The Sealey Challenge: Catcall

Holly Melgard's CATCALL, a small book with light green lettering against a softly textured pink and white cover, sits in the branches of an evergreen, a leafy bush's branches brushing to its left.

I think I was seven or eight the first time I was catcalled, although I’m not really sure. I’d say I’ve gotten used to it—I’m in my mid thirties now, after all—but one doesn’t really get used to the invasion, the threat of violence thrumming under the surface, or just above. Holly Melgard’s Catcall is pretty creative—I mean, I don’t think anyone’s ever hollered anything deeper than BIG HIPS! or BIG TITS! at me—but it thrums with violence at every word, the promise of aggression growing with each page.

Catcall is, I think, satire with thorns, spiked with iron. It slices like a knife, and it can be difficult to read. At one point, fairly early, as Melgard is still building to the full promised violence of the end, she writes: “I’ll bet you’re fun. // I’ll bet he is fun. // Yeah I’ll bet you’re fun. You look like it. / You’ve probably got one of those fun butts, / don’t you.” I guess it might seem bizarre, at first glance, but I think most of us women and femmes have had something similar screamed at us, as we’re getting off the train or waiting for the bus or walking home. I’ll admit I cringed: I felt that oily voice, wrapping round me, nothing I can do but walk faster.

Melgard builds the tension throughout Catcall, every word placed to make readers cringe. Ugly Duckling Presse notes that she wrote this piece for performance. It would make a powerful bit of theater, or live literature, whether performed by one voice or many, the horror building with each page, every word a threat. To be honest, I think it might be a trifle overwhelming if it were performed—but I think that’s probably a good thing.

Catcall isn’t particularly easy to read. It’s powerful, slicing like the blade of a knife, a chapbook dripping with thorns. It is short, and not a particularly easy read, a piece that demands reflection. Melgard is more creative than most of the guys who have catcalled me, but her words drip with violence, every page a threat closer to realization, a powerful reminder of the inherent violence and dehumanization of street harassment.

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