Letters to Kelly Clarkson
Prose poetry by Julia Bloch
2013 Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Poetry
If I have any agenda, it is one of desire. On television, we can see each curve of your skull; you live in a land of light gels and leg doubles, while meanwhile in our neighborhood the train has torn a groove in the road. Or, to be more specific, the body as a bright insect, without wings.”
In this sequence of prose poems addressed to 2002 American Idol reality TV show winner and insta-star Kelly Clarkson, Julia Bloch engages an America more willing to choose its next Fox, Coke, and Ford spokesperson than its next elected official. Through these letters, Bloch disassembles the faux-political phenomenon of the Fox Network reality TV smash hit, invoking critical questions about celebrity, democracy, femininity, and desire, as well as the mass cultural corporatization of the female body. Letters to Kelly Clarkson takes up these issues in poems that combine the intimacy of the epistolary form with the sonic intensity of verse. Employing formal methodologies aimed at interrupting and foregrounding the cultural politics of that intimate address, such as cut-ups, aleatory practices, non-narrative prose techniques, and parataxis, these poems mediate the tensions between local pleasure and global capital through the desirous and politicized spectacle of the pop star.
“As Julia Bloch turns her razor-sharp gaze to American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, she adopts the beseeching tone of a fan and the intimate address of a best girl confidante. All women know what it’s like to be watched, but for Kelly, it’s that scary feeling upped a notch, like the viewers’ eyes have been pumped full of steroids. The gaze works both ways: the ghost of Kelly Clarkson follows Bloch everywhere, from San Francisco girl bars to Midwestern family reunions. For all their complexity of diction, there’s a touching simplicity to Bloch’s poems. By taking Kelly seriously, on her own terms, Bloch moves beyond the safety of ‘camp’ into a realm of genuine tragedy and love. It’s a stunning collection.”—Dodie Bellamy
Cover art by Laura Splan (wallpaper and blood)
“It may seem like froufrou to those of you who never loved a star, but actually the deepest parts of ourselves, and the ugliest parts of our social spaces, is what is invested in such poetry. Bloch is an amazing young writer who could do just about anything, but she decided to write a cockeyed masterpiece instead.” —Kevin Killian, Amazon
“The letters posit Clarkson as container in which a multitude of cultural neuroses about femininity, desire, and the characteristics of reality fit, leaving readers feeling anxious about their own complicity in a system which venerates Clarkson’s emptiness.” —Sarah Burghauser, Lambda Literary
“In this book, ‘the battle isn’t outside’; rather, it is about the internal lives of women — and one woman in particular — struggling with the confines of ‘femininity’s dystopic embrace.’ While the narrator, Clarkson, and the book’s other women are constantly renegotiating their connections with (and disconnections from) one another and the world at large, their toughest struggles, Bloch implies, are within themselves.” —Chris McCreary, The Volta
“Bloch’s poems borrows text from a variety of sources — Wordsworth’s Prelude, Stoker’s Dracula, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s paper on The Matrix. This expands the scope of the book beyond the obvious questions of celebrity, and puts it in conversation with other works of poetry, fiction, politics, and philosophy. It is a testament to craft that Bloch weaves these multiple conversations seamlessly into a singular, intimate conversation with the first American Idol.” —Rachel Mangini, Bookslut
“And like other collections that follow a similar form (e.g. Spicer’s After Lorca or Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy's), direct address to a cultural figure or entity infuses the book with a certain amount of levity. But the humor inherent in this imagined correspondence does not negate the more serious theoretical concerns of the book.” —Joshua Ware
“The blips divulged in Letters to Kelly Clarkson by Julia Bloch could almost make a reader blush with how personal and, at times, crushingly earnest they are.” —Charlotte Seley, Rediver
“Most often, Bloch ties her prose poems to Kelly as a means of leading readers through the ways in which our daily processes somehow reflect the popular media of the day. The poems that are about Clarkson, however, are some of the most beautiful.” —Andy Emitt, SPIN, “Celebrating Pop Poetics: 25 Poets Who Draw Inspiration From Music Icons”
Julia Bloch grew up in Northern California and Sydney, Australia, and studied at Carleton College, Mills College, and the University of Pennsylvania. From 2006 to 2011 she co-curated the Emergency reading series in Philadelphia. She is the recipient of the San Francisco Foundation’s Joseph Henry Jackson Literary Award and the William Carlos Williams Prize for Poetry. In 2008, her poem “The Selfist” was adapted by composer James Falconi and performed by the Network for New Music at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. In addition to three chapbooks, her poems, essays, and reviews have recently appeared in Journal of Modern Literature, Aufgabe, P-Queue, Sibila (translated into Portuguese), and elsewhere. She is an editor of Jacket2 and lives in Philadelphia, where she teaches creative writing and works as associate director of the Kelly Writers House.