I went to an amazing reading in New York the other night. I’m in SF now so I better write about it fast before it entirely goes away. Initially I went uptown to appear with Honor Moore & Kate Millett to talk about Stonewall 40 years later. Mostly I was thinking that I was 19 at the time of Stonewall and straight and in Boston and more excited about Woodstock. But I had figured out a few things to say and then sat in the backroom at Barnes & Noble with Honor waiting for Kate. Just when we threw in the towel she arrived, looking smaller than I remembered her, she’s older, and we all approached the table with mikes and Kate sat down in the middle of us. Honor is still in the mode of promoting a poetry anthology of the women’s movement, but this event was simply to talk and it was mainly Kate. You can’t underestimate a smaller older person – no matter what the line of conversation was Kate would perversely or glowingly and sometimes elegantly take it someplace else. She would seize it. It was kind of not worth talking cause you knew pretty quickly what would happen and then the Q & A part began once “the conversation” was over and when it became clear that all the questions were for Kate my mind began heading downtown to the next event and as soon as I could I ran. I actually kissed Kate someplace on the cheek and told her how much I loved Flying and Vita. Or was it Sita. It’s true her work was important to me and she definitely turned me on to Henry Miller in Sexual Politics. Even a lesbian can love a man. Sometimes even especially. There’s certain things we don’t want from men and that is good. Steve Carey is a poet who died in 1989. I knew him and I knew he was a good poet and I know his brother Tom Carey very well. He’s one of my best friends. Steve Carey was from California, he died young, and he was a friend of the Berrigan family and his new Selected Poems, the cause of the event, were edited by Edmund Berrigan, a poet himself and Ted & Alice’s son. When I got up to read Steve’s poems I spoke about how he was. I described Steve as kind of a wrecked Viking and how he either looked like he was in a Bergman movie or a Western. He and all those guys in that social group I chiefly remember from the 70s spoke in an oddly affected way like they were speaking entirely in quotes. And loud. What was that about those men I asked rhetorically and then I read a couple of Steve’s poems which, the ones I picked, were chiefly about sex. Steve was a man who loved women. He loved men, but he really loved women. He loved women in a graphic way that is appealing to a lesbian. I’ll quote a poem of his but not at this moment.
When Tom, Steve’s brother got up last he commented on what I had said about how these guys spoke. They were all from LA Tom explained. They had grown up in the heart of the film industry. Their father was an actor; all their parents’ friends were actors. So that’s one thing, but also these guys had grown up in California watching old movies late into the night, smoking pot and laughing and then getting in cars in the golden age of the hard sell ad on car radios especially in California where the pitch was long was so was the ride. We talked that way because that’s how we listened. Wait. He’s telling me that in some ways that they acquired speech from the media. That their writing voice was acquired not through human collision but through humans developing their own presence by listening to mechanically reproduced voices all of the time. This is the poetry of California, not New York. It’s an utterly different school, and that was the language we were hearing all night, the poetry of this tall blond guy who spoke like the movies, stopping and starting, making a joke, a kiss:
FOR MY LADY THE BEGINNING IS IMMENSE
We die to choose who!
Hotels move in our heads.
Under the news—complaints, always
(By which, incidentally, apocalypse is kept
Unsensed without a ramp).
You, choosing me,
Light the merit penmanship, love-certainty—
Age, brittleness, ivy, snow,
What have you.
Do not sneer at this. Me certain.
The unable mirror never pushed light
That summoned, or that special;
Every way I turn, arms burst their darks.
A suitcase, remember, means “for life,”
As in “that day” (or camp).
Details in New York
You will carry it uptown, this journal;
A frenzied hour in the penmanship
Of a while, or, and your surprise.
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1949, was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1971, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. She gave her first reading at CBGB's, and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where she...