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.

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Daphne Gottlieb, Final Girl II: The Frame

Don’t answer the phone.
Don’t answer the door.
Don’t do it.
No—really. Don’t.

Too late.

Don’t worry.
You will make it through this.
Stay calm. If you are reading this,
you are here.

You are here because you are in danger
and you are in danger because you are here.
You’ve got a bad case
of the captivity narrative.

This means you are a white female under 30,
and you haven’t had sex or
you only do it with your husband or
you only do it by force.

None of this is your fault.
Someone did something that put you here:
Your forefathers raped the land.
Your husband stole America.
Your father oppressed the poor.
Your sister had sex in the house.

You will be taken from your home
or you will be forced to leave it.

If you hear music,
you are in a horror movie.
That means you get a knife to fight back with.

If you hear music
and the people holding you captive
are wearing jackets that say “ATF”,
you are in Waco.
That means you are Joan of Arc.

If you are eating dinner with your husband
in early America
and there’s a knock at the door
and it’s Native Americans with weapons,
you’re Mary Rowlandson.

If you are eating dinner with your boyfriend
in late California
and there’s a knock at the door
and it’s white people with masks and weapons,
you’re Patricia Hearst.

If you are eating dinner with your boyfriend
in the living room
and he is killed by people with masks and weapons
when you bring the dishes to the kitchen,
you’re in a horror movie.

Here’s how to survive:
Watch as everyone around you dies.
Scream until your eyes work.
They will work when you pick up a weapon.
They will work when something changes:
Maybe the Native Americans are just like you.
Maybe money, your father, is the great tyrant.
Pick up a weapon and gain sight.
You will fight back or die.
You will fight back.
You will become a girl who is a boy.

The story runs all the way
to daybreak, when you can be a girl
again and everything
will be returned home.
Even us.
Until then, everything
is electric projection
and we are
your captive audience.

From the collection, Final Girl (Soft Skull Press, 2003)

Daphne Gottlieb (1968 – ) is an uncompromising feminist performance poet based in San Francisco.