Gurlesque


Kiss Off
, Sophie Mayer (Oystercatcher)


Here's a message I received from Sophie when I asked her for some information about Kiss off:  (unedited version of message)

Sure! Really, really glad you liked it. It was so much fun to write (mainly on the 91 bus, thinking "tee hee, if only people could see what I was writing!" So... not transgression exactly because a lot of the poems draw on available texts. Permission to play).

Part of it is "Man, the Americans can write." I did a workshop/school last summer in California and met Teresa Carmody from Les Figues Press among other writers really pushing at language, picked up a bunch of stuff at Small Press Distribution, and was electrified by the debate around the Gurlesque anthology and what it left out... So that was the poetics driver.

I've also been increasingly engaged with/by trans politics and culture, although I don't identify as trans it's given me a lot of room to think my way out of some of the gnarlier bits of "I hate boys, throw rocks at their heads" separatist feminism and have fun ;) Along with a strong interest in biology and zoology and the way popular science propagates binary gender and heteronormativity.

The immediate prompt was my colleague Lucy Bolton's book:
The Film and Female Consciousness, which was full of delicious language and images, and just set me writing. I posted the first couple of texts on Facebook and got really lovely responses that encouraged me to keep going.

Rarely do we get such an insight into the creative process of the poet or poetess at work. The 'immediate prompt' was Lucy Bolton's book The Film and Female Consciousness. For years I've been trying to figure out where Sophie gets her wonderful imagery and now I know some of it. As all good poets a wide intertextuality feeds and feeds as nothing succeeds like success. I feel like I've robbed her of something ; that's she's been too generous -  and more generous than I would be. But then that's Sophie - she gives in her work of herself in minute detail and people respond to it. She talks about the 'fun' of writing also - and this is something that comes across in her work:

   XO First Round

   KO to your kisser, sister
   lips meeting red leather
   you better / go down
   this is the kiss-
   off blister (this
   bliss this bliss too much
   lip in all shades and flavours
   chocolate ice cherry
   pie berry burst fruit of the forest frost fairy
   high / gloss
   makes lips
   stick / screw courage
   to the speckled mirror
   (they call me the kiss-mister
   fogging up your silvered
   your hornrims with my hot
   breath in a blotted
   lipprint lined
   in pink

The words of the gurlesque luxuriate: they roll around in the sensual here while avoiding the sharpness of overt messages, preferring the curve of sly mockery to theory or revelation.

The term Gurlesque comes from a combination of 1. The Carnivalesque. 2. The Burlesque. (and the Neo-Burlesque.3. The Riot Grrrls... Also, the Grotesque." The term describes a very wide range of things and is a concept that even Greenberg has had trouble pinning down. Lara Glenum describes it in her introduction to Gurlesque as a kitschy, campy take on feminism. Gurlesque is an Avant Garde view of feminism which followed many of the same ideas of disrupting gender roles that allowed the Kinderwhore look and Riot Grrrl "movement" to take hold. Glenum and Greenberg both insist that, like the Riot Grrll "movement", Gurlesque poetics is "not a movement or a camp or a clique." The concept of the Gurlesque merely strings together a common strain that Greenberg noticed flowing through modern feminist poetry in the early 2000s. Here Sophie says here influences lie and these influences are clear to see - but what an exciting form of words and ideas - what we have its magic stuff:


   A lipped kiss of crossed legs un

   crossing. O, you think so do you

   wear the pants she pants lips o

   pen he writes see ho

   wever you pitch it, pitch like a girl (high no

   tes, glass rimmed with lip

   stick tracery ornate as dynamite

   criss-crossed for the takedown (the lo

   vebomb wants us all in the o

   of wound how juicy how monumental

Through the carnival and carnivalesque literature the world is turned-upside-down (W.U.D.), ideas and truths are endlessly tested and contested, and all demand equal dialogic status. The 'jolly relativity' of all things is proclaimed by alternative voices within the carnivalized literary text that de-privileged the authoritative voice of the hegemony through their mingling of 'high culture' with the profane. For Bakhtin it is within literary forms like the novel that one finds the site of resistance to authority and the place where cultural, and potentially political, change can take place.

For Bakhtin, carnivalization has a long and rich historical foundation in the genre of the ancient Menippean satire. In Menippean satire, the three planes of Heaven (Olympus), the Underworld, and Earth are all treated to the logic and activity of Carnival. For example, in the underworld earthly inequalities are dissolved; emperors lose their crowns and meet on equal terms with beggars. This intentional ambiguity allows for the seeds of the 'polyphonic' novel, in which narratologic and character voices are set free to speak subversively or shockingly, but without the writer of the text stepping between character and reader. And this is the point: that the Sophie is stepping aside the text which for me is the only way. To give the art its head and demand the imagination to do its marvel.

And I see another influence certainly. Burlesque overlaps in meaning with caricature, parody and travesty, and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza as presented during the Victorian  era  "Burlesque" has been used in English in this literary and theatrical sense since the late 17th century. It has been applied retrospectively to works of Chaucer and Shakespeare and to the Graeco-Roman classics. Contrasting examples of literary burlesque are Alexander Pope's sly The Rape of the Lock
and Samuel Butler's irreverent Hudibras. An example of musical burlesque is Richard Strauss's 1890 Burleske for piano and orchestra. Examples of theatrical burlesques include W. S. Gilbert's Robert the Devil and the A. C. Torr- Meyer Lutz shows, including Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué

And so to today and the culmination of expression we have what we have not a parody but step forward and in confident wonderful fashion. To my mind this poetess is the best we have or perhaps have ever had. Why do I say this? Because I've read everything and studied long and this is comparable and then some.

   James McLaughlin 2012