’ “Dream Life in a Case of Transvestism” and Tina Brown Celona’s “Sunday Morning Cunt Poem,” but these are very few (see poems cited & linked above for examples that fit into the book’s introductory definitions/”descriptions”), and overall, the book will ultimately prove cathartic and inspiring for heterosexual women, despite the theoretically-queer ascendency it stems from. Glenum and Greenberg could have easily broadened the anthology’s scope and pointed towards more potential and possibility by including queer-lensed poems, *in dialogue*, with what’s already there. As it stands, I was thoroughly disappointed by the lack. Reading through felt like business-as-usual: the heterosexual, even when “queering”, was the dominant lens (esp as it sees solely in relation to the cock), whereas queer work is okay for appropriation, but the unadulterated, bold queer requires its own ghettoized anthology if we are to lay any claim to the Gurlesque at all, a fracturing project that would also, ultimately, not be constructive. Turning to my own work now, I say, “Too bad,” with hope that future “constellations” of the Gurlesque broaden the scope and possibility of what is truly happening by including a variety of female representations, in their multiple pleasures, personas, and performances, across the board.

~~~~

+ Recent review @ The Feminist Review

Glenn’s Commonplace: Gurlesque/Blackesque?

17 thoughts on “THE GURLESQUE

  1. Brenda Shaughnessy’s Interior with Sudden Joy, which is excerpted in the Gurlesque anthology and was nominated for a Lambda award in the category of Lesbian Poetry?

  2. Danielle,

    I know of Shaughnessy’s book! I’ll be addressing this shortly. But just back from the reading in the city, need to nap, and then work on stuff for WILLA tonight and tomorrow — i.e. I have loads of thoughts, esp *as the conversation has evolved*, but need time to organize those thoughts in a constructive way, though not before other long-neglected duties are taken care of.

    I’ll leave you with Ana’s most recent comment over at Exoskeleton, which I did have some say in crafting, to give you the tip of the iceberg (below).

    You rock for your untiring energy and interest in this discussion!

    xo,
    Amy

    p.s. Did you see our WILLA shirts? Awesome! Here — http://www.flickr.com/photos/amyking/4468166846/

    FROM EXOSKELETON:

    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.

    http://exoskeleton-johannes.blogspot.com/2010/03/specific-queering-work-of-gurlesque.html

  3. **Embracing a Field of Cocks as a Performative Mode**

    I have been somewhat unclear. I will try again.

    About a decade ago Arielle noticed (as did I) a set of emerging tendencies in younger female poets who were very interested in using high artifice and formal exaggeration to unsettle gender norms, often by toying with the male gaze.

    This is a very limited description, of course. The anthology itself is a larger description. The anthology is only one of many possible descriptions of the Gurlesque.

    * * *

    Amy, I think you and Ana have misunderstood what I initially meant by “embrace.” By embrace, I mean a very specific, physical embrace. The embrace of the cock. Of a field of cocks. As a performative mode.

    One can do this whether one is queer or straight, as evidenced by the anthology.

    That is certainly not all the Gurlesque is. But it’s kicking around in there pretty hard.

    You have a problem with all the cock in the book. One can/should have a problem with it.

    You were initially saying you felt there was no queer subjectivity in the book. Then you started claiming that there were no queers.

    Given that there are queers, bis, and straights in the book, it makes me think you are missing a very specific performance of queer in the book. I think this is totally valid.

    But I will say it again: my sense is that the Gurlesque is about queering heterosexuality.

    My sense of this is intentionally provisional. I’m open to anything anyone else wants to say.

    But our discussion also raises the question of who gets to call queer. Who polices what/who gets called queer and what does not. I personally find this a very rich and useful discussion. One that is long overdue, particularly in feminist circles.

    Danielle’s comments about Brenda S. also raise the question of mobile sexuality, of people who sexually identify as one thing at one point in their lives and then later as something else. Who have morphed chronologically between one identity and another. Who may continue to morph. A number of such people are represented in the anthology.

    * * *

    Gurlesque is an inherently unstable term, and I have no interest in further stabilizing it or in defining who can and can be “in” it. It’s not a movement. It’s a fraught nest of questions, even more than it’s a fraught nest of claims. Thanks, Amy and Ana, for bringing yours to the table.

  4. Sometimes a piece is exploring a different axis of contention
    than one wants it to. The aggression-sharing-hetero-female
    versus the blocking-male-aggression axis/poles of Feminism
    seem to be obviously be in play. The aggressive-hetero-female
    can be extra irritating to a downplayed all-female axis because
    her case does not share the same resentments that the
    blocking pole does. I’ll probably regret blurting it, but
    the discussion does seem open, and the conflicts seem as
    old as open gender discussion itself. Most slink away, though.
