Monday, April 30, 2007

Spoken Beats

The spoken word poem is, to be accurate, the revival of a very old tradition.  Although stated right at the beginning of the book, it is possible that this thought can be easily forgotten when you begin to delve into the actual works found in the book itself.  That idea, that forgetting of the tradition that comes with spoken word, would be a horrible idea.  It is all to easy in reading poetry to forget that poems were born for ease of memorization, and it is the flow, beat, wordplay and rhtyhm that is so often praised (or defamed) in modern music that gives poetry, good poetry, its power.
When reading these poems silently, off the page, when hearing them off of the recordings, when reading them outloud to yourself, all three are a different experience.
The very first poem of the collection, "Poem for the Root Doctor of Rock and Roll", is a prime example of this quality.  Although the collections audio cd has no reading of this poem, it is a magnificent (if extended) bit of rhythm and word-play, opening up with a deluge of slang and poignient visual metaphor, using these same metaphors in more and more refined sense as 'rock and roll' goes from its original progenator, to its more commonly known and accepted practitioners, such as Elvis.
In contrast, and in perhapse a far more impressive display, if again lengthy, is Regie Gibson's 'funknawlegy'.  The poem finds and keeps a fairly steady beat, accelerating and decelerating in the hands of a master of spoken word, using repatition to keep the entire poem from spiralling out of control, and to tie together sundry concepts into a single, unified effort.  In short, these poems each exemplify the reasons spoken word was, and is, such a strong force in poetry; reasons that should prevent spoken poetry from being allowed to, once again, go quietly into the night.

Belatedly kinky

The poems from the reading 'Kinky' were as interesting for their variety and frank discussion and analysis of various cultural elements.  From racial issues touched on through the sundry 'Ethnic Barbie' poems, to the more subtle, aesthetic or political elements that the poems often found need to touch on.
For example, the poem where Barbie is a space alien (the name of which I cannot recall, and my copy of the text has apparently returned to its own planet to report its findings.), there is a strong element of the absurd in the poem - who in their right minds would possibly believe the story that Barbie is in fact an alien invader.  Yet the poem, through that absurdity, touches on an element that is running rampant throughout modern America; the government, and the people at large, find more and more absurd accusations and perceived threats, when the most elementary arguments could easily show that the problem is vastly overstated - if anyone were inclined to listen, or gain the proper awareness of the issues at hand.
Yet in that same poem, in its closing lines, the problem becomes a two-way street.  No longer are those making accusations the only ones who are ill-informed, but also those who argue in the defense of a given 'threat' are improperly informed, the information that they are familiar with being restricted solely to the information necessary to defend their points rather than all the information necessary to make an informed decision.  In the end, neither side's claim makes any sense.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I really like this book of poems and using Barbie's lack of feeling both physically and emotionally to tackle different issues women fake. I think my favorite was Kinky and maybe Hispanic Barbie. The idea of sext bettween two feelingless things like Barbie and Ken and that desperate attempt for connection was so truthful to me and so hilarious. I also really got into the one's talking about Barbie's depiction of Race in general because it's so true that there is no racial differentiation other than skin colour. Barbie tried to recognize different racial backgrounds but it always heinously failed.

There's a Mold for Everybody

When we first started reading Kinky I remembered how the Barbies at my house always used to fight. My parents would get frustrated with the doll limbs and heads that they would find flung everywhere around the house. As long as we didn’t make a mess, though, my parents encouraged us to play in whatever way we wanted. They thought that gladiator battles or dress up were equally appropriate for either gender, and let us choose our toys and what we would do with them. I always felt like I had sort of dodged a bullet that hit a lot of other girls. I didn’t feel the need to be blond or girly and I was happy about that.
When I read “Hispanic Barbie”, however, I remembered a Mexican Barbie that someone had bought as a gift for me when I was little. I think the idea was to make me proud of my heritage. For some reason this Barbie never took part in the gladiator battles that all the other Barbies did. She still sits on my dresser back at home, black hair perfectly in place, white, red and green dress arranged prettily around her, green eyes and bright red lips smiling up at me whenever I look in the mirror in my room back at home. I started remembering vague thoughts that I used to have when I’d glance at Mexican Barbie, and then look at myself in the mirror before going out “I wish my lips were that red” or “if only my eyes were a little greener”. I think one my favorite lines in the whole book is, “Girls, like some grown men, like a variety, as long as it’s pretty”.
By creating Barbies that girls of different ethnicities can relate to, they aren’t helping girls to be more accepting of themselves, they’re saying that there is a mold that you should be fitting into, no matter what your skin color. Girls want a toy that they can at least somewhat relate to, and Mattel has done a good job of making such a variety that there is something for everybody. What I love about Kinky is that the Barbie we relate to is a Barbie with feelings, and insecurities and life crises. We don’t relate to her skin color, or the fact that she plays soccer too! We relate to frustrations with societal pressures and rather than being unable to relate to the tiny waist and big boobs we’ll never have, we are unable to relate to fingers that are stuck together and an inability to move or speak. What Barbie doesn’t have makes us appreciate that we aren’t Barbie.


