A year or so ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Arielle Greenberg, a wonderful younger poet (younger than I am, anyway) whom I'd first encountered as a witty and curious contributor to "WOM-PO," the indispensible listserv of and about women poets. “Hi to all the Jewish wom-pos (and others who know about folk songs),” she asked once: “I am trying to remember a song we learned in yeshiva when I was a kid--it has many verses and the chorus or final verse is about a calf being led off to slaughter…in a wagon or cart? It had a big impact on me as a kid and I can't remember how it went but I want to use it in a poem...Yours in matza ball soup, Arielle.” The fizzy-but-heimish cocktail of discourse, tone, and reference in this email—the in-group humor, hint of horror, and chipper performative wink—was a fitting aperitif for Greenberg’s work as a poet, both in her first book, Given, and in her forthcoming My Kafka Century, due out from Action Books.
To read Greenberg is to encounter a poetry best described, perhaps, by a critical term the poet coined a couple of years ago. Part burlesque, part carnivalesque, part post-punk riot grrrl, they are “gurlesque.” “In Gurlesque poems,” Greenberg writes, “the words luxuriate: they roll around in the sensual while avoiding the sharpness of overt messages, preferring the curve of sly mockery to theory or revelation. Gurlesque poets are unafraid of making poems that seem silly, romantic or cute; rather, they revel in cuteness, and use it to subversive ends, complicating the relationship between feminism and femininity. Gurlesque poems own their sexuality, wear it proudly, are thoroughly enmeshed in the visceral experiences of gender; these poems are non-linear but highly conversational, lush and campy, full of pop culture detritus, and ultimately very powerful.”
Here's a poem from her forthcoming book, which was published on-line recently by Octopus magazine. Its title, "Heenayni," is transliterated Hebrew, and means "Here I am":
HeenayniAlthough I think Greenberg is just putting some serious torque on "indignant" there, to make it a noun, it's just possible there's a noun missing after it--I won't know until I hear from her (Hi, Arielle!) or see the poem in print. In the mean time, does it matter? The mix of tones and dictions in this is just dizzying, luxurious, delicious. (As is, come to think of it, the cocktail called Yellow Cake--though not, I suspect, the nuclear material, purified, solid U3O8, of the same name!)
Here I am, your fondest lugnut,
a shifting kitty towards the star of you
floating across a constellation of tattoo,
the firmament. I am firmly. I am yours.
Heenayni, Here I Am. Here I am, God.
I love you. I swear I’m not hiding.
I don’t know where that palm frond came from.
I’m all yours.
Your drifting sheep-herder. Your pile of wool.
I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking.
I got a bit caught up in the fratricide.
But I felt like I was glowing barium I was so findable,
his blood an x-ray through my blood.
He bloodied my indignant before he fell,
but I held on to the squint.
I went South. I didn’t forward the mail.
But I was just waiting for my next instruction.
I thought that last arson was my sign.
So I stayed in Arizona. I wasn’t hiding.
I was listed. I was in Tempe.
I was washing dishes.
Maybe you couldn’t find me for the suds:
it was all kind of squeaky for awhile there.
But I’ve returned, your mistrial,
your yellow morning cake.
Heenayni. As you know, I was never gone.
A poet to know, folks.