    Anyway..my apologies if I am ignorant of the whole picture.

  5. i think lady gaga is much less interesting than you’re giving her credit for. i see in her just the latest iteration of a female role that’s as old as vaudeville burlesque at least, which is the woman male transvestite. It’s so common that it’s become a straight stereotype of gay men (because we all know that all gay men love Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Madonna, Cher, and of course Gaga). I tend to think that Gaga’s decision to dress up like a man in drag and her deliberate toying with gender and sexuality as something much more cynical capitalist move of embracing, repackaging, and selling a safer version of an oppressed subculture (which is something that the music industry has always been very good at) whose time has come now that various cultural artifacts of the last couple decades (primarily Will and Grace & Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) have made gay men slightly more mainstream and therefore openly marketable as opposed to something that can only be addressed in code (see e.g. Madonna’s “Justify my Love” wherein coded references to weimar’s mythic homosexual freedoms were made safe by a more overt display of the female body for straight male appreciation).

  6. The more I read and the more I think about it, Jason, the more I am begrudgingly beginning to think you’re right….

    Lisa Duggan:

    “…the new neoliberal sexual politics … might be termed the new homonormativity–it is a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a semobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.”

    So acceptance = subsumption by the capitalist machinery, or as Ron Padgett puts it in a recent poem, “”It is dawn / wake up and smell yourselves / You smell normal.”

    Where do you see sites of resistance, Jason? Are they fleeting/temporary/moments? Can the Situationists offer anything now?

  7. i’m still, at root, a romantic i think and it’s difficult for me to separate my subjective desire for from an objective desire of. the enduring image i have of the future i hope for in sexual politics was something I witnessed in boston in the late nineties. I was in the public garden at the end of comm ave coming down off a long night of living like a 20 year old, and I saw a man pushing another man in a wheel chair. it was probably six or something in the morning, early summer, the sun just coming up and both the men were maybe in their fifties or early sixties but they both had grey white hair to me at the time they looked completely ancient. The man in the wheelchair was scary thin and he had an oxygen tank. the man pushing him and fussing over him parked the chair next to a bench at the edge of the pond and they just sat there together holding hands and watching the birds swim around the parked swan boats. I don’t know what their story was other than the completely obvious fact that they loved each other deeply. i started getting teary eyed and then i felt bad for being a voyeur and i left.

    that, to me, is where i locate resistance. the capacity for unremarkability containing within it a new normal capable of bringing about a feeling that I call neocatharsis for lack of a better term. it’s the insistence on normalcy, because there’s this ugliness that gets attached to the idea of normativity because so much of the normal has always been oppressive. but societies have to have some norms. language requires norms. norms make communication possible, and in the world i want to live in we will no longer have to interrogate norms because they will be the best norms possible that allow people to be free, to live unharmed by others, and to feel comfortable and normal and content with themselves.

    i don’t know. i always feel weird as a straight white man talking about how uncomfortable i am with normalcy because there are so many people with such better reasons to feel uncomfortable with social norms than I am. for me the radical epiphany was coming to the understanding that in my own resistance to normality and embrace of various antinomian tendencies I was squandering something that many people were suffering greatly in their longing for.

    which is not to say that LIsa Duggan isn’t wrong in problematizing homonormativity, because clearly we aren’t there yet, and clearly there’s something strange going on in the gay rights movement’s fierce embrace of marriage as a political focal point, but i just don’t feel like I’m the right person to talk about it. but i do see some hope in those Padgett lines, they’re pretty brilliant actually in the collapsing of the new day optimism and the totalitarianism of precisly that sort of feeling.

    In the end, I fall back to something like a desire for humanity to be more personal and compassionate. to reject ideas of tolerance and acceptance because there’s nothing in any of the stuff we tolerate or accept that should be something that someone needs to tolerate or needs to accept. For something to be tolerated it means that it is first questioned and held out as undesirable. for it to be accepted means to be allowed in from an alien place where it began. to my way of thinking the right attack is to attack the undesirable and alien places with a sort of xenophilia where to be alien is to be normal and human.

    i may be rambling now, and i feel guilty for writing long blog comments when I should be finishing that review of your book…

  8. Hi, Amy–

    Mostly I want to say thank you for being such a careful and thoughtful reader of our book. I truly appreciate it. And I hear your frustration and annoyance. I agree that the definition I’ve set forward is limited and in some ways misguided around notions of queer politics and sexual orientation.

