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GENDER HIKE

By Eileen Myles

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Actually I did drag the Yang Fudong concept mixed in with Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers without End and some Judith Butler (not a lot – maybe just the concept) into my workshop this week at Naropa. I invited poets who wanted to hike in the Rockies and write poetry and think about gender to take part in this weeklong event. We went up on a smashing climb to Chautauqua, which is in Boulder, and there we took a path to the Royal Arches. It was a beautiful and occasionally rough hike and though I generally think I’m in great shape I was er challenged, and once we got to the top Christie reminded us that we had to turn around right away so we didn’t miss the Burroughs panel. After all, they were in school and had responsibilities. I said (cowardly) how are you all about that. I’m okay they said to a one. I really wasn’t. But I like being strong so I was bolting down the mountain talking to Harlan about John Wieners who seems to be becoming everyone’s obsession. And I got a cell phone call from New York. I’m on a mountain I explained. And returned to the walk. By now a dash. My foot landed oddly, so oddly that momentarily I was in devastating pain, and a loud yelp, a fine poem, came out of me and mostly I thought I am screwed. So much for my hiking week. Just a sprain I guess. Not in the plan at all. Luckily there was a conventional classroom ready for us on the next day, and Xerox machines and the capacity to simply read aloud for some. I suppose for a really productive workshop you need copies but maybe not. The poems were pretty remarkable. I still see pieces of one, Adrienne’s:  “A shadow winds through the mountain and covers the town.” That seemed very clean to me. Adrienne took the class cause she really didn’t want a class. It’s her last semester. Basically she was through. The others I wondered about, but I kept bumping into them all week and everyone seemed in their own form of glad. We returned to the wilderness, well a series of ponds and a nice flat trail of Friday. What had this been, I wondered. I mean the whole thing. I brought in poems by CA Conrad and Carol Mirakove who I am both fairly obsessed with. Conrad smashes gender in the context of the family. Carol writes a soft flat poem coming in from all sides. Both of them write multivalent poetry. I wondered if I was just throwing things at my students, but something felt right. What the hell. We were sitting by a bench at the end of our walk and we were being late again. Anyone have a poem. Hannah volunteered. Who was massively allergic wore a white mask on both hikes and also she was massively shy. She stood by the pond reading a poem about being eaten by a mountain lion. It felt like nature and gender and sarcasm (or awe) all in the right (surprising) doses. Would you read that I asked. Do all writing conferences have a show and tell component. We seemed beyond that but here it was. No I can’t read she said. I could never read in front of people. The solution was that she read at this final colloquium and we surrounded her, we were all up close while she read the same poem which sounded very good, kind of poignant by the pond but in here  in the colloquium  it felt wild and proud. Her voice shook, we waved in the wind. It was really pretty good in the end. By now I’m all finished with the ice. I’m flying home. Next I have to put some heat on my ankle. Any ideas. I don’t own a microwave. Nor do I think I should.

Comments (26)

  • On June 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Get one of those freezer gel bags that you could use to ice your ankle and heat it up in hot (probably not boiling) water. And don’t carry a cell-phone on a mountain trail. Were you expecting a call from one of Rilke’s angels?

    In the 70′s I had a very talented teenaged student, Edith Hodgkinson, who later had a chapbook from Hanging Loose, who refused to read her poems aloud to the workshop. Finally she said, “I’ll read aloud if you all die.” So we all hammed stage deaths and while we lay there she read her poem aloud.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 7:00 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    I don’t know – I think at the time I felt it had some boyscout purpose like a compass, a cellphone but now I see it as idiocy. Oh that’s great that you can boil them. I had no idea. And great to support a shy student by feigning death scenes. That really underlines the meaning of life performance. I mean ha ha but kind of seriously.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:21 pm Don Share wrote:

    Wieners really is on the tips of tongues again; we should talk about him here, or maybe in a new thread!

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:57 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Did it ever occur to you that Carol might be CIA? It’s all too perfect. The mountain lioness with the fatal limp. I get it. & the dysfunctional Boston poet. Heard it before – on tape.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:14 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    p.s. in my view, at the moment, John Wieners is clearly a unique, lovable & tragic (or tragi-comic) human being, but not a very good poet. He WILL make a good Boston figurehead & martyr, though, for the industry. The fishing industry, of Boston, Massachusetts, that is (not to be confused with the rum trade @ KENNEDY).

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:25 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    p.p.s. limp, limp.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:23 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    here or anywhere. I think Hotel Wentley poems is still one of the most dazzling sequences I’ve ever read. His capacity to fall and rise in the same poem is phenomenal. At Naropa I hung out w Basil and Martha King who knew the Dana of “poem for the old man”. Dumb as dishwater they said. But the gesture of leaving a lover to a hoard of men was such a strange kind of pagan gesture of love. And generationally odd, like the young man bequeathing the older man to the collective, sort of a reversal but so entrancing you might not think about it.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:23 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    You’re missing something Henry.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:25 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    now I’m missing something. i don’t get the limp, limp.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 6:24 am thomas brady wrote:

    I agree re: Wieners.

