Girl Work: A Review of Maggie Woodward’s Found Footage
Maggie Woodward’s Found Footage is published by Porkbelly Press, a “queer-friendly, feminist” independent press based out of Cincinnati & focused on “work with a strong sense of voice or place, often with a touch of fabulism, folklore, or magic.” It quickly becomes clear that Porkbelly is an obvious home for Woodward’s collection, which is being released as part of their 2018 chapbook series & is a handbound piece of weird magic.
I open the cover, a bright orange that I immediately associate with Halloween, to a collage of black-&-white film headlines warning of monsters, blood, & its inappropriateness for the “impressionable adolescent”.
This uncovering enhances the chapbook’s title, visually underlining its connection to the idea of film footage. This makes sense because Woodward, a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi’s (poetry) MFA program, is now pursuing a PhD in Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Southern California. Flipping to the first poem of the collection, the title is played on once again, this time with a “found” poem created & pasted together from cut-out words, resembling a ransom note or the love letters I liked to make for my imaginary boyfriend in middle school.
This leads into the second poem of the collection, “Omen,” a witchy & gurlesque musing on the biblical tradition of Christ’s blood poured for an “eldest daughter … born blasphemy …. born a snakebite … born to have the Word of her name spoken first.” It ends with a command to “say it. say it.” & Woodward does say it, freely & without apology, claiming the body, the loneliness of not being touched, or loved, the right to be beautiful or violent, to take up space or leave. “So what / i like watching people / kills people onscreen,” she writes candidly, laying her speaker bare. The horrors of this footage play out over & over again: unreciprocated love, a body untouched & uncomfortable, a girl dead, a girl lost.
The book is peppered with horror movie imagery, the kind of horror that is digestible, that we only watch because we know it isn’t real & are drawn to because we know that it is easier to parse gory, dramatic, monster-laden horror than the horrors of a real, female life, which is so much bloodier than any movie, filled up & dripping over with nosebleeds & violence & menstruation, as shown in “Uterine,” where Woodward writes:
i woke up to my uterus screaming … every
second there’s a part of me that’s tightening. i
don’t mind dripping blood from my soft
tissues / from my insides / i don’t mind …
i don’t mind being dangerous / i
don’t mind a dead egg in my crotch. see all
these things i can do that you can’t …
but i don’t think you’ve tasted my blood.
In the midst of these poems, the “found footage” continually returns in the form of erasure poems, taken from a sexy, sleazy British ‘zine published in the late 80s & worked to create glimpses of the girl who inhabits this collection, as well as to implicate the reader’s existence in this narrative, with lines that point at the reader, such as “it’s all sex volume her pretty Hollywood joy There’s you in the bath.”
Woodward never shies away from showing the reader her footage, letting you know she is collecting these moments of tragedy & terror to use them. In “All The Footage From October,” a poem broken into sections that span several pages, it is October over & over, always the month of witches, ghouls, spirits, and hallowed evils, always the month where tragedy strikes. Here we are finally given the girl who died, Kathleen, who haunts these poems, & the worry-sick that haunts the speaker, making her open to violence & tender towards any potential killer. The speaker speaks to an unnamed you, offering, “cold-blooded kill me. gut me. slash me to bits,” and promising “I’ll wipe / your knives gently when I muss them with / blood.”
Still, despite the feelings of imminent wreckage, of being trapped, of continually having to open the door the monster lurks behind even while the viewers scream at the screen for you not to do it, of being unable to keep tragedy from coming for you and the ones you love because that’s what the script demands, Woodward does not create a helpless speaker in this collection. She [the speaker] continually grabs power for herself, writing “I am not afraid to say I want love … & I will witch/ all wild things to my palms” (which is one of my favorite lines/images in the collection), and “I am ready for your nightmares.”
In every horror movie, someone always survives until the end, outlasting all of her friends, her family, every stranger who was chopped up, thrown out, left for dead. This speaker is determined to be the survivor, to live on despite how lonely it is always being the only one who made it to the credits. This speaker demands love & life, no matter the carnage. “I have tried to make this matter,” Woodward writes in one poem. “I want to become honest,” she leaves as the final line in the collection.
This collection is created from Woodward’s own found footage, full of horrors that the reader must watch play through, but it does not leave the reader dangling in the genre; instead Woodward offers constant deliverance & lets the lovely moments repeat in the reel. So, make a cup of tea, curl up on your gross couch on a gross day, & read some poems about blood & knives & unhinged women & cherry coke from the wonder whip.
- Girl Work: A Review of Maggie Woodward’s Found Footage - April 26, 2018