    When I first started talking about the Gurlesque at college campuses, etc., the most interesting and complex questions came from queer students and readers, who wanted to know what space this theory created for them. My sense was queer readers felt some kinship with the theory but ultimately found it quite heterocentric and limited by its female-male/femme-butch binaries.

    I think they were right, and I think you’re right, too. I think my use of the word “queer” attached to the Gurlesque was and is perhaps somewhat naive and facile: I think I WANTED to have the theory feel inclusive of and connected to queer culture, but I’m not sure how much it actually does, in my current definition of it. I think I was also using the term “queer” to indicate a more fluid, open-ended kind of sexuality–perhaps phallocentric but also truly indebted to drag culture, androgyny, bisexuality, polyamory, fetish culture. But again, I think this was a facile use of the term.

    Here’s some hard truths (for me): I never really got to go that deep with my theorizing when it originally happened, because my life became consumed by various real-life projects (a new job, a move, a baby), and so the Gurlesque started being discussed before I ever got a chance to really work it all out: I’d written, basically, one short book review and given one or two lectures before it got taken up by others. I spoke about this at the Lifting Belly High conference: the theory sort of went viral, in a very 21st c. way, and in a way that’s sort of freaked me out but which I’ve tried to let go of, because the messy, hyper, virtual “viral”ness of it seems very much in keeping with the theory itself. But it does mean I wish I’d gotten to work through some of my ideas more than I have.

    And now there’s an anthology, which is wonderful to my mind, because people were also talking about the theory without actually knowing what poems or poets I thought fit my sense of the aesthetic strain. And Lara’s done her own thinking and her own work on it (and none of the above speaks for her, just for me!), and we both have new essay in the antho, and all of that is to the good, but certainly not without problems or flaws. It says a lot to me that the issues around queerness have continued to be discussed–obviously there are some real problems there.

    I will say, though, that neither Lara nor I intentionally kept any queer writers out of the anthology. To the contrary–we searched as hard as we could for diverse writers in every way we could. We even enlisted others to try to help bring more diverse poets to our attention. But ultimately we only chose poets whose work we felt consistently worked with what we had deemed Gurlesque strategies, which I would describe in something like this set of questions: Does the poet use “girly” or girlhood motifs and images and terms? Does she upend them? Does her work seem self-consciously performative, over-the-top, messy? Does it push beyond the borders of what is “acceptable” in poetry–is it gross, bizarre, disturbing, unpleasant in some way? Does it buck up against the standards of lyric, narrative and even “elliptical” or Language poetry? Are we in some way shocked, jarred by the work?

    And we decided only to include poets who had already published at least one book by an established press, largely because we wanted those included in our anthology to be “findable” by our readers.

    So, in the list you helpfully included, I would say about some of the folks you mentioned, Tamiko Beyer’s Gaga poem is promising (though in its very clear description of an actual figure, I’m not sure it gets completely weird enough), but it looks like this poem came out after we began work on our anthology and that Beyer doesn’t have a book out yet and I don’t know what the rest of her work is like yet. But I will keep an eye out for her! I loved Trish Salah’s work that you pointed out and completely think it’s Gurlesque, but I’d never heard of her before (because she’s Canadian?). And I know and love work by
    Brenda Iijima, Stacy Szymaszek, R. Erica Doyle, Michelle Tea, Daphne Gottlieb, and some others you mentioned, but for various specific reasons around aesthetics (see the Qs above), did not deem them Gurlesque. The same was true for quite a few non-queer-identified poets we considered but ultimately did not include.

    Gotta run–the baby just woke up!–but again, thank you for your insights and correctives.

    Warmly,
    Arielle

  9. One more thought: When I saw your image of the antho with the “No Queers Aloud” sign across it, I felt really sad and a bit upset, because of how much I value queer culture and queer people in my life.

    I’m noticing that I feel the need to say something more about this, even at the risk of sounding ridiculous or defensive (“I have a friend who’s Jewish!,” etc.): I consider myself to have been working for queer rights for almost 20 years (I’ve marched with ACT-UP, taught queer-positive texts in homophobic classroom spaces, championed the work of queer writers, served on GLBTQ committees, and, most recently, campaigned for No on 1 to uphold same-sex marriage here in Maine this past fall); there are many, many queer people in my life whom I hold extremely dear; and I myself have queer-identified (although I am also aware of the heterosexual privilege I currently hold as a woman in a monogamous relationship with a man, among other things).

    But of course you created that image out of your own feelings of anger and exclusion and not being heard, which I understand. I just wanted to say how deeply I feel that image, how upsetting it feels to me, given my own personal history and values. Which I guess means it worked, in that sense!

