October 2003

David Harris


Final Girl by Daphne Gottlieb

The slasher film genre has passed through so many involuted self-parodies that it is almost impossible to see any content left. That is why Daphne Gottlieb's Final Girl is such a welcome collection of poetry. It finally gives us some content to focus on -- the sort of stuff that you have to go way back into the film archives to find.

In recent times, slasher films have become exceptionally good at being about slasher films. The perpetual self-reference drowns any hope of subtlety and precludes us from even seeing that they do have the potential to tell us something important. What other genre has such free access to so much stress, intensity, violence and sex? This combination should let us see the raw edges of humanity and reveal the deepest darkest secrets that we don't want to admit about ourselves in the daylight. And what are our unmentionable desires? They're right here in this collection and they're not pretty.

So screw the films -- they're just a waste of celluloid now. It's time to get the images from something more precise. Gottlieb presents the images from the viewpoint of the "final girl" -- the one who got away. With friends and enemies, both, lying in pools of blood, Gottlieb's girl doesn't just walk out of the derelict mansion into a rising sun. She doesn't pilot the boat off the island to safety and a new life. She was there. And her escape might be merely physical.

Gottlieb has previously been better known as a performance poet than the paper and ink type, and this shows in her writing, sometimes in style but also in her approach. And yet, this gives her words urgency and imperative that are missing from so many watered-down, oh-so-clever, I've-got-a-bigger-set-of-literary-references-than-you contemporary poets. Bizarrely, too much poetry seems to be going the way of the slasher flick -- mired in masturbatory musings about the way in which poet A concealed a reference to poet B (who we all know, but won't say, slept with poet C when poet D wasn't looking). Give us something to bring us back to reality! And Gottlieb does. Sure she has plenty of references to pop culture and past poetry, but she is explicit about it and hasn't turned it all into an insider's game.

At times, Gottlieb manages to catch the depths of cultural and literary themes as concisely as I have seen. Section 9 of "vamp" has few words but she nails her target:

-- suck suck suck suck -- swallow.

"Night of the dead living" gives us a corpse's eye view of, well, death.

The dead are bored. There is nothing to do, day after day, but lie there.

Gottlieb posits that maybe the reason we see the dead raising all hell in slasher pics is that they really need to let off a little steam. The dead are more like us than we realize.

In "pornography," Gottlieb takes us into a strip club where the narrator regales her clients with tales of woe and suffering. The compliant men act all sincere and ready to fix any problem that can be solved with a couple of twenties. They get to live their dream of mattering to somebody. Of having some sort of power to cure the world of all its ills. And yet, they can go home afterwards, their confessional ended, happy, self-satisfied and guilt-free but still not ready to take on any of the responsibilities that would go with the power they so desperately seek. This girl wasn't the one who disappeared from the strip club, never to be seen again. She survived, just as all the other women in the book survive.

The final girls survive but they are never the same. The slate is never wiped clean and the darkness leaves its shadow burned onto their minds and souls. Victims stop being victims once they die.

The final girl goes on being the victim. But she goes on, and that is what is important.

Final Girl by Daphne Gottlieb
Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 1887128972
120 pages