Swedish Gurlesque

by on Aug.30, 2013

My last post for the Poetry Foundation is now up. It’s about teh use of the concept/word “Gurlesque” in Sweden and some poets that I think the term does a good job of providing a framework for, Sara Tuss Efrik and Stina Kajaso.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The book has stirred a powerful reception in Sweden, generating a lot more high-profile discussion of the word “Gurlesque” than happened in the U.S. (while in the U.S. there has been a lot of blog discussions, it seems the gatekeepers of high culture have done a good job of keeping it out). There have been articles in pretty much all the major Swedish newspapers as well as a bunch of web journals and blogs. The prominent web journal Ett lysand namn recently published a special issue devoted to the Gurlesque (an essay by me appears in this volume, in English).

In an extensive essay on the gurlesque in Dagens Nyheter (what might be called The New York Times of Sweden), which partially responds to Österholm’s book and partially to new books by the writers like Lidija Praizovic, Lina Hagelbäck and Sara Tuss Efrik, the prominent Swedish poet Anna Hallberg writes: “But what happens when the doll game flips out? If it takes over? If the roles it stages are not pedagogical or constructive, but grotesque, perverse and violent? In feminist theory, this form of artistic expression is called Gurlesque.” She concludes: “When Aylin Bloch Boynukisa writes in ‘The Geneology of the Girl Organ’: ‘I change course with my porcelain eye/my blinking gigantic doll eye,’ it’s a change of course I can believe in.””

It is interesting to see how the word/concept has had a much different reception in Sweden than in the US, where I think it’s been incredibly influential even as scholars and editors have pretty much kept it out of official discussions of “the field” of contemporary poetry. There are many reasons for this: the fact that Sweden tends to be more interested in feminism (it is as Julian Assange pointed out, “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”), the fact that many of Sweden’s leading poets and writers (Aase Berg, Ann Jäderlund, Johan Jönson, Katarina Frostensson etc) were working in the realm of the grotesque and gothic while the US critical establishment has done everything it can to erase such tendencies. But most important I think is that in Sweden, the mass media and the “high culture” establishments tend to be more receptive to popular changes. They don’t see themselves controlling the discourse, like American leading critics and editors, but responsible to report on it. The result is in many ways a more dynamic discourse around contemporary poetry. On the positive side for the US, this controlled discourse has led to the proliferation of small presses. Something that has, incidentally, only recently started to happen in Sweden, but interestingly, two powerful instances of Swedish small press presses are the gurlesque-friendly feminist presses Dockhaveri and Rosenlarv.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    One big omission in this post: I mention foreign writers and Brooklynites, but there are of course tons of omissions in academic taste. Though it’s not always as easy as academic vs non-academic. I’m thinking about Cary Nelson’s Repression and Recovery as a wonderful academic critique of the exclusions that happens in academic taste – going back to union poetry, Sandburg, african american poetry etc.

    Johannes