and holy scented essence of heart’s ease.
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 and continued in November, December and January). Meriam is also selecting accompanying artwork for each month from both historical and contemporary lesbian-related images (and this month’s description of the artist’s work is written by Lisa L. Moore).
January’s artist, Louise Abbéma, born in France in 1853, was an award-winning painter, sculptor and designer in Belle Époque Paris. Her first success was a portrait of her lover, the actor Sarah Bernhardt. Although her paintings of male writers and political figures also achieved fame, she had a lifelong interest in painting beautiful women. Abbéma often showed her female figures holding flowers—a symbol, as in Manet’s “Olympia,” of the visit of a lover. In “Matin d’Avril, Place de la Concorde,” both the strategically posed flowers and the direct, knowing gaze from model to viewer (and painter) seem to allude to Manet’s forthright portrayal of outlaw sexualities.
The seemingly more decorous “La Dame Avec Les Fleurs” (1883) shows a woman in a high-necked dress reclining on a couch (see top of page) beside a large, untidy bouquet. But it employs a pose reminiscent of the tradition of female nudes from Ingres to Manet (Abbéma also painted some luscious female nudes), as well as that forthright gaze, to undo the subject’s starchy Victorian collar. And in Abbéma’s late-life painting “Flora,” (the cover of Meriam’s Girlie Calendar, above), an exploding profusion of floral motifs creates an Art Deco patterning of vulval shapes across the surface of the canvas. The model’s emphatically crossed legs draw our attention to what is concealed by this gesture, but revealed by the inviting, petaled openings dancing across the rest of the painting.
Top: “La Dame avec les Fleurs;” below that, “Self portrait” (c. 1895-1900) and “Matin d’avril, Place de la Concorde, Paris“ (1894), all from Wikimedia Commons
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.