I know a lot of girls who grew up on Barbie. My little sister used to put Barbie in her pink convertible and then push it down the stairs screaming, “CAR CRASH!” in pure glee. She would put the leather clothes of her Elvis doll on Barbie and put the hot pink leggings that were meant for Barbie on Elvis. I don’t really think that she thought anything of it past, “this looks funny.” My first girlfriend my sophomore year of high school used to play with Barbies too. She would cut their hair and take pictures of them in explicit poses. I don’t really think she meant anything political by it. She was high most of the time and was kind of lame. I don’t really think she thought anything of it past, “this looks funny.”
Anyway, Kinky is a pretty heavily charged book of poetry based on the idea that Barbie creates a false and unrealistic ideal for the children she is marketed at. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s seriously fucked up how skinny Barbie is. And, her feet do belong in 12th century China. Maybe it’s because I’m a male, but I think that most of the little kids who play with Barbie don’t really notice. And a lot of little girls, at least from what I’ve seen, just like to fuck her up. Which is pretty cool I guess. And, going off what Jared said, I think that it would be pretty sweet if Barbie did heroin. Or just had veins. But then I guess my sister's car crashes would have been kind of bloody. That would have freaked me out. Damn.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Piercy, Lifshin, Gallo-Dunn,Piercy, Lifshin, Gallo-Dunn,Piercy, Lifshin, Gallo-Dunn,Piercy, Lifshin, Gallo-Dunn,Piercy, Lifshin, Gallo-Dunn,Piercy, Li

I never wanted to be my GI Joe Duke, but I'm pretty sure my next door neighbor did.
John told me once when we were kids that he wanted to be a soldier when he grew up, so that he could "kill people and come back a hero" and people would love him. I remember asking him honestly if he could ever actually shoot someone and kill them. I must have been acting out my confusion loudly in his front yard, either that or he talked over his blood lust with his father later that night in such a way as to make me seem like it was my idea to take our Nerf guns to the next level on the city, because the next morning I got a stern talking to. I was walking to the bus stop and John's dad met up with me before I got there. I remember him telling me I was a sick boy. He said, "Have you ever shot a deer? Do you have any fuckin' idea what it is to actually take a life? You've gotta be messed up, man- messed up in the head to think it's cool to kill somebody." I didn't say anything. John Senior was right and I wasn't about to argue. I kicked a soda can and hoped that he had the same talk with his own son.
(1) I think that it is great that Barbie doesn't have any sort of external genitalia. I like that her fingers are stuck together. I say no nipples are good nipples. R.D. Laing's kids knew where babies came from before the age when I could tie my shoes without help. Whatever that means is that this anatomical-incorrectness makes kids ask questions, and that's important whether they are answered or not. These questions show that there is a perceived distinction between reality and plastic.
(2) I'm glad Barbie hasn't the veins for heroin.
(3) I think we have to flesh out the ways in which children develop morals before we jump to blowing up FAO and installing V-Chips in peoples adrenal glands. I've seen elementary school kids purposely cut themselves with safety scissors during arts and crafts. My little cousin used to think that every beverage someone older than her drank was a beer.
(4) Give your kids some toys and play with them.
(3 con.) I don't know. The child's mind has so few frames for reference, is constantly being bombarded with new stimuli and opinions that they assume are correct, and all in all they're just pleasure seeking freaks like us all. It's too much to say that less than everything all at once is the culprit of influence.
(5) I don't even know what I'm getting at most of the time.
(6) I Love You.
"It’s a conspiracy!" Carbo says as he hunches over and wags his finger in the air, pointing at nothing or no one in particular.
... It seems believable. A conspiracy directed to not only to control the minds of women but of the men who perceive and interact with women, reinforcing these very specific and unrealistic ideals of femininity. But where does it start? Who is really in on it? And really, does it matter to the individual woman or man?
We are influenced by everything we encounter. And once we become adults (or at least able to make some of our own decisions) we subject ourselves to what we want to influence us. I want to be an astronaut, so I will expose myself to the stars, the universe, and the feeling of weightlessness. One day maybe these things will shape me into a being that is capable of leaving our oxygen shell, or maybe I will just spend the rest of my life smoking pot, lying in empty fields at night and listening to pink floyd– not such a bad existence even without my dream of all dreams. But if were to expose myself to the intentions of these conspirators then yes! of course I would be warped into a woman that feels that her self-image is inadequate and that her mind is unimportant. I am fortunate. Because I have no need for this exposure or for the consideration of the ideas proposed by these conspirators, who I am sure are more numerous than I can imagine.
So what of all the others who are not dreaming to be astronauts, but to be classy ladies, wanted and adored by men. How can they avoid such exposure when it is the dominant perception of such qualities? I suppose the only answer is that they cannot. In fact no one can completely avoid such conspiracies. But we can all add this point of view to our repertoire in a way that does not conflict with the conceptions that we have ourselves. In other words, acknowledge these types perceptions but do not incorporate them into the filters that we view the ourselves and the world with. Easier said than done.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

