DAPHNE GOTTLIEB'S NEW POETRY COLLECTION FROM SOFT SKULL
Press, Final Girl, takes the central female figure of the classic slasher flick--the woman who survives until the last scene, either to kill or to be killed--and refigures her variously in the context of queer and feminist film theory, iconic American figures such as Patty Hearst and Marilyn Monroe, and Gottlieb's own mother's death from breast cancer.
You work in both feminist film theory and poetry. Are there things you can say as a poet that you maybe can't say as a theorist, or vice-versa?
I think all art is an act of paying attention--trying to encapsulate and communicate something that strikes us as really important (I mean, if not, why bother, right?). So everything that we are living with, around and through is potentially grist for the mill. Theory and my poetry share a link in that I tend to write about things that I'm trying to figure out, things that don't make sense to me in some way--and this shares with theory the desire to make meaning. That said, I want to work in a visceral, evocative way, not in a "factual" (or even pseudo-factual) way. So I'm a poet, not a theorist.
How did you choose the slasher theme?
Honestly, it sort of chose me. In Why Things Burn (Soft Skull, 2001), I wrote a lot about love and violence--what else can you do for an encore than write about sex and death? And what embodies our fantasies about sex and death better in our culture than the slasher movie?
Is this book more "on the page" than your other work?
I was interested in trying to get the white page to evoke the blank screen--and to try to make the book cinematic, really visual.
Some poems read like literal horror Flicks. Even if I knew what was coming, I couldn't turn my eyes away--kind of like how I feel watching a slasher film. Has anyone called the poems manipulative?
No, I haven't heard that. If one point of any art is to move the reader/viewer/listener and evoke a response, isn't all art in some sense manipulative? Isn't any speech? I have a hard time with the connotation of "manipulative" here--it sort of implies deceit. I tend to write about loaded topics--death, sex, violence, identity--but not for cheap theatrical or sentimental reasons. I think this is the hardest stuff we wrestle with.
Any other big issues you encountered putting together the book?
I've never sat down to write a book--they grow one poem at a time. I've heard novelists say that they thought they were writing a book and knew exactly where it was going, and had it take a hard left on them--this is what happened to me. I thought I was working on a book about the "final girl" figure, the one who survives a terrifying ordeal but who lives to tell about it--and while I was working on it, my mom got lung cancer, and subsequently died. I couldn't not write about that, since it colored everything in my entire life ... in a really cruel irony, all the "horror" movies paled to things I was seeing daily; I couldn't change anything that was happening any more than I can change the outcome of a movie. And I had this kind of awful moment, where I realized I was the final girl--I had lived through this horrible thing, had stood witness, and was telling about it.