Gurlesque - A new anthology of wicked, subversive, grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics

Lara Glenum & Arielle Greenberg eds., Gurlesque: The new, grrly, grotesque, burlesque Poetics (Saturnalia, 2010)

"Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics brings together eighteen poets of wide-ranging backgrounds, united in their ability to push the aesthetic envelope through radical, femme, Third Wave strategies, and pairs them with visual artists who do the same. At the turn of the millennium, we are witnessing the emergence of a vital—perhaps viral—new strain of female poetics: the “Gurlesque,” a term that describes writers who perform femininity in their poems in a campy or overtly mocking manner, risking the grotesque to shake the foundations of acceptable female behavior and language. Built from the bric-a-brac of girl culture, these works charm and repel: this work is fun, subversive, and important. Poets include Brenda Coultas, Brenda Shaghnessy, Cathy Park Hong, Matthea Harvey, and Sarah Vap."

“‘It is not a movement, or a camp or a clique.’ So writes Arielle Greenberg in her introduction to the phenomenon now to be known as ‘the Gurlesque.’ So what is it? Think theory in fishnets, think beyond camp, think cute with claws, Plath with humor, passivity without pathos, think pink with a gun. Gurlesque is a sensibility and a style, a walking panic attack, a threat and a promise. Don't just read this book, ingest it, become it, perform it!”—Judith Jack Halberstam

“Here comes a juicy volley of some of the most obstreperous, ill-behaved, ill-advised, detrimental, dismantling, dismaying poems out there – and I do mean ‘out there.’ The double introduction signals right away that the Gurlesque is nothing as centralized or self-confirming as a ‘movement,’ but Glenum and Greenberg make a potent case for the persistence of resistance in all its distributed, multitudinous, mutant and deviating femme and/or female forms.”
Joyelle McSweeeney

