“There is nothing else in this world / like realizing / you’re going to live / and not being sure / you can.”
From Claire C. Holland, a timely collection of poetry that follows the final girl of slasher cinema — the girl who survives until the end — on a journey of retribution and reclamation. From the white picket fences of 1970s Haddonfield to the apocalyptic end of the world, Holland confronts the role of women in relation to subjects including feminism, sexuality, violence, and healing in the world of Trump and the MeToo movement. Each poem centers on a fictional character from horror cinema, and explores the many ways in which women find empowerment through their own perceived monstrousness.
- Title: I Am Not Your Final Girl
- Author: Claire C. Holland
- Cover Artist: Claire C. Holland
- Publisher: GlassPoet Press
- ISBN: 0692966633
- Publication Date: February 28, 2018
- Content Warnings: sexual assault
I Am Not Your Final Girl is a howl of pain and rage, a feminist unburdening. This remarkable volume of poetry is a tribute to Final Girls that is both tender and fierce in its love for the horror heroines who make it (or should make it) to the ends of our favorite scary movies. This book is more than just a treat for fans of horror cinema; it is an exorcism of patriarchal demons and a call to arms for women and non-binary femmes who want to write their own endings.
Each poem is named for a film heroine, with the film’s title and year listed after her name. This simple act is revolutionary in and of itself — each woman becomes the star of her own movie, and the reader must reorient their thinking to recognize her as a fully realized being of (all-too-fragile, yet incredibly strong) flesh and bone. Holland doesn’t allow the reader to reduce these women to body parts to be ogled or carnage to be devoured. She forces you to see their faces, say their names, and feel their stories. Even when the heroine has no given name, as in the cases of She from Antichrist and The Female from Under the Skin, this titling convention lends reverence to their formerly anonymous-sounding monikers and imbues the names with the characters’ own essences. They are not Jane Does; they are She and The Female.
The collection begins with “Rosemary,” an ode to Mia Farrow’s character in Rosemary’s Baby, which is soon followed by “Carol,” a tribute to Catherine Deneuve’s character from Repulsion. I struggled at first with the inclusion of two Roman Polanski films…how can you express your admiration for Tarana Burke and the #MeToo movement in the introduction, I wondered, and then exalt the works of a rapist? But as I said above, Holland is centering the heroines in her work, not their abusers. Ultimately, I see “Rosemary” and “Carol” as reclaiming those two characters and arguing that they — along with all real-world victims of sexual violence, whether they be female, male, or nonbinary — deserve better.
(A personal note: That reconciliation doesn’t mean I’ll ever watch either film again. I’ve watched both and loved both, which is something I still struggle with, but I cannot and will not watch a Polanski movie ever again. I’ve avoided this topic in the past because I’ve been afraid of fellow horror fans judging me for the decision, but it’s not a subject I can avoid in this review if I want to maintain any honesty or integrity. One thing I can promise you is that I will never lecture you or judge you for what horror movies you choose to watch or not watch. I merely ask the same in return.)
Holland organizes her poems into four sections: Assault, Possession, Destruction, and Transformation. Again, by distilling common horror tropes into such stark and simple language, Holland makes us reexamine them from fresh perspectives. First, we see the sadly universal language of abuser and abused, of oppressor and oppressed: the word “possession,” for example, stops conjuring up images of little girls vomiting pea soup and starts bringing to mind more mundane horrors. In “Laurie,” an ode to iconic final girl Laurie Strode from Halloween, Holland writes:
I ask you to tell me of a town
where this hasn’t happened,
where some brute dressed in black
hasn’t donned a mask, shadowed
a woman, called himself a monster
to blot out his own mortality.
Suddenly the Shape isn’t some mythical boogeyman, but just another in a long line of men who are all too eager to go out at night searching for young women to brutalize. These words are tired and bitter and angry, and as Holland demonstrates in every poem, women have earned those emotions countless times over. But soaring above the pain and anguish, there is also strength and beauty and hope. In “Transformation,” Holland invokes one of my favorite final girls, Jess from Black Christmas: “I can’t exist in a way that comforts you.” Jess is incapable of conforming to the expectations and demands of all the men in her life, including her would-be killer. Her true identity transcends the roles each of them would have her play.
In the penultimate poem in her collection, “Dana,” Holland calls for a revolution. In this tribute to the final girl from The Cabin in the Woods, she writes:
So maybe this is how
the world ends:
not with a bang or a whimper,
but with revolution.
The promise of something new.
Her final girls have survived the attempts at assault, possession, and destruction. Now they have been transformed into something new, something that will outlast the slashers and the villains. Holland’s final words to the reader are: “I will live.” This is a vow to herself, to us, and to the ones who want to tear her down. She will live.
I Am Not Your Final Girl is a searing work of art that will deepen your appreciation of your favorite horror films and perhaps even help you find new films and characters to love. It is a celebration of what makes horror heroines great, a heartbreaking love letter to the women who died fighting, and a promise that the rest of us will fight like hell…not just to stay alive, but to live.
I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve read this book since I picked it up a few days ago. I give it 5 out of 5 coffins.