This past week was finals week for me, both as a teacher and a graduate student. When I wasn’t grading student essays, I was cramming for my own exams and rushing to submit final portfolios. Imagine an out of shape 44-year-old baseball player sliding into home plate. Asί terminé.
I’m happy to say, though, that it wasn’t all pain, sweat, and skid marks. There were those queer little chapbooks that accompanied me during my end-of-the-quarter madness, offering momentary escapes, carcajadas, and poetic musings. I love me some libritos (AKA chapbooks). Aside from being easy-to-carry, they are quick reads and generally inexpensive to make and purchase. Although as a writer I have to say that putting a chapbook together no es cualquier cosita. Tiene su chiste. Tiene su magia.
Take Myriam Gurba’s latest chapbooks, Sweatsuits of the Damned (which won the Eli Coppola Memorial Chapbook Prize of 2013) and A Flower for that Bitch (the story formerly known as A Rose for Emily). Rumor has it there was some Frankensteinish electricity guiding the births of these strange lovely creatures.
|Gurba Wielding Chapbook-Making Electricity|
As always, Gurba's poetry and prose does not disappoint. Her “klassy” rewrite/re-envisioning of Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, for instance, lo tiene todo: crazy Southern bitches, a mysterious Mexican moso, butcher knives, smelly corpses, and critiques of old-school White privilege, tax evasion, and welfare. There are even warnings of the extreme dangers of not eating enough fiber (this chapbook is good for your health, Raza).
Faulkner’s famous 19th Century character Emily Grierson is the main protagonist in Gurba’s A Flower for that Bitch. But do not fret y’all, you won’t get stuck in the deep South in the post-Civil War era. That would be like having to watch a re-run of Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind or as Gurba eloquently sums up, that would be “some Django shit.” To lessen the trauma of the traumatic setting (Mississippi KKK town circa 1890's) Gurba provides us with a subversive re-scripting of Emily Grierson's vida loca. Best of all Gurba give us an orgy of anachronisms, such as sightings of KFC, Norman Bates, Bettie Davis taking a selfie, Christina Ricci in chains and calzones, Homer Simpson, Madonna, and a mention of “the Aztec cure-all: Vicks VapoRub.” Because everyone, even crazy peeps from the Southern post-Civil War era should know about and have access to that beloved Mexican panacea, VapoRu.
This librito, with a photocopied strand of Gurba's hair in the final pages, is too weird of a journey to recreate. You gotta buy and read it yourself to experience and believe it. You will laugh. You will freak out. You will say, "WTF?" If you cry, it will most likely be because you are laughing or because the stench of the smelly corpse in the story rose out of the pages like steam and messed with your eyes and your nostrils. I can't wait to teach "English" Literature again (hopefully soon), so that I can have students write a comparative essay between Faulkner's and Gurba's versions of this story.
Gurba's grade for fucking with Faulkner = A+.
Gurba’s other librito, Sweatsuits of the Damned,
está bonito, even if it is wearing a damned sweat suit. Since it’s a Radar Production and a prize winner, the chapbook has a cover made out of fancy cardboard and it is hand-stitched at the center. But don’t let that fool you, it has still got the ghettofabulous Gurba touch, as is evident in her following short poem:
Downward facing wassup dog?
Spread ‘em, hands against the wall.
I know it is a tad ridiculious, but isn't it great? When I asked Gurba how she comes up with all this wacky chapbook material, she FB messaged me back with the following: “I will write something that I’m pretty sure is unpublishable but something that I think would like to interact with people. I do believe that things we create enjoy interacting with society, and so I take creativity into my own hands and decide to self-publish. I do it because if I don’t do it, probs no one else will. Even if my art is shitty, it has a right to live. Just like so many unaborted babies who grow up to be shitty adults. I need to be engaged in projects. Otherwise, I feel a desperate sense of languishing. It’s like having homework! Adult homework.”
I leave y’all with a short excerpt from Sweatsuits of the Damned. To purchase Gurba’s libritos: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Lesbrain
To read her blogs: http://lesbrain.wordpress.com/
My parents took my twin brother and sister and I on day trips to relatively desolate California missions where Spanish priests once enslaved native people and forced them to tend heirloom goats, make candles from rendered fats, contract poxes, and bury one another in mass graves that resembled capirotada: Mexican bread pudding.
I rejoiced during these childhood day trips to the missions.
During them, an odd quiet felt untouchable.The smell of anciency seeped into my sweat suits.
I walked through oatmeal cookie crumble chapels and across bishops sleeping dreadfully beneath altar tiles.
I looked out tall doors, along stone veranda, to our minivan parked alone in the parking lot. I looked at the wooden crucifix standing in the parched crab grasses. Its lumber would burn if it got any hotter.
Indian ghosts rubbed against me. They were welcoming me psychically and whispering into my brain that they had suffered and died and that they liked my shoes.
Velcro, very innovative.
|Myriam Gurba: As American As Capirotada|
Myriam Gurba is the author of Dahlia Season (Manic D Press 2007), Wish You Were Me (Future Tense Press 2010), and several self-published things. She worked as an editorial assistant for On Our Backs and toured North America with Sister Spit. She irregularly blogs at lesbrain.wordpress.com. She is allergic to penicillin.