"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." - Lara Glenum

"The Gurlesque anthology, GURLESQUE: THE NEW GRRLY, GROTESQUE, BURLESQUE POETICS, by Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum, despite including a number of poets I admire and some I count as friends, has sufficiently gotten under my skin today, and to be fair, without giving it more than a few hours’ read. Perhaps I’ll regret it all and delete this rant later because, truly, I love a good number of the poems within.
What bugs though? Well in brief, Greenberg in her introduction parallels the Gurlesque with the Riot Grrrl movement. My memory of that movement, which I peripherally participated in by attending shows and working on a short-lived zine in the Baltimore/DC scene, “Shrill” (& listening to avidly), made efforts to include the queer. In fact, a large number of those bands were shout-out-loud queer and those that weren’t celebrated various permutations and manifestations of queerness, in fact, relied on it. This inclusion, I imagine, was predicated on the multi-cultural women’s movement of yore that imagined women who weren’t sexually beholden to men had something to offer. And that’s what’s getting under my skin. Despite similarities, in part, I don’t see the true parallel to the Gurlesque here. Content-wise, much of the poetry within this anthology is about straight women dealing directly (and sometimes sideways) with the push-pull of being romantically/sexually-invested in men while simultaneously being under their thumb/the symbolic as well as real power of men — I know several straight women who frustratedly deal with the issues that arise out of their desire for men that goes hand-in-hand with the power those same men hold over their heads. How does one navigate that? It’s hard, I know. I’ve been there. But I’m also somewhere else now, and this anthology doesn’t venture into that kind of experience. From what I can tell, I guess I don’t write the Gurlesque, nor do any other lesbians/queer women, despite Eileen Myles’ blurbage, “I like these dirty poems.” Yeah, but where’s the *real* dirt post-not-just-in-relation-to-men, just what are those pink claws and cute guns gonna do (as conjured in another blurb), you know, once the men go to sleep. What are these riot women going to rock then?? I guess this isn’t *that* kind of book, unless I’m missing it somehow…
This kind of reactive grotesque (from the “girls’” pens, beholden to Kristeva’s female groteseque) is why “cock” and “cunt” (cock ‘n cunt?) poems get play and other similar ‘fucking men’ pieces sell: these poems are very much querying and pushing against or into ‘what does it mean to be with men?’ & ‘how do I navigate/subvert/get out from under this mess’ via lots of sexual allusions, metaphors, and straight up physical descriptions, mostly frustrated and grotesque, however symbolic they may be. These kinds of poems demand reactions/attention because they’re very much about men, & female bodies in relation to men’s bodies, the mechanics and positions of that and how that plays out on the larger levels, through the lenses of women, toying with and reacting to how women are supposed to present/behave for men, etc. Certainly not all of the poems in the Gurlesque do this, but on my first and second quick read, a good majority of them. Perhaps, too simplistically from my perspective, is the Gurlesque simply a place for women who fuck men to work out their frustrations and deal with the accompanying power plays? Oh, and to trying to stop/subvert the conditioning of girls that rears them to be seen as such fuck dolls? Not that any of these efforts are wrong! It just feels like the Gurlesque strain in this particular book is claiming to do more (a la the Riot Grrrls), and I really don’t see it. Yet.
Well, thinking aloud here still, I suppose one could go further and say, gender (esp the hetero-binary) is everywhere and all the poems about penetration and cock sucking and being sexy-lady-fare could also apply to trans/boi/queer relations because some of us use (co-opt?) that language too. On occasion. But I dare say, and feel free to correct me, these are mostly if not all straight women dealing with the fallout of fucking men and/or resisting the implications of that desire in a society that positions them as the fucked, on varying levels of course/discourse. And for that reason, the Gurleseque is not the same as Riot Grrrl (nor do the women included in the anthology “not belong to any clubs that blah blah blah”, as Greenberg claims). Lara Glenum claims the Gurlesque is descriptive of a moment, something they observed:
‘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.”
Huh. I suppose there aren’t many/any lesbian or female/femme-queer poets writing stuff that fits that particular bill? What would that be even? Do we know anything about pleasure beyond being in relation to men? Based on the rampant physicality in these poems: Pussy on pussy? Cunt to cunt? Boobs buoyed by female sinew? I’m a thigh and eye woman, hear me roar? Okay, now I’m just fucking around and denigrating the Gurlesque, sorry. But somehow this whole Gurlesque scene conjures the Alison Bechdel test for films that try to reach beyond the mainstream/status quo / structure: 1. It has to have at least two women in it 2. Who talk to each other 3. About something besides a man. Achoo. To be fair, I did spot some poems about girls doing girl things like hopscotch and one about a granny. And someone pointed at a literary history via Woolf briefly. But if you’re going to conjure the Riot Grrrl movement, give me something to get fired up about! Because I’ve been there (the hetero-”lockdown”), done that and am just not as invested in direct rupture from male-on-female-play-as-we-know it. I live post-that investment now, so to speak. I’m in a privileged position, and I think that’s something worth inquiring about. Just my initial two interrogative (reductive?) cents; I’m ready to be schooled, so fire away
Over the past few days, there has been a flurry of recent debate on the Gurlesque. 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." - Amy King

"Anthologies tend to be read as turning points in literary history—forward-looking declarations of something just beginning or backwards-looking canonizations of something just completed. Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg, the editors of Gurlesque, seem to anticipate that Janus-faced quality of the literary anthology, and their twin introductions engage with it in self-conscious and often ambivalent ways. On the one hand, both work to present this anthology not as a closing gesture of codification but as a radical break. There’s the word new in the title; there’s Glenum’s insistence that the anthology is put forward “not . . . as a monument” but as “a portal, as the beginning of a conversation”; and there’s the characteristically hyperbolic rhetoric of the avant-garde that buzzes through Greenberg’s introduction, which promises that the Gurlesque is “just the apocalypse . . . just the second coming of a baby girl messiah.” On the other hand, there’s also an unusual quantity of historicization surrounding these revolutionary gestures, as if Glenum and Greenberg are self-consciously acknowledging their by-now familiar character. Both editors devote the majority of their essays to establishing a historical pedigree for the Gurlesque that stretches back through ’90s riot grrls, to 20th-century poets like Alice Notley, Sylvia Plath, and Gertrude Stein, to 19th-century burlesque theater, and finally to proposed ur-Gurlesque figures like Emily Dickinson or Shakespeare’s Ophelia.
A sympathetic reading might see this as a feminist reversal of Marinetti’s call to demolish the museums, a turn towards a matrilineal, diachronic community of artists against the phallocentric struggle to conquer the father; a less generous reading might see a somewhat academic investment in canon formation and legitimization. But neither of those readings would fully account for the way that Greenberg in particular extends the historicizing impulse into a kind of personal and cultural nostalgia, a nostalgia that seems at once of the avant-garde and for the avant-garde. When Greenberg first elaborated her sense of a Gurlesque aesthetic in 2002, she located the origins of the tendency in a ’70s feminist girlhood. Here (perhaps in part to accommodate the addition of younger poets) she emphasizes instead a ’90s riot grrl youth. But the nostalgia in her introduction reaches toward something much larger than riot grrl itself or any personal experience of it; it’s a nostalgia for an entire epistemology of the counterculture that may seem endangered by 21st-century technology. In Greenberg’s description, a Gurlesque life story is most recognizable by the stylized objects it leaves behind—mix tapes and zines, lipstick and fishnets, all the physical memorabilia that threaten to disappear in a culture linked through digital rather than personal interactions. In reaching back to an earlier iteration of the avant-garde, Greenberg appears to reach back to a past vision of the future—one defined by the handmade and the in-person rather than the global, virtual network.
The poetry picks up this orientation towards the material as a shifting marker of identity, but also complicates it. At times it is the poetry of post-feminist fashion statements and burlesque costume changes that the editors’ introductions might lead you to expect. In Nada Gordon’s “Porpo-Thang,” for example, the regalia of socialized femininity takes on a life of its own, producing something like a Flarf rewrite of Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” starring a troupe of performing dolphins and their colorful lingerie:
The porpoises fling up their
orange underthings; swaying
in the wind, their heavy rotation
is brief and horrifying,