    Isn’t there the danger of the bad chasing out the good?

    I never understood this ‘how many mediocrities can we lionize today?’ attitude. Is it pure p.r.? Ignorance? Or, misplaced lurve? (as Desmond would say)

    I guess you have to be there…

  • On June 27, 2009 at 10:25 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    Since it’s not clear what you’re agreeing re wieners I’m assuming you’re championing him too. When someone as delicate and great as wieners gets called mediocre I can’t help thinking something as simple conventional standards of masculinity or even glib homohobia are underlining literary judgement. All the crap about Boston figurehead and all is just obscure nonsense. Is there a predjudice toward mid atlantic angst going on here, that a new england poet must be historic or sentimental. There’s a failure to read here I think. I’m sure you have not read his work with courage or attention. To read Wieners you have to to some extent have patience with your own moment to moment feelings. Are there poetry readers male or female who find that kind of undefended reading threatening.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:23 pm Mary Meriam wrote:

    Eileen, Henry was sprinkling hilarious fairy dust all over Harriet in the wee hours last night. I was there. (Thanks for those laughs, Henry.)

  • On June 27, 2009 at 3:14 pm Mickey O'Connor wrote:

    What I found-one thing- in reading Weiners was how he presents emotion or sentiment in his works. He places sentiments on the same level or place in the poem as other things,alongside car exhaust, birds, yellow taxis flashing by in the rain & that makes the emotion more powerful or affective somehow. He presents these various phenomena of his from his present world in a remarkable & deft juxtaposition & that’s that & there’s a poem ! Not that it comes off slapdash . On the contrary, some feel impeccably controlled, steered. He’s the deftest poet I know of & completely terrific.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 3:17 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Weiners is another poet this community convinces me I should read better.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 3:29 pm Terreson wrote:

    What a good idea for a workshop setting. Poetry, gender, gender poetry (?), and the (near) wilderness environment. I am wondering about the extent to which the setting vectored the poetry, the dynamics, and the discussions. You know what they say in the real estate business: location, location, location, or, location is everything. I rather feel the same way about the environmental impact on poetry. Did you notice anything different about the poetry and the discussions?

    This last week I was up in MA. By day working in cranberry bogs inspecting honey bees there for the pollination. By night I was in a motel room, just another motel room the samenesses of which always disorient me. The only time I watch t.v. for more than an hour is in motels. There was this movie remake of the Flicka story. Not a great movie. But the theme was kind of interesting. A dreamy girl whose horse rancher father is domineering. She befriends a wild mustang, a kind of horse her father hates because it cannot be controlled. Slowly and with much pain-price to pay she befriends the horse, half-tames it. Through Flicka’s wildness she finds the strength to stand up to her father and defy him. She finds her own strength. The kicker is that, through the girl’s devotion to Flicka, the father finds his own redemption. The double kicker is that this wild mustang is a girl horse, a filly. The message could not be clearer. Father is saved from the steady creap, encroachment, of civilization by his rebellious daughter and her girlie mustang whose instincts are still in tact. Now there is a twist on gender politics for you.

    By the way, Eileen Myles. It has taken me awhile to get the hang of your prose style and syntax. I think I got it now. The profit is mine.

    Terreson

  • On June 27, 2009 at 5:22 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Wieners ia awesome. He provides very strongly a phyiscal experience I don’t get from reading many poets, and I’m always looking for it the last few years. I can only describe as a leftward orientation. I mean that when I read him it feels as if there is really strong undertow towards the left of the margin–an undertow that happens before every line so it’s as if the carriage of the typewriter is far to the right of where it should be and the real line starts far to the left of the words of each line. I have no idea how he achieves this–I think it might have something to do with the slowing-down, the reporting of moment to moment experience Eileen describes. Does anyone else have an experience anything like this while reading him? And does anyone know of other poets who provide this feeling? Does anyone have any idea what this might be about? Maybe a right-brain thing?

