Daphne Gottlieb, Final Girl (2003)

This is something of a follow-up to Andy’s post about Why Things Burn.

The ‘final girl’ is the one who survives right through to the very end of the horror movie: screaming, covered in blood, most likely traumatised for the rest of her life, but still alive, still fighting, challenging the audience with her survival, challenging us to identify with her in her terrifying struggle.

In her collection of poetry, Final Girl, Daphne Gottlieb takes this common, rather hackneyed horror movie trope, and turns it into, not only a testament to female survival against the odds, but a steely-eyed look at the price that survival exacts from us.  We don’t get out unscathed and there’s a reason why the final girl is such a persistent figure in popular culture.  There’s a lot of humour in her poems, but with such cathartic and visceral subject matter, I would warn anyone who’s experienced sexual or gendered violence to take care when reading.

The ‘final girls’ making appearances here include historical figures, such as transgender murder victim, Gwen Araujo; the excommunicated early-modern preacher Anne Marbury Hutchinson; the African American abolitionist Sojourner Truth’, Gottlieb’s own mother, and kidnap victim, Patricia Hearst.  She also brings to life mythological figures such as Lilith, and cultural identities such as the ‘babysitter’ and the ‘slut’.   In the persistent figure of the ‘final girl’ Gottlieb blends fiction and history, and carves out a space to talk about the ways in which our lives, as women, are shaped by various discourses, some of them deadly.

I think Gottlieb’s strength is that her performance poetry also works on the page and doesn’t come across as self-indulgent.  Her poetry relies heavily on intertexuality and she’s extremely good at pasting together different texts giving birth to exhilarating new creations which make you think differently about the originals.  Mary Shelley (another final girl) would approve.

Most of the poems are fairly long so I won’t attempt to quote in full (and I think they’re best read together as collection, or perhaps I should say, a dialogue), but here are a few that stood out for me.  ‘In a Name’ is a poem about Lilith and Eve.  ‘Final Girl III: The Frame’ is a favourite of mine which I’ve posted about before.  ‘Liability’ is a shattering piece about the violence inflicted on people who cross genders.  ‘Anne’s Neck’ is a wonderful dramatic monologue about the excommunicated early modern preacher Anne Maybury Hutchinson.   ‘My mother gets dressed’ is a very powerful poem about the poet’s mother.  ‘Slut’ is in honour of the girl who always dies first.  I’ll finish with an excerpt from ‘Final Girl X: The Final Girl’.

‘You can’t kill me
because I’m made of light
You can’t kill me because
you need me to tell the story later.
I have chosen to stay and fight.
I have chosen to run like a girl.
I run from victim
to fugitive
to hero […]

and I only
and only I
can grab
your hand from outside the frame.

We stab the killer in the eyes
and we run,
24 frames a second
90 minutes.

We got taken,
But we’re