the tide is high, and we're moving on

My recollection of playing with Barbie was that I tried to make her look like Debra Harry from Blondie. I got in trouble for cutting her hair into a very cool punk rock shag and drawing on fancy eyeliner with a blue ballpoint pen. My mom didn't have a lot of money to spare on toys, so I was stuck with my Blondie Barbie until I got too old to play with her, but that was okay. I still like Blondie. But that's beside the point...

Like the majority of women, I occasionally feel victimized by the media's fascist beauty standards. My appreciation for Denise Duhamel's book stems from her portrayal of Barbie as a fellow victim, not the victimizer. It has become de rigueur for women, even feminist women, to lambaste thin women for simply being skinny, when they are actually under the same or similar pressures as the rest of us. Who hasn't heard (or even said), “I HATE her! She's so thin!” Perhaps she was just born that way and is filled with other insecurities. Maybe she doesn't like her slender frame and longs to be curvier. Maybe her thinness is the result of an eating disorder or obsessive exercising. Thin women are not the enemy. Judging them for their size makes it okay for men or society to judge women by their size. Fighting against other women detracts focus from the real problem.

I think it is important for women to view other women as comrades in arms instead of enemies, and by portraying the ever-perfect Barbie as a victim of impossibly idealistic beauty standards, Duhamel draws appropriate attention to the source of the victimization, which includes the media and the fashion industry, and encourages us all (no matter the size) to work together to change those standards.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

No one knows for sure what she's talking about

My response will be slightly different than the others.
I went through the whole book of poems and selected my favorite lines. After that, I mixed the lines around to make a somewhat cohesive poem. hoorah!

Although a grown doll,
the soft spot at the top of her skull
still hasn't closed.
No one knows
for sure exactly what Barbie is talking about.
Yet we sense she picks her
the way she picks her

It is a complicated issue,
Barbie's signature trait of forgoing bra or panties,
whether she's out raking leaves or hostessing a formal party.
From the other room,
she overhears a human
telling her friend that women
make Barbie-feet just before orgasm
The only time Barbie used a sanitary napkin,
it was as a makeshift mattress.
She once held a junior size Tampax
as a whiffle-ball bat.

In the Hereafter, Barbies don't possess telltale
big boobs or teeny accent-mark-feet.
Instead, they resemble white
flashlights enveloped in dry ice.
The kindly Sister explains that if this indeed
is Barbie's calling she will never be able to go naked again
As hollow as the Tin Man,
she was ashamed about her absent heart.

Our impulse (is) to destroy
what is whole,
to coddle and love
what we have injured.
We can all look the same, as we jump into
a vat of anesthesia and knives
When the surgeons slices off her nipples to
put in the silicone implants, they decided to
leave the milk-outlets off because, after this,
the nerve endings would be dead.
(He) dipped
her legs in a full bottle of Johnson's Baby Oil
"Lick your lips,"
he kept saying
forgetting Barbie didn't have a tongue.
Her sassy lips refuse to part, making
her the perfect keeper of secrets. No one
(would) trace
this malaise
to Afterlife Barbie, her beatific blank-
ness; her commandments living in synthetic anima-

"Why don't you try running over something small?"
coaxed GI Joe, who sat naked behind the leg
of a human's living room chair.
They decide to exchange heads.

Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin
over (his) bulging
neck sock. His wide jaw line jostles atop
his girlfriend's body, loosely, like one
of those nodding novelty dogs
their personality quirks rubbing against the cosmos.
Sometimes, they were chafed.

