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Jacob Edmond on Vanessa Place’s Iterations of Gone With the Wind

By Harriet Staff

12-18-12_WIND

You might recall (or keep up with) Vanessa Place’s Twitter feed, which is, trot by trot, retyping the entirety of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. There are more iterations to her project. Jacob Edmond, at his blog A Common Strangeness, points us to an essay by Brian Reed entitled “Postmillenial Poetry and Redirected Language,” in which Reed looks at Place’s poem “Miss Scarlett,” “whose opening lines are liable to provoke both recognition and queasiness:”

Miss Scarlett, effen we kain git de doctah
w’en Miss Melly’s time come, doan you bodder
Ah kin manage. Ah knows all ’bout birthin.
Ain’ mah ma a midwife? Ain’ she raise me
ter be a midwife, too?

(339)

The names Miss Scarlett and Miss Melly are of course indelibly associated with the movie Gone with the Wind (1939), and the line “Ah knows all ’bout birthin” recalls a famous but unsettling scene when the black servant Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) proves unable to care for Melanie Wilkes (Olivia de Haviland) while she is in labor. Why would Place want to attract renewed attention to a role and a moment that are shaped through and through by crude stereotypes about African Americans? After playing a series of comparably demeaning parts in films such as The Women (1939), Mildred Pierce (1945), and Duel in the Sun (1946), McQueen decided that she would rather end her film career altogether than experience further insults to her intelligence and talents. Without an explanatory frame or accompanying critical commentary, “Miss Scarlett” risks being read as an exercise in minstrelsy, a white poet donning blackface.

(Reed goes on.) And Edmond moves to discuss another part of the project, “[Place’s] ‘White Out’ of the text,” in his latest “Iterations” commentary on Jacket2.” Noting the case of The Wind Done Gone, a follow-up to Mitchell’s book that criticized GWTW and was in turn almost censored by the Mitchell estate:

In The Wind Done Gone case, the Mitchell estate sought to use the protection of copyright to silence a work that was critical of Gone with the Wind, illustrating the dangerous line between protecting copyright and limiting free speech. The appeals court recognized this problem, overturning the decision on the grounds that one of the tests for fair use is whether there is sufficient creative contribution from the appropriator––such as parody––and finding in favor of the defendant in this case.

Edmond then turns to Place’s “White Out,” which you can view below, if you have not seen it live:

He writes:

Apart from signaling that she is rewriting Gone with the Wind by reading aloud the novel’s famous final line, Place’s performance is a non-reading, erasure, or “White Out” of the entire novel, in which she stands silently in front of her increasingly uncomfortable audience for two minutes. Of course, “white out” might also refer to the original text’s racist, white supremacist ideology and its silencing of other voices. The silence, then, is ambiguous: it could mark Place’s attack by deletion on Gone with the Wind’s racist ideology, or it could be a performance of that racist ideology’s stifling of other voices.

Read it all here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.