full of bright scrawls, of thin
and lacy garters.
But more of the poems—many more, in fact, than the introductions might suggest—veer instead towards what Glenum calls the “female grotesque,” poetry rooted less in the paraphernalia of identity than in the brute fact of the body. In much of Ariana Reines’s contribution, for example, it’s difficult to imagine the characters wearing clothing at all; they seem to exist naked and covered in some vague afterbirth, perpetual Adams and Eves who have reached sexual maturity without overcoming the violent confusion of being born:
'Because of remembering where or what you are the ovum gasp and burst. First he spit on my asshole and then start in with a middle finger and then the cock slid in no sound come out, only a maw gaping, grind hard into ground. Voluminous bounty of minutes sensate and glowing shoot out.'
Most of the anthology lies somewhere in between, like Chelsea Minnis’s mash of hot pants and sexualized violence, or Stacy Doris’s rewriting of De Sade by way of cartoonishly decadent coiffeurs. A few of the most potentially anthemic poems—like Brenda Shaughnessy’s “Your One Good Dress” or Dorothea Lasky’s “Boobs Are Real”—seem to merge the two perfectly, turning body parts and apparel equally into prostheses that support a defiant yet strangely ironic kind of feminist self-assertion. If there is a single stance that most characterizes the collection, it would be just this candid mixture of stridency and ambivalence—a kind of hanging up between the sometimes conflicting demands of individual expression and political liberation most directly expressed in Tina Brown Celona’s “Sunday Morning Cunt Poem”: “Some said it was a vicious swipe at feminism. Others said it was a vicious feminist swipe. It was the only word I knew.”
What also unifies the anthology is the way in which—whether from an excess of identifiable tokens (Gordon) or from their absence (Reines)—all of this turning toward the material produces not a grounding of identity but its dissolution. As Glenum puts it, “Gurlesque poets . . . assume there is no such thing as coherent identity. There is . . . only the performance of self.” This proposition is powerfully, consistently, and convincingly enacted by nearly all of the poetry here, and strikingly, it seems to be treated by most of the poets as a given more than a discovery. No wonder, then, that Greenberg might be nostalgic for an era when those provisionally assumed, purely performed identities left behind some material souvenir that could provide an illusion of continuity for a self looking back through the long lens of the anthologist. As an avowedly Gen X collection, Gurlesque is a statement not only about feminism or the avant-garde, but about the rewriting of those concepts in response to a particular historical moment, a moment in which 20th-century visions of the future may seem more past every day. Only time will tell if that response represents something closing, something just beginning, or—most likely—some of both." - Morgan Myers

Read also:

"Review by John Bloomberg-Rissman"

“From cosmos to cosmetics”: A Note on Aase Berg’s Guinea Pigs & Girly Kitsch
by Lara Glenum

"Gurlesque, Suburbia, Sleater Kinney" by Johannes Göransson


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