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Poetry is Not the Final Girl: Katy Mongeau

By Trisha Low

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I have never met Katy Mongeau in real life, so I’m not entirely sure she has a soul. But that’s ok, because Katy is simultaneously a banshee, a witch, a wraith, a slave—and definitely that lady in that one horror story where she takes a wide velvet ribbon off her neck and her head falls entirely off. I mean, look, I’m not trying to make some fucked up argument about how women in horror are always typecast, subjugated, or have no interior life. But truth is, we can’t really ignore that part of horror either because it’s just really actually shitty.

Lucky for us though, Katy’s work recalls that possessing the abject is not always a matter of passivity, nor about assimilation. It’s about absorption. Which is another way of saying, being feminine in horror could be a way of making your actual body some kind of grimoire, a patterned, patchworked quilt of curses, blessings and lessons. A skinned surface upon which experiences are wrought and forged in order to serve as a guide to survival for other women as much as a warning to aggressors; a pleasing fetish object for masculine desire as much as a scarecrow—one that makes the literal horror of what we’ve wished into existence entirely undesirable. And it’s because of this absorption that Katy’s fiction—as much as it feels comforting and docile, stitched like a quilt—could also be spoken as an incantation, a spell.

Guess we’re all suddenly getting pissed on or bleeding out.

Guess I’ll just call a fucking ambulance already.

Katy Mongeau lives in Providence, RI where she is an MFA candidate in Literary Arts at Brown University. She is an assistant editor at Caketrain, a journal and press.

~*~

TL: Let’s start with the most obvious, but also most telling question in honor of my favorite horror franchise, SCREAM: What’s your favorite scary movie? But also, why? Do you think this has any bearing on your aesthetic practice? And I do mean that in the most general of terms, since no one in this series identifies purely as a poet.

KM: I don’t play favorites. I can’t afford to. I’m a by-the-book Gemini. What I love today, I burn tomorrow. But I’ll go with Begotten. The film doesn’t really have an influence over my work but definitely sisters it. All I ever think about is gutting myself. The thoughts are obsessive, as is natural with most of us in the world of self-harm. I’m interested in the energy that is produced by this compulsory exorcism and its religious and ritualistic embodiment, much in the way that Begotten is the story of both regeneration and destruction born of self-mutilation. Plus I’m a sucker for those jumpy colorless grainy shots, damn.

TL: I’m a Scorpio, so we’ll get along just fine.  I know you have a Blood and Guts in High School tattoo which makes us sisters anyway. I like thinking about gutting myself in relation to Acker, though. This idea that at the same time as you’re exorcising demons, all the demons are somehow also culturally scripted by expectations of femininity, or sexuality. There’s this interesting interplay between what one can’t control and what one actually needs to do to survive (anything to stay alive) inherent in the impulse to self-harm. But you seem to think a self-inflicted experience that can transcend our current world. That it can be a kind of regeneration—can you say more about that and how maybe a practice of reaching different-bodiness through pain plays into your writing?

KM: Kathy Acker has this great bit on self-harm in an interview in the RE/Search issue called “Angry Women.” She talks about having an attitude toward evil that allows you to confront it, digest it, and bleed it out so you can grow. The compulsion to hurt yourself isn’t inherent; it’s planted by these expectations you mention, and it thrives on the impossibility to meet them. Most outsiders focus on some imagined desire for an end, as if suicide is always the goal in every nick or lash. I never feel better than after I hurt myself. I suppose I think about wounds as a third eye, a sort of Bindi. Bad energy can leave and transform into something creative rather than destructive. Most people see physical wounds as destructive, but that shit heals and goes away, unlike the places and people (everywhere and everyone) that it comes from. Being conscious of this energy transformation can make self-harm extremely productive. I want to tie this to Audre Lorde’s essay “The Use of the Erotic” because I feel that erotic energy also has something to do with it–like, I’m trying to paint an energy generation spectrum of pain to pleasure, but I don’t know how to yet. It’s there, though, it exists. I feel like a yoga instructor the way that I’m talking about it, but I think it really is a spiritual process. Evil will consume you if you let it. I get nine months pregnant with it, and then I bleed it out. What’s born of that is what I parade around as art. Am I making sense?

