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“Kunstelerroman” by Anne Barngrover, read by the poet

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

“Here’s the rising action: I’m just pointing / out a pattern along my journey," Barngrover writes in her poem “Kunstelerroman," which first appeared in Bear Review, Vol. 6, Issue 2, and which is a poem in her manuscript in progress, Everwhen.

Throughout the poem, Barngrover illuminates these entanglements between the female artist and a romantic other for whom, or around whom, she has made her poems from her woundedness. Throughout, you’ll hear the speaker do her best to break the patriarchy’s narrative habitus, the heteronormative schema which amount to scripts for mind and body states we’re expected to follow through our sexual and romantic development, by disattuning and writing her own identity (one that actively troubles expectations of gender performativity) in spite of and against what others have always tried to inscribe for her.

And, you’ll hear a catalogue of times she was abandoned, or kept from obtaining what would heal her: "…people keep trying / to take what’s sweetest from me." The litany you’ll hear suggests the speaker has been treated as a discarded object, is agentless and is without the will to make her own choices. Throughout the poem, there’s that old script. But Barngrover makes it clear the exigent complexities of love and relations are never as simple as any crit theory formulation such as this, which itself would amount to a set of culturally ingrained ideas, far less oppressive but confining nonetheless. So, we hear Barngrover both complicating her expression and simplifying it with the syntactic dexterity of one who can say it new, para-critically, from within the script about the script:

Left over

a bundt cake I burned then taste-tested with my hand.

For the party, the hole was covered by a strawberry.

I am choosing to write in the passive voice

because there is nothing left after leaving. That’s a lie.

They’re always coming back, and there’s this place

two inches below my belly button where

if you press down, it brings release. It’s a rope

being yanked, a knot in necklaces and string.

What I’ve found most inspiring is Barngrover’s uneasiness over the public, reinscribing spectacle of forming bonds and breaking them, at least in how the phenomenon and representation has been constructed and reproduced by Western patriarchal cultural traditions, including lyric poetry. As a poet who has written reflexively about love and loss and recovery unto new love, I admire her unflinching confrontation of our art’s complicity in the scripting of these strange and often misogynistic performances of love and loss:

We are arriving at the part where I’m supposed to

either find some acceptance or turn away in arrogance.

And wasn’t I already scorned for doing both?

My art has always worked like this: I make it

for you and I give it away. It hurts and you leave.

It hurts and you leave. We’ve reached the end now.

We’re back at the beginning. You’re still here.

— Marcus Myers


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