Subverting the “Girlie” Calendar: December

harkness

Ms. December

Outside December’s window howls the bark
rolled endlessly, big ocean’s opal foam,
then silence. Then she thinks of her shalom,
then longs for home, then hears the morning lark.

A “girlie calendar” makes one think of men’s lockers, walls of auto repair shops or a military barracks: They’re typically collections of nude or scantily dressed women in provocative poses, designed for the male heterosexual gaze.

But what if a girlie calendar is designed with a lesbian gaze in mind? That sort of subversion is what lesbian poet Mary Meriam has in mind with the title of her new poetry collection, Girlie Calendar, and for the Ms. Blog she is excerpting from the book a poem-of-the-month (she began in October; see November as well). Meriam is also selecting accompanying artwork for each month from both historical and contemporary lesbian-related images.

December’s artist, Hilary Harkness, has been represented by Mary Boone Gallery in New York since 2003. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and is in the collection of the Whitney Museum. She has taught painting and sculpture and lectured widely at institutions such as Columbia University, Yale University and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Harkness recently cocurated a show of Roy Lichtenstein’s late nudes and interiors.

Best known for her detailed paintings of worlds inhabited only by women, Harkness explores abuses of power, which she presents on an intimate, yet grand, scale. Sex, war, reproduction, free markets and scientific experimentation play out on an uncensored stage–tethered to historical moments and real-world settings.

The work in oil seen here, “Alice at Loggerheads,” is one of a series of paintings that revolve around the marriage of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, as they compiled one of the most significant art collections of their time, which included works by masters such as Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne. Harkness says,

Through these paintings, I explore the power struggle at the center of Gertrude and Alice’s relationship. I envision Alice as a powerful woman in her own right–however, she deployed her immense powers for Gertrude’s gain and left little to nothing for herself. In this painting, she sits there resigned and smothered by the mantilla created by the silhouette of Gertrude as portrayed by Pablo Picasso. Alice, with her hickeyed breast sadly bared, is a vibrant figure dimmed and reduced by the stronger wattage of her choice to become the woman behind Gertrude. And yet her power lingers within. She has used her last bit of agency to seal her fate.

“Alice at Loggerheads” reprinted with the artist’s permission.

MaryM

 

Poet Mary Meriam is the founder of Lavender Review, cofounder of Headmistress Press and author of The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet’s Zodiac, Word Hot, Conjuring My Leafy Muse and Girlie Calendar.

About

Mary Meriam advocates for the right of women to love each other in their poetry and art, and strives to give their work a place at the table. She writes about and publishes such work in the journal she founded, Lavender Review, at the press she cofounded, Headmistress Press, and at Ms. magazine, The Critical Flame, and The Gay & Lesbian Review. Her poetry collections, The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet's Zodiac, The Lillian Trilogy, and Lady of the Moon, honor a cosmos of strong, creative women. Her latest collection, My Girl's Green Jacket, was published in 2018, and her poems have appeared recently in Poetry, Prelude, and Subtropics.