It's Probably not for Sale, but
some folks are not "buying the Gurlesque," over at the fine Lemon Hound blog. Commence somewhat circuitous line of inquiry: This refutation seems to revolve around the idea that the subject position girl (or any grotesque performance thereof) cannot be occupied without demeaning or infantilizing oneself, and thus threatens, or perhaps offends, the feminist movement(s). Have I got that right?
Either way, I should point out that poets who work with the Gurlesque aesthetic do not all bank on girlhood or girl speakers. But yes plenty do, and plenty question whether or not the subject position woman/women ever escapes infantilizing cultural constructions (some day I'll draw the connection to "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm"). Perhaps this is where Joyelle McSweeney's comment about Gurlesque as "the rejection of empowerment" becomes pertinent. (Aside: I don't think anyone's ever suggested Joyelle herself writes Gurlesque poems.) (Aside: And I don't claim to speak for other Gurlesque poets--just about the aesthetic and the poets who employ its various tactics. 'Cause it's not a school or a movement--we do not, whoever we are, hang out and plan new lip-glossed-cattle-suited-grave-stinking-rat-fetus-femme-factories.)
Notably, a lot of these critiques suggest that Gurlesque won't, as Lemon Hound puts it, "bring us forward." I assume "us" is women or feminists and "forward" is closer to gender equality? I'm tempted to say that such critique relies on a reductive reading of the aesthetic and a dangerous notion about poetry's relationship to edification.
Another problem--I think critiques/critics need to distinguish between the various strains of theorizing Lara & Arielle do (which won't be available in full until the anthology's out), the burgeoning ideas Arielle's advanced up until this point, and the actual poems/poets identified as Gurlesque. When a person claims to be "bored" or "offended" by the Gurlesque, I'm never sure to whom or what she's referring. Heh heh, and some of the poets identified as Gurlesque have written poems explicitly intended to bore and offend, so then a positive review?
It's further strange to me when the critiques are made by those who provoke with the woman/dog or woman/monster parallel, who interrogate desire and violence, who identify as third-wave or po-mo-feminist, animate grotesque bodies, load their poems with small cuddly animals, and so on. What am I missing?
I'd also love to see some actual fem theory or feminist thinkers referenced if the value of Gurlesque as a feminist practice, a form of feminist poetics is going to be called into question...I've had the good fortune to bring Arielle & Lara to Wyoming, to bring the aesthetic in front of women's studies scholars, and it's met with excitement and interest. And perhaps some polite disinterest, of which I remain stubbornly unaware, but so far no one's suggested it's an offense to feminism, or likely to wreck the joint...and actually, the dissent among feminist poets is a point of interest. Which could yet use articulation, eh? So if anyone would like to spin it out further here or via e-mail or in a sequined placenta-dome, I'm game. And also quite interested in what Gurlesque's critics would view as positive or "forward" moving feminist poetics.
[Update: Lara dropped a note over at Lemon Hound, saying: "the Gurlesque is an entirely descriptive project, not proscriptive. 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. I think the actual publication of the anthology (Spring 2010) will greatly clarify this." I think I've failed to articulate the descriptive/proscriptive difference as well as I should here, and am still considering what it might mean that these "tendencies" are being identified in such a broad range of so loosely, even un-connected poets...]