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Creative Engagement with Kate Durbin’s The Ravenous Audience (Black Goat/ Akashic Books, 2009)

Lately I have been obsessing over feminist reframes of historical events and fairy tales. Part of this obsession is rooted in a collaborative project I am currently working on (with Tod Thilleman) that reengages and readdresses Mary Magdalene and The Virgin Mary in a complex, single-book-gesture, but another part of this obsession has to do with the way that my dreams have been feeling to me lately: like intensive chronicles of entirely other realms wherein feminism is a strong, inborn state (no longer act as mechanism for alteration of the patriarchal faults of an existing realm). I am still unsure if in these dreams, I know such places as utopias.

When I found Kate Durbin’s The Ravenous Audience (hereafter in this review referred to as TRA) I felt compelled in the shape of my own obsession. TRA is an addicting, troubling, shocking tell (that I read as a very nice counterpart or companion to Kim Vodicka’s Aesthethesia Balderdash (Trembling Pillow, 2012)). TRA is a confessional-tell-all as much as it is an engagement with fairy tales.

Within TRA, I did not find the usual role reversals (that often accompany feminist fairy tales). There seemed to me to be vigilant interaction with the pungent and unsettling figures (from Jesus (“Jesus was made of felt”/ “how I longed to lift his discarded body off the floor, years ago—even reduced to felt, base material, how I craved his skin and wounds” / “Jesus is to satisfy, but he doesn’t”) to a new-to-menstruating girl’s own father-rapist (“in the barn’s orange blush she is bending to milk the cow when her father takes her from behind” / “he put his hand over her mouth.” / “when he came he squeezed her ass, leaving and imprint of his fingers. In those moments, she never cried out” / “dip your wick three times in the same chick and forget it” / “he knows only that single spurt of semen, his explosion, but it is she who carries his wreckage”[] “how great the opening the penis enters”).

I love the sordid mixed with the splendid here. It is TRA’s images which swell its tells (“whether a chicken’s egg in her hole; her bloodied tampon in a water glass” / “she wrote her name on the mirror in the girl’s dormitory with her own cum” / “the boy fondles the bread” / “playing a splintered violin” / “spitting into each other’s mouths” / “go ahead stupid boy. But this lake won’t be wet all evening” / “cleaning another woman’s womb”).

I read a lot of TRA as a kind of nourishing porn (“she laps like a deer from pools of fetid water in the forest’s heart”). I find that it is when porn is alarming; when it perhaps puts pressure on some of our own desires (“what the audience wants isn’t just animal attraction. It’s their selves”) that its images stay inside of the body (remain) long enough for them to appear later in a next erotic or sexual setting/ encounter. Perhaps it is through disturbances such as the above mentioned, that ravening desire is born?

Durbin engages our ravening desire by way of many movements within TRA. One particularly stunning movement nourishes us by way of her turning the words female body and woman body into the words: “femalebody,” “womanbody.” This gesture feels to me like an inverse-aphasia: the enabling of language from its pre (where it might not have indicated the exact thing trying to be told) to a declarative power (“femaleflesh consists of fat, mostly” / “the nude femalebody is a strip of paper at the bottom of a serving dish” / “the culinary nature of the taking off of clothes from the womanbody”).

Of femalebodies (in TRA) there are three dominants: Amelia Earhart, Marilyn Monroe, and the central female figure (also the new-to-menstruation daughter?) that spends much of the pages of the book in gory forms of confessional telling. These three are Durbin’s monsters (“these, my monsters. Makeshift. One-eyed. Three-limbed.”) and the monsters include herself.

From Amelia Earhart “staying [her] ground,” knowing she is “meant for indefinite sky” to Marilyn Monroe’s admittances and coy stroking (“I have a mother. She’s in an asylum. I suppose that means someday I’m going to spilt open and butterflies will flitter out. Or houseflies“ / “sometimes the public demands a bare-bones beginning, to excuse the full-flesh woman who emerges” / “did your mother love you?” “Yes, but with an anorexic’s love”) we come in contact with our own (the audience’s) “cunts moist cocks point[ing] North.” In TRA, we are being shown how to “open [] our legs so wide the world enters in” but, through all of the exposure which takes place by way of these tells, the world enters in on our own terms.

We understand as we turn the tell the person to our left or right, in front of us or behind us: “flesh is the most genuine meeting point any of us have got.” We tumble this in our mouths, in our genitals: inborn feminisms of fairy tales feel to us like our own stories on crack. My stories are being cracked and offered back to me as delicate bread inundated with cracked pepper.

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