In an article we read in class by Carrie Sandahl (2003) from GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, she introduces the connection between Crip and Queer identities and the concept of using these terms as verbs (emphasis mine):

Members of both [queer and crip] groups have developed a wry critique of hegemonic norms. In queer communities, the application of this critique has been given its own verb: to queer. Queering describes the practices of putting a spin on mainstream representations to reveal latent queer subtexts; of appropriating a representation for one’s own purposes, forcing it to signify differently; or of deconstructing a representation’s heterosexism

She continues:

Both queering and cripping expose the arbitrary delineation between normal and defective and the negative social ramifications of attempts to homogenize humanity, and both disarm what is painful with wicked humor, including camp.

In the article, Sandahl uses cripping and queering as verbs in the process of “solo autobiographical performances” in which (in these cases) a member of the “crip” or differently-abled community uses his or her disability to point out the biases and normativity of the audience and society at large. Similarly, I see Gottlieb’s poetry in some cases as queering notions of language, poetry, and sexuality.

In her poem, “mastering the art of poetry,” (link to full text) I see three verbs that can be intertwined: mastering, queering, and writing. In a free-write exercize, I jotted down something that may or may not make sense out of context:

Queer writing, master narrative, poetic mastery,
Power over language and ideas of sexuality
She is queering, writing, and mastering sexuality in this poem

Basically, in the poem she describes the “art of [writing] poetry” as a BDSM-esque experience, a master/servant relationship in which the writer/poet makes the poem “beg or struggle” by pushing it to “the edge of what it can stand.” This is one of my favorites because it gives an honest and unorthodox approach to pushing one’s self to the limit when writing… describes the process of searching for new words, formatting, ideas, and audiences.

The following lines on the first page of the poem:

“listen to your poem’s desires / and get ready / to be powerful and terrible. / your poem is quivering in front of you / and your iron will / as it kisses the collar you hold”

can be contrasted with these from the end:

“hold that precious poem close / show it how much it has pleased you / and rest. give it your name / and kiss it / goodnight.”

in detailing the powerful but loving (or at least lustful) struggle between both a master/writer with her subject.

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Sexuality  as a separate yet connected element of the personal self is a theme that spans both Cixous and Gottlieb’s work and is particularly important to analyze in terms of language because it is often less apparent than others (or at least less acknowledged, due to historical/social taboos). Helene Cixous places a heavy emphasis on this concept in her theories of the self, stating that writing is:

[An] act which will not only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories which have been kept under seal… (880).

Cixous continues to cite sexuality and the honest recording thereof as a means to reject the hushed and limited nature of societal views on female sexual practices (as well as societal views on sexuality in general), a way to tear women away from the “superegoized structure” of androcentric society (880).

Likewise, in Telling Sexual Stories, Ken Plummer states, “Sexual stories live in [the] flow of power. The power to tell a story, or indeed to not tell a story, under the conditions of one’s own choosing is part of the political process” (26). The weight of telling sexual stories, especially ones dealing with concepts such as victimization, being queer, or having “explicit” sexual desires – all of which are often seen as even deeper taboos – can be a source of empowerment for both the writer/speaker and her audience (27).

Daphne Gottlieb’s work deals with all three of these more “risqué” topics, and her telling of her sexual stories and sexual self is simultaneously uninhibited and carefully calculated. By writing about past sexual abuse experiences as well as current forms of reclaiming sexuality using fluidity in her lexicon and imagery, the poems embody the power that sexual writing can hold according to both Cixous and Plummer.

Just wanted to insert this little footnote from my original paper proposal:

The word “woman” is used in Cixous’s The Laugh of the Medusa (1976) inclusively to mean both woman-as-woman and woman-as-person. She states that man must write him self as well: “it’s up to him to say where his masculinity and femininity are at,” which in turn will cause them to “[open] their eyes and see themselves clearly” (877).  Cixous sees men as victims of the oppressive patriarchal state just as women are: “the way man has of getting out of himself and into her whom he takes not for the other but for his own, deprives him, he knows, of his own bodily territory” (877). However, because language and speech are explained and seen to be “governed by the phallus,” the concept of femininity remains the default in her essay as well as my own (881).

Also: In class, we discussed the gendering of pronouns and using gender-neutral language, and while I can recognize that using woman-as-person (with the disclaimer about men) excludes individuals who do not subscribe to or fit into the neat little boy/girl gender boxes that we have socially constructed, I do appreciate her early use of the female pronoun as opposed to the typical male default.

In this poem on pages 73 and 74 of Why Things Burn, Daphne Gottlieb describes how she chose writing poetry as a teenager:

“forgetful, I spent a year writing poems
feverish, as if each was the first
about girls, me, and all
the things that happened to those girls, me
and all those poems, monsters the way
adolescence is monstrous”

Using writing as a sanctuary from a “monstrous” adolescence, she reconnects with her self despite, “the isolation of the unfamiliar body / that no longer even remembers itself.” However, as the poem progresses the reader learns that she accidentally left her notebook out, which her father finds and reads. In describing her father’s response, she says that he witnessed puberty like a disease invading his daughter, and she was “a 14-year old host vulnerable to foreign bodies / the enemy, the trembling, the bodies”

By using the metaphor of an illness, a “wild, unchecked growth,” young Daphne takes on the role of the plagued and disease-ridden, being preyed on and used by the “foreign bodies,” both hers and – more importantly – others’.  However, the lack of symbiosis/healthiness in the relationship Daphne had with these invasive bodies escapes her father, the doctor, who responds to her confessional poetry by saying: “you know who / that girl is / don’t you? / that girl’s / a whore.”

In he language her father chose (“that girl” and “whore”) he distances himself from her, furthering her feelings of being misunderstood and preyed upon. Now, Daphne has not only been betrayed by a multitude of things: the invasive bodies of others, her own body during the turmoils of adolescence, her father, as well, in part, by her poetry. In an attempt to be honest and confessional, she is outcasted once again, which clearly has emotionally scarring effects on young women. Although she does not recall in this particular poem the specifics about her sexual encounters with other boys (or men), I assume they are intense and difficult for her to process at a young age. This sexuality seems to be placed opon her by Other Bodies and is now labeled as deviant by an outsider, her father.

As a woman, I could think back to the invasiveness of not only puberty but also young men who attempt to test their limits and take advantage of our “unfamiliar bod[ies],”  could remember feeling disconnected and unsure about my own sexual impulses and those of others. This sexual ostracization was difficult for me to read because it felt so real and personal, which is only one of the many reasons why Daphne’s poetry has such an impact on me each time.