‘Low Budget Movie’ by Kendra DeColo & Tyler Mills: Pushing Back Against The Norm

Anna DeNelsky

In her famous essay, “The Laugh of Medusa,” French literary critic, poet, playwright, and philosopher Hélène Cixous discusses the role of feminism in authorship: “Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodiesfor the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal.” Kendra DeColo and Tyler Mills harness Cixous’ sentiment, tapping their experiences bringing women to writing in their poetry collection Low Budget Movie (40 pages; Diode Editions). Through the voice of a singular speaker, the authors traverse the delights and dangers of a commoditized society. They uncover the violence and misogyny that lay not-so-deep under the lure of capitalism’s props: mink fur, gold glitter, glossy guitars. The reader is forced to examine society’s excessive consumption and the treatment of women’s bodies as another one of these props, subject to desire.

Blunt, quirky, and beautifully twisted, their language takes unexpected turns and often leaves the reader lingering in fragmented thought. DeColo and Mills write with specificity and emotional honesty, focusing on the experience of living in a female body, “That particular tenacity of yeast infections/from wearing a wet bikini all afternoon… ”

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The poems unveil the daily challenges of women forced to confront male chauvinism: creepy men in Dunkin Donuts, entitled boyfriends, and stalkers. In the final poem of the collection, “What to Wear to Report Your Stalker to HR,” the authors illustrate the injustice and hypocrisy women experience when reporting verbal and physical assault:

The head of HR finally speaks, looking me up
and down–first my toes mashed into my boots, his eyes

dragging doubt up my legs, then my high
necked sweater, my mouth, my eyes. Like a bat

adjusting its wings, he shuffles my list of incidents. Just look
at this evidence. Who is to say you aren’t stalking him?

The authors do not sugarcoat their messages nor dilute their language. Rather, their poems are unapologetically direct, a form of pushing back against sexist norms that suggest women must adhere to a certain appearance or etiquette. “Must. not. make. eye. contact. with. / the. mail. man. lest. he. think. / I. am. dying. for. a. fuck.” The distinct language makes the reader laugh, wince, grow angry, and ruminate on the poems beyond their immediate place in the collection. By deconstructing patriarchal hierarchy and the masculine form, DeColo and Mills, as Cixous might put it, utilize writing as a means of authority and reclaim the female body.

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