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“If you give me a dollar I’ll take my top off / and let you see my heart”

By Harriet Staff

Laurel Nakadate’s film Untitled simultaneously makes poetry sexy and succeeds in making sexiness entirely beside the point, reducing the body to simply a matter-of-fact vehicle for commenting on itself. Nakadate invited porn actresses to “audition” with the poems of Dora Malech, which HTMLGIANT‘s Jackie Wang sees as the perfect source material for such an experiment:

Her poems use tongue-in-cheek sentimental clichés and idiomatic language in a way that is playful and trangressive. I read these poems as the type of “female” narratives that embrace messiness and the failure to properly perform femininity.

Drawing from the classic tool-set of feminist theory, Wang invites the viewer to examine the internal roots of their own discomfort and locate the source of the idea that intellect, self-awareness, and independence cannot sync with the choice to put ourselves on display. Oddly, though, that’s what a poet does each time she (or he) reads for an audience.

The poems grapple with the tension between corporeality and disembodied intellect—being pure body or pure voice, being of the flesh or of the mind, but they settle on neither. Laurel’s video project and Dora’s text collapses those distinctions, using the body itself to speak.

Wang finds that the women reading Malech’s poems in this video upend that initial discomfort and condescending tendency to view the piece as a performance in which the actors are unaware of their own vulnerability:

But I realized that the women who were reading the poems were totally comfortable in their bodies, more at ease being physically present than I could ever be. The vulnerability lay within my expectation, as a viewer, that the actresses would feel uncomfortable reading poems, near-naked and visible. Kate Kastle, Stacey Dollar, Robbye Bentley, Lucky Starr, and Stacy Adams—the women that read the poems in this video—unsettle the viewer with their understanding of embodiment, visible in their physical comfort. Jointly, Laurel Nakadate and Dora Malech explore potential of the flesh made text and the text made flesh—not either/or but together, as bodies that sing.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 by Harriet Staff.