Book Review

by Jane Sprague


Arielle Greenberg
Amherst MA: Verse Press, 2002
Paperback, $12.00 (ISBN: 0-9723487-1-9), 88 pages

Given, Arielle Greenberg’s first collection of poems, takes its title from Marcel Duchamp’s final work, Etant donnés: 1˚ la chute d’eau, 2˚ le gaz d’eclairage, in English: Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Glass. Duchamp’s final work departs from the artist’s earlier signature pieces, the ready-mades, and forces the viewer to assume the role of voyeur. Behind a wooden door, through a peephole, an anonymous pudenda confronts the viewer. The figure of the hairless, faceless woman is discovered in a state of disarray. Post-orgasm? Murdered? Raped? Abandoned? Behind her, a shimmering waterfall, in her hand, a gaslight. In response to Duchamp’s work, Given extends complicated questions of femininity and the complicity of women in our objectification and commodification as consumable cultural objects. Who speak. The poems could be versions of the voice(s) of this anonymous woman. Unseen. Unsaid. And constantly, endlessly, on display. At her most exposed. Her upended pudenda. Her sexed self comprises the entire world of Duchamp’s final work of art.

The poems create a rich, collaged textual world of glossy pop culture surfaces as the skein of femininity.  Images of soap, lemon cake, pudding, Ouija boards, fudge, vomit, bruises, hinted (and haunted) crib-deaths, babies, milagros, chocolate, trains and meat collide with ideas of femaleness as pervasively broken. Given auditions subject-characters such as “The Judge’s Wife,” “The Magician’s Assistant,” “Snake-Girl,” “The Giant,” bondage pin-up girl Betty Page, “The Libertine,” and “The Lady from Shanghai.” These women are tottering girls composed of glittering disturbed surfaces, trying to sustain themselves and exist in a jangled world of blurred edges, ruptured syntax and shifting subjectivity. Given delivers a sexy, flirtatious skirt-lifting ruptured lexicon of 1970s girlhood and female subjects reaching to articulate and understand what it is to be a woman, a girl, this gendered thing, in the midst of cultural conceits which assault us with pressurized rules of body image, identity, gender and how our corporeal consumption defines us and twists us into constantly seen, consumed and consumable, cultural subjects.


BIO: Jane Sprague’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Tinfish, Bird Dog and Can We Have Our Ball Back? among others. She publishes Palm Press and curates the West End Reading Series in Ithaca, NY.

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