Maximum Glenum

Gurlesque’s ringleader comes to town, and Vegas Seven gets an earful

Burlesque meets the grotesque meets the carnivalesque in a new breed of poetry called Gurlesque. In this cultural phenomenon—birthed from the mind and loins of lady Generation X poets—tutus are tattered, unicorns vomit, horror and humor collide, and social norms are strangled with fishnet stockings and drowned in menstrual blood. These Third Wave feminists are brashly mocking the female condition, and leading the pack is poet Lara Glenum, who co-edited the book that introduced the movement to the world: Gurlesque: The New Grrly, Grotesque, Burlesque Poetics (Saturnalia, 2010).

The Louisiana State University English professor and Fulbright Fellow will visit Las Vegas as part of Black Mountain Institute’s Emerging Writers Series. She’ll be reading from her second book, Maximum Gaga (Action Books, 2009), an apocalyptic narrative constructed like a play. It combines poetry, prose, stage directions and letters in its exploration of language and the body. Glenum, 41, who is a single mother of two, wrote a quarter of Gaga while pregnant, and the remainder during the sleepless nights that followed. On, one reviewer described the book as having the effect of a David Lynch movie—leaving her feeling violated, but liking it.

In advance of her reading, Glenum spoke with Vegas Seven about the Gurlesque, sex, unicorns and rainbows.

Which poets influence you?

I would say the women of the historical avant-garde. Mina Loy, Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes have had a huge influence. … I call [Emily] Dickinson the original Gurlesque girl. But a lot of what I’ve been hungry for in poetry, I’ve found only in my contemporaries, which is one of the reasons I felt compelled to make the anthology.

Sex plays hugely in your work.

[Laughs.] It’s improbable for me to separate my art and my sex. I’m constantly preoccupied with gender and heteronormativity. Even though I’m straight, I have a lot of gripes with the way that heterosexual life is conceived and constructed. Sex opens a realm of possibilities to go off-script—and it’s often funny or horrifying.

How has becoming a mother influenced your poetry?

[My] poetics have always been rooted in the bodily experience, the experience of childbirth and having children. Tending to their bodies has only heightened my sense that we are all very mortal and fragile creatures, and that our bodies are constantly undergoing rapid and dramatic change. It’s kind of astonishing.

As the Gurlesque poets age, how will the movement change?

We hesitate to call it a movement because it’s women who are, in a lot of ways, unconnected. … As a child of the ’70s, I remember being very alive to … equal rights, and yet there were sparkling unicorns and rainbows, everywhere. In Gurlesque writing, you see the collision of all these elements. You see the political, but you also see girly ornamentation. It’s kind of a biopsy of a particular historical moment. So I imagine everyone will evolve differently.

Pop Corpse, due later this year, is a hybrid poem/play that restages The Little Mermaid. Tell us about writing it.

It has a Twitter feed, a lot of characters and a lot of visual imagery. It’s been so challenging to write that, just to release steam, I’ve had to write these compressed lyrics on the side. I’ve written so many of them that they’ve accumulated into their own mass, a book called Jump Shot, which I’m just now finishing.