Review of Dylan Krieger’s ~ Giving Godhead
Delete Press, 2017 (with a note about dreamland trash, Saint Julian Press, forthcoming February 2018).
So you missed Allen Ginsberg’s oral-earthquake “Howl” at Six Galleries in SFO on Friday, October 6, 1955. Stop lamenting. “Howl”’s heir is at your fingertips. NOW. It’s by Dylan W. Krieger.
Dylan W. Krieger’s February 2017 Giving Godhead, from Delete Press, is such a City Lights oral performance on the page that you might be forgiven—if anyone is forgiven for anything in Giving Godhead, which is not always clear—for thinking that you had heard the “new” Ginsberg. But Ginsberg himself surely would have trouble with this proto-nostalgic reverence, for who would the “new” Ginsberg be? Certainly not anyone who sounded “like” Ginsberg. The new Ginsberg would somehow have to do the old one better, would have to re-map the territory. This is what Giving Godhead does. If Krieger is quickly becoming the oracle of a generation (and her dreamland trash will be out from Saint Julian Press in time for AWP in February 2018), Giving Godhead is a manifesto that invokes Ginsberg while owing nothing aside from history to him.
If you order a copy of Giving Godhead, you will receive a paperback with a color/black-and-white cover of a dead, carbuncled body praying, an apparently-live tongue being dissected, perfect fingernails on hideously contorted fingers, and a skull cut open at the back to reveal nothing but crumpled paper. You will also find an epigraph from the Marquis de Sade and, most moving, a dedication to “all god’s/ little trauma children/ lonely kneeling/ molested & infected/ for they shall/ inherit his girth./” By the time you get to the first section of the book, “Quid pro Blow,” you know you are holding as much a manifesto as Ginsberg ever managed, but altered radically by gender, generation, and method: the narrator of this collection has gathered all of Ginsberg’s mouthy assertions into that great ball of a question, the “why virus,” aimed directly at the nature of creation and its fundamentalist interpretations and seriously injured along the way by a body that can be at once itself and its opposite, the embodiment of extreme pleasure and the site of extreme unsought hell. Though the poem “why’s virus” doesn’t come till page 55, near the end of the collection, its traumatized and fierce voice undergirds the entire book. This voice doesn’t need to inherit an “earth”: it needs to inherit a “girth” equivalent to God’s failed presence, His failure to save, to rescue. There. That’s the truth. For those of us who know and read this book as a balm of truth, that’s the truth. And Krieger gets it, over, and over, in a collection that opens and closes with a deracination of syntax and a fury that reminds us—if we needed reminding—that a deep and foolish complacency lies at the heart of the principle of a “JUST GOD” who would PLANT A LANDMINE IN THE GARDEN IN THE FIRST PLACE??? (“rectifier,” p. 15).
At first glance, Giving Godhead looks a little as if someone had given Emily Dickinson Adderall—lots of em-dashes, short lines, long long lines that don’t in fact sound like Ginsberg, nearly every conceivable variant on poetic form. Ironically, the one poem that most “looks” like a poem, “why’s virus,” also contains both the most deeply moving, earnest child’s moment and the most potent “note to the self.” If you are raised to be devoutly religious but have the propensity at every moment to ask “why,” questioning becomes a virus—which is to say, you become a disease to the converted—and the “why”’s never stop, in part because—behind those questions—you realize that you, little mortal kid that you are, are actually kinder, more loving, and more just than the God you are being taught to worship, and worshipping a Creator who is inferior to ordinary you is obscene: yet that is what happens, day after day. “note to the self: roar to the world: the lord is just another dirty bird” (“why’s virus,” p. 55). But roaring doesn’t mean you’re not already infected, and part of that “infection” is sexuality: no better example in the experience of being human than such intense, private pleasure as a young child discovering her body but also intense pain and shock at what others inflict. Sexual trauma and divine betrayal are the two harmonic vibrations beneath all of Giving Godhead, and though no specific moment of violation is named (though “quid pro blow,” about forced oral sex, is about as graphic as one could get), the narrator spells it out in “apostles anonymous” (p. 53): on the one hand she is such a spiritual failure that her only purpose is to await the inevitable rape (and “rape dreams” appear in “in media rape” (p 14), “scaredy creature” (p. 19), “swaddling plot” (p. 21), and “automessiah” (p. 24); on the other hand, in her fury at her unasked-for and untenable position she has become de facto a force to be reckoned with, one who in the absence of a just God is entirely capable, if need be, of inheriting God’s “girth.”