  • On June 27, 2009 at 5:26 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Looking at it again I wonder if it might be that he consistently starts on a powerful upbeat–a stressed syllable or beginning of a phrase–but since it’s free verse (skillfully avoiding iambic meter) you don’t really notice it as a rhythmic thing–it kind of sneaks up on you. Though these two lines concluding a poem are completely dactylic:

    glassed in their eyes and hide words
    under the coats of their tongue.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 2:26 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    One thing I found in the workshop which only classically existed on one day is that we had “common ground” of a location sort. I mean in workshops the group looks at a certain say historic poem, or student poem, or has a common assignment. But for landscape – I mean to some extent this always happens. I was teaching in San Diego for a few years and I felt the problem of my poems and the students was writing poems there. But to set out to hike is to set out to make the hike the studio so to speak. So there’s a common gathering to some extent. To which weirdly though they signed for it many of the students had resistance to using. That there needed to be a better or more informed name for a tree. I felt like that might have wound up being the true location of the workshop and the poems. I only saw one day’s worth of poems and then a couple more. More are filtering in now. I since leaving the academy have been wanting to resist the workshop in many ways especially where product is the end point. I thought process. Why not let what we did or touched on be on the road of your ongoing process. Like one long poem of a life pretty much. We see chips.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 2:29 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    I love how you think about poetry because everytime I think, really? I know I count but I’m sort of deliberately unconscious about it. I wld never suspect that Wieners wrote dactyls though it reminds me of the late great Paul Schmidt saying that Dennis Cooper wrote his fiction in dactyls. I wonder about Wiener’s notebook or typewriter at that time. Surely his poems were written in either but my mind (and the margin you discuss) slides to the typewriter. How one would fling the carriage recklessly and a new level of flatness would occur. His poems are almost emotive stripes.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 2:30 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    that’s beautiful. It’s kind of a universalizing weighing you describe.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 4:02 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    The great Charles Potts, an irreverent and iconoclastic ex-student of the questionable Ed Dorn, and the most charismatic poet of our transgressive and highly immature Berkeley poetry revolution of 1968, was quite surprised when I told him many years later that the last two lines of his obliterating poem Fu Hexagram 24 No Hangups, which begins:

    Charlie Potts is dead
    and I wonder if i should
    be opening his mail
    just as if it had been
    addressed to me
    by all his friends

    are, when the line break is omitted, perfect iambic pentameter:

    if everything is true
    this match will sparkle

    I like how we can say “great” here (Gonzalo Rojas, Willard Schmidt, Charles Potts), especially about the invisible poets or the ones from Chile or Thailand or the ones you aren’t reading in 72-point type, meaning I value this, this has been important to me, check it out.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    What I have reservations about is using “great” in any other way, John.

    I worry about checking it out simply because it reminds you of something else, like influences or allusions, or that it establishes a pedigree, or props up your arguments for a new school, style or movement, particularly when those arguments are based on how much you’ve read and how you get around.

    Not “this has been important to me, check it out,” but “this has been so important to me I wanted you to read it too.”

    Don’t just talk about it, in other words. Don’t just footnote it or file it.

    Also poetry is not created great, it grows great. There are many silly little poems that mean a lot to me because I have lived with them for so long. They speak with ancient voices, from the other side, so to speak—like “So Much Depends Upon.” A puff of a poem if there ever was one but so ever young, talismanic and refreshing. A touchstone in our poetic culture.

    Christopher

  • On June 28, 2009 at 10:01 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    I’m still puzzled, Don, by why suggest a new thread. Was there something wrong with this one?

  • On June 29, 2009 at 6:24 am thomas brady wrote:

    re: Wieners. He wasn’t nice to my friend, Antonio G. (1925-1989) Harvard ’50. I knew Tony, a gay man, at the end of his life, when he was retired. Antonio was a poor Italian kid from the slums of Boston who turned himself into a ‘renaissance man,’ fluent in French, German, Italian, sang opera, saw combat at D-day, wrote an exquisite lyric of a dead soldier he came upon on the beach (unpublished), had a Fullbright to Italy, taught poor kids in Roxbury, was a school teacher for a living; he knew John Giardi and when John said he was going to translate Dante, Tony said, “But John, you don’t know Italian,” and I’m sure Tony rubbed people the wrong way sometimes; Tony had what I can only call a blunt, sincere, peasant sensibility, but very noble and charming in sort of an old-fashioned way, which didn’t quite fit into the suave Harvard blueblood set–they looked down on him; he didn’t get along with O’Hara’s circle at Harvard; O’Hara, for instance, cruised the men’s room at Widener Library at Harvard and Tony would never do that; Tony’s sense of literature was more severe and scholarly and not as flip and contemporary and amusing as the O’Hara set; the New York School simply didn’t make an impression on Tony. But, as he always put it, “I was willing to live in their world, but they weren’t willing to live in mine.” He repeated, quite often, in his old age, something Wieners told him when he was younger: “Renaissance Man, go home!” So I’ll admit I’m not really in a place to ooh and aah at every one of Wieners’ so-called dactylics…I am prejudiced…

  • On June 29, 2009 at 8:56 am Don Share wrote:

    No need to be puzzled. I simply imagined discussion of Wieners might deserve a thread of its own. Nothing wrong with this one.

  • On July 1, 2009 at 2:11 pm Cathy Halley wrote:

    He’s about to wind up in our archive online.


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, June 26th, 2009 by Eileen Myles.