  10. Hi Arielle,

    Thanks for your response here – I’m going to be brief too as the day is moving and I want to get into the long-awaited sun after so much rain and snow, with apologies!

    I sympathize with the undertaking; as I’ve said, I was very curious about the book when it finally arrived. I was not, on the other hand, invested in the preceding theory being hashed out. So when I read what seemed to be two queer-inclusive introductions by you both, I obviously anticipated seeing queer reps of “queer cock” at the very least as I turned the pages. I still can’t imagine that there was so much difficulty locating work that represented such. I spent an hour total and came up with those poems just from looking around online. And as you’ve both indicated, much of what makes up the Gurlesque description originated in (and is premised on) queer culture work: theory, practices, tactics, performance, etc.

    In other words, as I’ve outlined, there’s a lot of work indicating some sort of mocking or taking control over the symbolic and real cock (which is welcome, as I’ve pointed out) but very little by way of queering that cock in ways that Riot Grrrl did, ways that would open up beyond expressing hetero-desire–because I think I’ve historically seen that queer desire broadens the thinking, or at least informs, enables or empowers, what ‘hetero’ can do (that’s part of what I mean by “in dialogue”). I think “Pam” says it well in relation to Riot Grrrl on K. Lorraine Graham’s blog:

    “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.”

    http://www.spooksbyme.org/2010/03/pop-questionnaire-for-poets.html

    Though she does go on to disagree with me about including the “queer” or “queer cock” poems I was expecting and disappointed not to find. Her disagreement is fine, but you all seemed to say, and go on to say, it was possible, especially in citing so many queer writers and what they did, including Stein’s insistence on female pleasure (can’t get much queerer), etc. Ultimately, your definitions and Lara’s comments on Johannes’ blog declare that *anyone*, including men, can write the Gurlesque. I still haven’t done more research, nor will I, in an attempt to locate those poems. I wanted to find them in your book and enjoy them in relation to the mostly – hetero-focused poems – as I’ve said, “in dialogue”.

    I’ve received numerous backchannels expressing a range of sympathy, agreement, and simple thanks for saying something– as well as inquiries as to whether I will put together a queer alternative (I will not engage in such ghettoization). It sounds like you may have heard similar critiques beyond mine. I think this is a good thing as, at the very least, discussion is happening (your books are selling!, so I’ve been told) and perhaps many will think about expanding your definition/description to be more inclusive than I’ve seen so far as well as permitting or even encouraging queer poets to engage their writing towards the qualities you’ve outlined. So kudos for getting things going.

    Your efforts are much more interesting than say, any other poetry group creating an insular private group (invite only!) and declaring themselves the official practitioners of certain aesthetic exercises/qualities that many were already engaged in. If the Gurlesque takes off, it should be due to the fact that it doesn’t lay claim to ownership (and you don’t seem to be doing so) or some sort of ‘elusive specialness’ mysteriously codified for ‘members only.’ I do hope the Gurlesque continues to engage others and becomes even more than outlined by your book, as noted.

    I stand by my “No Queers Aloud” visual though because I really don’t read the queer aloud as the anthology defines it, though I’ve pointed to two poems that approach something more within the book. I don’t think it’s damaging ultimately because discourse certainly brings sales from the curious, and hetero-women seeking the empowerment I’ve noted will easily hit my links to your book and grab their own copy. Perhaps down the road, I’ll re-think it, but for now, I remain saddened by the lack–and hopeful to see more in the future.

    Best,

    Amy

  11. Hi Amy, this is Pam Lu, the “Pam” from Lorraine’s commentbox. (I should start signing my full name to these things since there’s a lot more of us running around nowadays.) As vehicles of framing and potential pedagogical tools, anthologies naturally invite close analysis and scrutiny, and I think you and Ana have opened up a fruitful line of critique here. True, I do reach a different conclusion than you re: queer inclusion, and this difference is fine, I state it as an invitation to further discourse.

    In the spirit of further discourse, I’d like to posit the following: Would an unadulterated bold queer anthology that draws from similar gendertheory & queering strategies necessarily be ghettoizied? Couldn’t it be something else altogether from the Gurlesque, something say, like the constellation of queer poetics concerns posited by Tim Peterson and others at EOAGH? Does the fear of ghettoizing give too much preemptive power to the Gurlesque as a central framing device for queering & gender critique? Can other centers be formed?