She loves him because he knows nothing--
a mere fashion accessory to Barbie's crimes.
Math class is tough, says Teen talk Barbie,
not quite exasperated, but certainly resigned

Monday, April 16, 2007

I played with cabbage patch dolls.

You know, I never really got too into Barbie. Cabbage Patch dolls, those fat weeble wobble little people, and a wide array of stuffed animals were more my things. But reading Kinky still struck a chord within me. That's because it wasn't just about the toy. It was about womanhood and the stereotypes and discrimination women face daily. It was about the right to sexual freedom. And the sadness that has stemmed from racism ( ie, native american barbie, hispanic barbie, etc). And honestly, I appreciated that. It was silly, sure. But it was also empowering. Why shouldn't Barbie be allowed to join the military? And if her and Ken want to switch heads and feel all ooey gooey about each other, more power to them. I think the use of inanimate objects to challenge the labels placed on women, on human beings in general, was a wise choice. And to choose an inanimate object which also functions as the pinnacle of girlhood by representing the "perfection" of womanhood was/is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. Because by showing the "perfection" of womanhood in these different lights, by showing the inconsistencies and struggles Barbie faces, is, on a smaller level, deconstructing womanhood as we have been raised to know it.
I think my favorite poems were the ones on race because they not only brought up the issue of racism on a general level, but they also brought up the issue of being a woman of color. I have found one of the hardest parts of being raised in the All-American-Blonde-Hair-Blue-Eyed society we live in is the pressure ethnic girls have to be more "white," from Abercombie and Fitch with their jeans that won't fit over a Hispanic girl's hips to the constant bombardment of television commercials for long silky hair that flows that African-American girls can't naturally have. But the black Barbie is made just like white Barbie, just with darker skin. And the same for Hispanic Barbie. And Native American Barbie, she doesn't even really exist. And when you take a step back, away from the poems and the other issues they point out, and honestly think about how all the Barbies look exactly alike just with different shades of skin, it makes you think, are they really trying to convey diversity or something more along the lines of creepy indistinguishability?

dear barbie: kill your gods

The poems in Kinky were not quite what I expected. Judging from the cover (even though one must never do that, if adages are to be believed), with its bubblegum skinned Barbie of Venus of Willendorf proportions, the book would be full of bitter, acidic jabs at Barbie's very existence, blaming her for eating disorders, general feminine malaise, irresponsible energy use, and World War III.

The opposite isn't quite true - there's a definite criticism of what Barbie means in our culture. However, I think Duhamel's tone of examining Barbie as a victim too is interesting. She's not the enemy, she too is vulnerable to the culture that has developed around her. Poor Barbie has been constructed without basic human body parts and this frustrates her; she is frustrated by her inability to join the army and her perpetually-bent feet give her trouble. She is another example of the problems women face in society, not the cause. Her status as a mirror is especially apparent with the poems about the various 'ethnic Barbies' - Hispanic Barbie is hard to find; there's only one Native American Barbie left. The overwhelming majority of white Barbies is a reflection of our own culture's ignorance of non-white members and our latent racism, expressed even in our choice of toys.

I find this refreshing. It's nice to mess around with expectations every now and again. And it's true; Barbie's not the villain. She never asked to be made out of nonbiodegradable plastic (yeah, like what the hell is that all about?); she never asked to be constructed to impossible proportions. Possibly an atheist metaphor could be drawn out of all of this, but that's not really my forte.

Seriously, though, Barbie living through nuclear holocaust? On top of being assigned the sketchy status of impossible feminine ideal (Botticelli, eat your heart out)? Curse you, Ruth Handler. Curse you.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kinky - a criticism of conformity