Krieger is a scholar of Latin and 20th-century analytic philosophy as well as a poet--Giving Godhead won the Robert Penn Warren Prize for best MFA thesis at Louisiana State University in 2015—and it’s worth studying her curriculum vitae at dylankrieger.com for its abundance of prior publications, a number of them “academic” articles that presage her future work. Krieger’s engagement with the “Gurlesque,” via Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg’s 2010 anthology Gurlesque, is useful as a reminder that defiance is not a one-note performance (and Krieger’s interest here centers as much on contemporary visual performance art as it does on literature). Defiance embraces the “grotesque,” including the improbable orifices and excretions of the body, re-defining the body as necessary with humor and wit; defiance embraces pleasure at the bodily and emotional sites of historically masculocentric dominance; definance embraces the “riot-grrrl” within the interpretable text of the secretly wounded. Krieger’s work shows its debt to the “Gurlesque.”
But in retrospect—as with queer Ginsberg—nothing really in the past could prepare the world for the prophetic paradigm of Giving Godhead. If—veering sharply for a moment away from Krieger’s text—Harold Bloom’s brilliant redactor J, whom Bloom renders female, had for a night muted her wounds to sleep with the ancient poet-warrior David, who himself exceeded his creator, the result, lost in the dust of history, would have been a new and outraged heaven and a new and outraged earth. In our new time, not 1955 but 2017, that result is the new howl, Giving Godhead.
Theses Introduction ~ Giving Godhead
“As its suggestively punning title implies, Giving Godhead is a volume of poetry that challenges the boundary between the sacred and the obscene by conflating biblical images of “holy” acquiescence with sexually deviant forms of submission characteristic of BDSM roleplaying. This conflation of saintly and sinful acts of submission naturally centers around a meditation on Christ’s Passion, emphasizing the paradoxical way in which the Christian savior’s simultaneous authority and obedience fashions him into a heteronormative archetype of both masculine dominance and feminine submission, despite his own supposed celibacy. However, the manuscript ultimately looks beyond individual biblical narratives to illustrate their central commonalities and even interchangeability, locating echoes of Christ’s violent subjugation in Torahdic plagues, exiles, and burnt offerings alike. Similarly, this guiding principle of conflation or interchangeability extends also to Giving Godhead’s richly musical aesthetic, which features dense wordplay and double entendres in order to demonstrate the inevitable sensual trans-figurations of a “word made flesh” merely to be “broken and bruised for our iniquities.” In this way, Giving Godhead rewrites the foundational narratives of biblical mythology in light of contemporary gender and social theory, namely by portraying humanity’s relationship with a monolithic deity as the primordial paradigm of an imbalanced and abusive power dynamic.” ~ Abstract from Giving Godhead – Dylan Krieger – .
Dylan Krieger works as a magazine editor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she recently earned her MFA in poetry and co-directed the annual Delta Mouth Literary Festival two years in a row. Her cats and warm jackets, however, still reside in the Catholic stronghold of South Bend, Indiana, where she was born, baptized thrice, and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. Her first book, Giving Godhead, was released in February 2017 from Delete Press. Her other poetry projects include a collaborative satire of big-budget action movies, a collage of automatic captions from alien abduction documentaries, and (mostly recently) an irreverent reimagining of philosophical thought experiments. Saint Julian Press will publish her second book of poetry, Dreamland Trash, in February 2018.
Thomas Simmons served as an associate professor for the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT, and for over two decades in the Department of English at the University of Iowa. He was a doctoral student in English at the University of California, Berkeley, a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford, and a Stanford University undergraduate. He is the author of seven previous books; one, The Unseen Shore: Memories of a Christi- an Science Childhood, Beacon Press, 1991, which may have caused some offense in Boston. He presently resides in either Grinnell, Iowa, or on a boat on Lake Michigan out of Chicago.
By Dylan Krieger