  12. Hi Pam,

    My first feeling is to say yes, it necessarily is ghettoized – work by queer women certainly do fit within the Gurlesque aesthetic, as described by Lara and Arielle, and they have said as much. I’m not invested in writing the Gurlesque, and by default, I’m not interested in defining a spin-off. I think what you’re asking, maybe, is what would such a spin-off be… and by default, what does such positioning do to the Gurlesque. In fact, I think you answer your own question: by creating an “alternate” anthology-as-spin-off, we are once again positioning the hetero as central and the queer as an off-shoot, one step away. Why shouldn’t it be inclusive from jump, esp as the editors clearly aim not to be exclusive?

    I’ll continue to think about your questions, and appreciate that you’ve posed them!

    Thanks, now really going outside!

    Amy

  13. Hi Amy,

    Hope you enjoy the out of doors, and thanks for considering my questions! This will probably be my last comment on this issue for a while, as I don’t want to be pestering or prolonging what has already been a lengthy and consuming engagement for you and many others. Just a closing note of clarification: I’m not really thinking of such an anthology as a spin-off, or even a reaction to Gurlesque at all. Rather, an independent compilation that focusses on and does critical justice to the constellation of poets who might be practicing something more like the bold queer poetics that you have in mind. This constellation has, in my eyes, been emerging as an autonomous center in its own right for some time now, and doesn’t need to wait for secondary (or worse yet, token) inclusion under a rubric organized around a certain idea of feminine heterosexual subversiveness. I’m actually worried about what such an inclusion would do to the project of queer poetics as a fertile field of inquiry in its own right, whether it would result in queer poetics being subsumed as just another flavor in a predominantly heterosexual critique.

    Okay, that’s enough. Thanks again for starting this discussion. It’s sparked a lot of really interesting and vital questions for me, and I’ve appreciated all the impassioned and committed contributions from the participants.

  14. Great questions, Pamela – and I’m not just saying that. I’m going to sit on them and think and well… think some more. I do think queer poetics has a lot going on that’s untapped and “unnoted” that informs other poetics – I tried to touch on it a little in my “What Else” essay … but will have to work through it all later – got a full platter and a table behind me to boot.

    Thanks for posing these and joining the discussion – Arielle and Pam and everyone involved!

    By the way, Jason – your anecdote is very touching and how you came to your own poetics moved me. Since, I’ve been thinking about how ‘normative’ things like the suburbs and all that entails have come to get a bad rap, especially as I have moved away from Brooklyn into Whitman’s cradle – it’s calmer and I’m calmer but now that I don’t live in my little Brooklyn box amid all of the ‘energy’ and ‘happenings’ I have lost my street cred, so to speak. I mean, I’m still active in the city, but I don’t live there anymore; why and what does that say about me, my poetics, where I stand, etc. One can only inhabit the ‘fringe’ or ‘rebel’ so long before it too is absorbed or burn out takes over. This is interesting bc I am always troubled by calls to tolerance, as though difference were something to wrestle instead of something to be excited by and interested in:

    “For something to be tolerated it means that it is first questioned and held out as undesirable. for it to be accepted means to be allowed in from an alien place where it began. to my way of thinking the right attack is to attack the undesirable and alien places with a sort of xenophilia where to be alien is to be normal and human.”

    To me, tolerance just suggests, “I’ll learn to suppress my rage to kill you bc you’re so different.” Why aren’t we fascinated by the alien and what we can learn from it.

    Your post also reminds me of small towns where outside aliens aren’t accepted, but paradoxically, if you’re born there, you are in the fold, no matter how weirdly or gay or cross dressing or often you study the Torah, etc. You’ll be defended most times bc everyone knows you and you’re their oddity, no one else’s — a kind of appendage that’s unsightly but part of the town, for lack of better way to say it.

    Anyway, that’s the short of it – but yes, your post made the little grey cells dance, as Poirot might say.

    G’night all!

  15. heh. i have this weird love hate thing with New York City that i think tends toward hate more often than not because of my contrarian impulses. there’s a whole issue of geography as it impacts the poetics of the alien that is probably too big of an idea to unpack here. but i did want to say from my point of view I’ll always view tolerance as something that has to be built, like tolerance for a drug, and that a person can build that sort of tolerance for specific differences. but at the same time i think there’s a loss of the alien in that, because the same psychological mechanism that’s behind tolerance lies behind the surfeit of worldliness. which is to say that i don’t think it’s any answer to just be inured to difference and therefore tolerant of the alien. i also think there’s a difference between finding differences and encountering the alien other. the perception of difference springs from an encounter with the familiar. you have to actively look for difference. the alien, though, confronts you completely and you have to look for familiarity. Whcih is what i mean i think when I say I would prefer to be comfortable with or even excited by the alien as opposed to merely tolerant of difference.

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