Ideals and values always seem to be very dangerous, very discussable issues probably because noone really knows which are good and bad, which are positive and which are negative. The reason is as simple as it is frightening: our sense of good and bad is also only derived from indoctrinated values, morals and ideals. That makes it hard for us to control the ideals with which we influence our younger generation. With all the new media children today are influenced by society in many different ways. Among others, movie and music stars tell our children the perfect way to look, to think, to live for example.
In her book "Kinky" Denise Duhamel shows how strongly even the toy industry takes part in the indoctrination of our young ones with certain ideals by taking a close look at the number one traditional famous toy for girls, the Barbie. With many poems written from the perspective of the barbie, Duhamel criticises how Barbie only represents a certain class, a certain too conservative ideal that should be overcome and changed in these times. Barbie is this white, blond, blue-eyed girl with a waist about the size of her neck and only concerned with her looks. Through Barbie little girls are indirectly told at a very young age that these are the ideals they have to follow in life. This is what a woman has to look like.
Duhamel criticises in a sarcastic, half sad, half ironic voice how race is evidently still an issue, how there is no Puerto Rican, no Chinese, no Native American Barbie and if there is, it is not even half as popular as the original one. Girls are indirectly told they have to have long hair, even long blond hair. Sure we do want our children to know that eating healthy and not being overweight is important to enhance the quality of their life but Barbie's ridiculously skinny waist is unachievable for most normal girls thus indirectly contributing to the increase in anorexic girls. What is worse, instead of fighting these implications, the industry picks up on this trend by producing jeans for anorexic stars like Nicole Richie and advertising an disease as fashionable.
Instead of making a point that we live in a multi-cultural community today and that diversity should be desired, Barbie is a symbol for a conservative unchanging view on life, in which your race determines your status, in which women are merely men's accessories and in which we embrace ultimate conformity.
Barbie is just a symbol but so many of us can relate to it, so many girls have played with one, so many boys have either done the same or at least have broken one in half to annoy their sister. It is a toy everyone of us can describe, everyone could draw. Everyone has that same picture of a Barbie in mind. That is what makes it such a strong symbol, such a great tool for Duhamel's criticism and that also shows us as readers how much we ourselves have already been indoctrinated with the wrong or at least with a very selective view on life.

I understand that apart from the question of conformity there are other issues displayed, criticised or brought to attention in Duhamel's poems, for example the treatment of the Native Americans in "Native American Barbie" or gender roles and the differences between the sexes but I chose to discuss the question of conformity as it appeared to me to be the predominant issue in the book and because it struck me the most. On a personal note, Denise Duhamel has in one night become one of my favorite poets. I thought her poems very open, very easy to relate to but at the same time deep in meaning, sad, sarcastic, ironic, witty and honest.

A New Barbie Perspective

As I read through Kinky, I realize that my childhood was consumed by playing with a doll that was marketed to be unlike me and my experiences in every way. My favorite doll, Barbie, contributed to body image problems in America (me) and I had no idea. I think back to how none of my barbies were ethnic. Not a one. All blonde hair and identical, with the exception of my University of Miami cheerleader Barbie - who happened to be Hispanic and therefore tan, brown haired, and purple eyed. This collection of poems speaks to the girl inside who never understood the implications of her miniature play dates and the misconceptions about the use of my Barbie.

The poems are slightly disturbing to a girl who played with Barbie until she was 14. Rummaging around the box looking for the other tiny purple shoe. As the pages reveal titles like Hippie Barbie and Black Barbie History, they reflect not only Barbie's inner-thoughts, but societal thoughts I didn't know existed. Barbie, who is mocked in these poems for her so-called American Lifestyle and her supposed similarity to little girls' dreams everywhere, relates to me know more than ever. In Kinky, Barbie is more a real person than a character. She is an actual reflection of insecurties and dreams that all American girls and even woman have. This collection urges me to go back to the large pink box filled with tiny clothes and naked plastic, and play with Barbie from a whole new perspective.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thoughts on Kinky

This collection of poems would be so fun to make into an actual line of dysfunctionally realistic Barbie dolls. Codependent Barbie comes with an abusive boyfriend and enough makeup to cover a black eye; Neurotic Barbie comes with unnecessary meds and therapy bills; Fat Barbie comes with cake and mascara that won’t run down her cheeks when she cries herself to sleep at night.

The poems in this book never feel gimmicky, even though it would be easy to do with such strict criteria. There are just too many things to do with Barbie, so many ways to warp the image that the idea never becomes stale. Some of the poems take Barbie and actualize her, making the doll conform better to reality and making human flesh into that plastic ideal, no matter what shape or color it is. That is a way to use the Barbie phenomenon to empower and justify women instead of insulting and demeaning them. On the other hand, you have poems that criticize Barbie for being an ideal, since she is so deficient and fake, and using her to discuss feminist and political issues, as in the title poem.

In “Kinky,” Barbie and Ken have a problem that no human couple ever has, mainly being bits unyielding plastic and lacking genitalia all together. And yet, they end up encountering all kinds of relatable dilemmas: wanting to be someone else in bed, having to try crazy, degenerate positions to feel anything at all, and the ever-presence of a lurking gender/sexuality crisis in Ken (in men).

Barbie and Ken are representatives of humans (even if they are unrealistic) and as such serve as an excellent metaphor through which to discuss anything tough, be it gender, race, politics, sex, or sexy and racy gender politics, which is exactly what this collections does.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007