Amy Gerstler Essay - Critical Essays


Amy Gerstler is a prime example of a poet who represents the fundamental nature of postmodernism. She often writes poems in prose rather than in more traditional poetic forms, and the surrealism of these poems suits their subjects well. Her poems offer popular culture references reimagined in an often amusing way, and she uses marriage and weddings as a broad theme that echoes through all her work. Another frequent theme is death. Her use of references from popular culture and narrators who are ambiguous in terms of both reliability and gender, as well as her experimentation with what a poem must be, creates a realm of otherworldliness for the reader that places Gerstler directly in the postmoderm tradition.

The True Bride

One of the most noticeable elements of Gerstler’s poetry is her use of a wide variety of narration options. Often eschewing the traditional “I” and speaking from her own perspective, Gerstler uses a dramatic “I” that is not always immediately noticeable as a voice. She puts herself into other personas and writes from their perspective, blurring the lines of identity and gender. One example is the title poem, “The True Bride.” Focusing on Elaine, an invalid whom the narrator has fetishized, the poem reveals more about the imaginary narrator than Elaine herself. Through Gerstler’s poetic prose, the narrator dreams of many physically ill and handicapped women coming to him, calling these dreams his “ideal pornography.”

Gerstler inserts references to popular culture in many of her poems. One of the wittiest is “Dear Boy George,” a poem addressed to Boy George, the androgynously dressed bisexual British pop star. Referring to a perhaps fictional incident in which Boy George rescued a drowning girl, Gerstler writes, “. . . I’d give anything to be the limp, dripping form you stumbled from the lake with, draped over your pale, motherly arms, in a grateful faint, as your mascara ran and ran.” Gerstler provides humor through the image of the pop star with his mascara running but also conveys a sense of confusion, as the narrator is a teenage girl who seems to have fallen in love with a bisexual man who prefers men.

Bitter Angel

Bitter Angel continues the themes, experimentation, and references to popular culture used in The True Bride. In “Della’s Modesty,” Gerstler intersperses quotations from Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels, focusing on Della Street, Mason’s secretary, as well as quotations from other sources such as Havelock Ellis’s Psychology of Sex (1933), Gustave Flaubert’s Dictionnaire des idées reçues (1910, 1913; Dictionary of Accepted Ideas, 1954), and Stendhal’s De l’amour (1822; Maxims of Love, 1906), in a story of her own to explore how Della Street interacted in a sexually charged manner with Perry Mason: “The strength of the denial of desire. Permission. The unveiling. Modesty means to defend. Modesty is a beckoning.”

A more startling example of this use of popular culture is in “An Unexpected Adventure,” which revolves around fictional girl detective...

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