TL: Oh you are making great sense, and not just because we’re twinnish about it. It’s interesting because I read your work and then I read Bataille, about accepting the worst consequences of the challenge of literature and evil, that to really write good literature you have to basically learn how to take it, to be, as you say, impregnated with a shit ton of bad in the world and to literally bleed it out. More people in our world could learn how to take it up the ass, so to speak (and like it, too). But there’s a delicacy in your writing, in the way the images are stitched kind of seamlessly even as they’re horrific. Like how Leatherface skins the faces of his victims and stitches them over his own painstakingly. How do you feel about the unease of these stitched transpositions?

KM: Ooooh I have a Bataille tattoo, too! The horrific is always embedded in transposition. Most of us aren’t scared that Jason is going to climb out of a lake and murder us and all of our loved ones because we got too drunk in the woods, but I think we’re all scared when someone who has been beaten down by society is enraged and violently lashes out, given power by hiding behind a mask. For me, transposition is never forced. I don’t know how to tell you a story, what happens to who. I see a quiet woman knitting and it evokes more violence than any knife-wielding psychopath could.

TL: I never really thought about it that way, that horror can be something that literally materializes relations that would otherwise be quiet or silenced. That it is the pinnacle of domesticity in a way, or the process of domestication because when something is tamed, there’s always the risk of it being set loose. And domestic tropes are kind of all over horror—the mad woman in the attic, Carrie’s mother trapped in her own religious nightmare, dolls that come to life. Do you think horror is kind of intrinsic to the domestic space, and do you feel it’s specifically gendered, feminized?

KM: I absolutely, 100% think that horror is feminized. I think it “started” with Lilith and never really stopped. Long gone are the days of female admiration. The more that society/culture has cornered and caged women, the more both women and men have rightfully become afraid. We’ve cultivated a population to be simultaneously angry and stimulated by a woman’s nipple, among other normalities. A recipe for rape and other violence. I recently saw the movie Brain Damage and that was the first time I ever remember thinking “oh this is a critique on male sexuality” while watching a horror movie. Horror is just an exaggerated actuality/commentary of how we view women at any given time. Shouldn’t we just call it whorer? Isn’t it always the virginal vs. the restofusnormalpeople?

TL: Aaron Winslow in his interview calls horror in part the violence of gender, the violence of being-gendered. But do you think maybe this can be reversed, or exploited by the gendered subject? Do you believe in the possibility of catharsis—in the revenge fantasy, or horror-as-redemption? Are there feminine horror heroines that you think accomplish this xtra well?

KM: Sometimes I feel on the edge of thinking so. In the cases of rape-revenge types, maybe, but I’m always disappointed. I very much agree with Aaron’s view, that horror is [almost entirely] the violence of being-gendered. I can’t see it being reversed because that would mean the whole world would need to be reversed. There aren’t any roots for that. Where does fear come from? I don’t think it comes from a desire for power. Attaining power is always an exception in the case of gender, so each “success” only highlights the constant failure to me. Little victories feel like smug reminders of who’s on top. I’m curious to know if you think there are any heroines who actually really do this. Maybe I just haven’t been watching the right movies. Also I’m so terribly negative, a skeptic, hopeless.

TL: I think my heroines are always the ones who know that there’s no way to come out on top, who are tough only because they’re about to fall apart and there’s not really any protection against that apart from violent dissociation. I’m interested in that violent dissociation because it often gets displaced into neutral forms like you say previous to this, the domestic. I like thinking about like trance-like actions like knitting not really to be the kind of woo-woo spell but as a means of displacing the self. A re-understanding of control. Which is kind of also how I feel about the abject—that it’s actually another form of understanding control even when it seems so unwieldy. Losing control to regain it. Katy, tell me your hopes for 2015 what do you want to control and not?

KM: Everything you say about dissociation is the truest. Dissociation is always more horrifying than physical violence since it’s an irreversible violence, a mental violence internalized from the surrounding violence to make control when we don’t have control. An apparition to fill the void. The scariest. Well, wait, actually I think telepathy is the scariest. Where can I hide if you won’t get out my head?

Anyway, 2015? I hope I forget what everything’s called. I hope I can control more of what comes out of my mouth and less of what I put on paper. I hope I can’t control my arms and that you can perform telekinesis. I hope I get left alone. I hope when the lights come on it’s all gone.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Friday, April 17th, 2015 by Trisha Low.