Monday, July 10, 2006

dead girl poems

Yesterday, at the reading, Simone Muench mentioned our shared penchant for dead girls in our poems which made me laugh when I thought about it. It got me to thinking why this might be. On one hand it's very sticky, the whole notion of whether or not an obsession of that sort in my work would be considered anti-feminist by some. I mean there are lots of obsessions in my work, but that's one that crops up again and again, in imagery, in subject matter. There's alot of literature I know on this in regard to Poe---his dead woman complex. And I do admit, the first poem I ever loved at age 14 (and probably one of the only ones I know by heart) is "Annabel Lee". And I mean, historically, women were quite expendable--Shakespeare, Irish ballads, etc. In fact, cultural history is woven through with this sort of stuff, from the perceived dead girls of fairytales (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), to Ophelia and Desdemona, to urban legend and Hollywood.

Not just cultural media, even. When I was a kid, there was this really high profile kidnapping case that occured near the neighborhood where we'd once lived. A ninteen year old had been last seen getting into her car in a river side park and then went missing. It was a cautionary tale of sorts, even for me, who wasn't yet allowed to go out all that much on my own.. People worried over their daughters. There were no suspects, no clues. I remember just this overall fear about "getting grabbed" as my mother termed it. I suppose every town, every community, has this sort of thing. They never caught who did it, but about a year or so later, her body was found in the nearby Sugar River. After my parents had moved out into the country, another woman's body was found in a field about a half-mile away...a hooker it turned out in the end, murdered in town and dumped by someone who figured they were far enough out where no one would find her. I keep waiting to turn on the news and not hear a story where some woman or girl is murdered, raped, attacked in some way. It doesn't happen. Soon you just stop turning on the news.

I am aware of the irony, here, with enough dead girls in my poems to start an army. Maybe it's something I'm stuck on like a broken record, that fear, that anxiety of being a girl, being endangered in some way. Not victimization, exactly, not repression. But danger and fear. All tied up in sex and violence and the male gaze. One of the reasons I loved Buffy so much, was because it turned all this on it's head. Gets me thinking of Daphne Gottlieb's Final Girl, and all the horror movies I watch. Gothicism in general and the peril of the female figure.


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md said...

There is a type of "dead girl" who appears as a feminist figure -- a haunting reminder that fucked up fathers and greedy capitalists kill people. I know that sounds dramatic, but I think this is one of the reasons so many feminists are interested in the work of david lynch (laura palmer) and hitchcock (rebecca). The dead girl is related to philomel and is also cousins with little red riding hood -- a sort of jon benet/child playing grown-up cautionary tale. the new m. night shamalan (sp?) movie looks like its about a dead girl. Never mind the ring, the grudge et al. It's a pretty dynamic archetype. That's not to say that it isn't problematic. But I much preder Plath's "Lady Lazarus" to Roethke's "Elegy for Jane," if you know what I mean.

kristy bowen said...

-- a haunting reminder that fucked up fathers and greedy capitalists kill people--an excellent point. I didn't even think of all those eastern horror movies. I just watched the American version of Dark Water again a couple of days ago, and there you have it too. Also makes me think of that Stir of Echoes movie from a few years ago. Philomel and little red riding hood--yes...the tension between sexuality and danger.

I suppose it comes down to who owns the archetype. Who claims it and how they use it.

beLLe said...

"The peril of the female form"

"Philomel and little red riding hood--yes...the tension between sexuality and danger."

~makes for some damn good poetry, though~


Jeannine said...

Yes, I used to think I was the only one out there exploring this (see "The Dead Girl Speaks" in my book and all the Philomel poems ;) but then I was at a conference with Kim Addonizio and she read "Dead Girls" -
So I think it is something in the collective unconscious that we female writers keep being interested in.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Interesting post Kristy. Final Girl is a great read. Actually, it settles more in my mind as a manifesto. Gottlieb is a gifted writer.

Christine E. Hamm, Poet Professor Painter said...

Kristy-- I've been thinking about all the dead girls that "surface" in my poems as well, and for me, I look at it from a psychological perspective. I think the dead girls represent a part of me that is dead, or that was killed off in my childhood. Or perhaps a murder is constantly occurring somewhere in my psyche.