- Interview with Laura Mullen
The following is excerpted from an interview conducted in New Orleans on March 3, 2012. Further discussion took place over e-mail during the fall and winter of 2012–13.
I want to preface my first question by saying that I was watching your Vimeo last night, Trash Bride, and it reminded me of a reading/ performance piece you gave at the Advancing Feminist Poetics conference at the CUNY Graduate Center a few years ago. The bride in your work is a very complicated—increasingly complicated—image, often marking a site of the crossing of high and low genres, and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.
I have a version of this story that begins here in Louisiana, and unsurprisingly so, since it’s a place where there’s a fair amount of pressure on a particular notion of feminine sexuality and the feminine, we could even say, feminine value, having to do with being (not to put too fine a point on it), worth marrying. This is a place where young women get breast implants, “enhancements,” for a graduation present, when they graduate from high school. This is that kind of place. It’s serious. But the pressure I’m speaking of here is also a (larger) cultural pressure that has returned on a level that people maybe aren’t talking about too directly. A former student (fairly recent) who did her undergraduate degree at Duke, for instance, said her classmates were more interested in whether they got husbands than whether or not they had careers. So . . . there’s some return [End Page 199] to the idea of a woman’s value being based on her relationship to a man. And so I could start to answer you speaking from this context: “the South,” and my play with the figure of the Bride, from the AdFemPo performance (“White Inc.”) and on to the new book forthcoming from Otis (Enduring Freedom: A Little Book of Mechanical Brides). But it begins earlier: recently I recovered a draft of a poem written when I was an undergrad at St. Mary’s College (for a semester in the early 1980s). At St. Mary’s (where the women students were all in their skirts and hairdos), I wrote a small poem in which I see a gardener (the grounds of that expensive private school were lush and well tended) walking across the lawn with a big white plastic bag, and I see him, in the poem, as “escorting a docile bride across the green.” So it’s clear that the bride, the bride as high and low, pure and also a sack of trash, is a figure for a concern that’s always been there, now rising to a kind of hysterical/historical intensity as I move into the final book in my trilogy of books that play with low genres: the romance.
It’s interesting that you associate the bride specifically with low genre. I mean, you know, as potentially trash in our culture, but also that image circulating through low genre.
Well, she’s a kind of border or transition figure, something like the way Freud talks about money, maybe. She’s both incredibly precious and also incredibly worthless. She’s being sold off, or given away, or moved out. She’s super important, she’s super pure, but she’s also at that moment, on some level, being contaminated and even thrown out. The point is the instant of purchase. Last summer I did a class on trash at Naropa, for the Summer Writing Program, and for the class, I had a wedding dress that I brought with me. . . . I gave a talk, and then, involving everyone in the community project (with the generous cooperation of Lisa Birman and her great staff) put the gown in the office, and invited everyone at the school to put trash on the dress. That was intense. I asked for clean trash (because the office workers had to live with and work around that huge white monster) but people pushed that in exciting ways (spilled fingernail polish and...