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The Group

By Eileen Myles

 We’re turning the corner into fall and it seems to me 2009 was a fast summer. I sprained my ankle hiking with one group at the beginning of it and as the chill infiltrates the air as many mornings as not when I wake up it’s still x@#$$% swollen. I lived at MacDowell for a month this summer with a strangely shifting group. There were people I met at the end of their stay – and others began to arrive in the last week I was there and you could see the group of us who had been there all month squirming as to whether to know these people and most of us once we noticed we were doing this began to let them in and suddenly “we” were gone, back in “our own” lives which are still not largely alone except for example now sitting in a mattress in my friend’s front room while she’s out walking her dog.  I have a home but I basically haven’t been there all summer and for this last little islet of time I’m hopping from friend’s home to the next which is more private than public since my friend here for example, Jocelyn, goes to work. I have to work to see the person I’m staying with since they have a schedule and it pre-existed before I wound into town. What I’m getting to though is the profound experience I just had in Seattle last week. A group of us, poets, were invited to “play” with the Henry, the museum/gallery on the campus of the University of Washington.  What this meant outside of the more conventional readings we did each night of the weekend, and the screenings of films of famous (Ashbery, Schuyler, Roethke, Guest, Wieners) poets reading was to imagine the Henry re-written and reinhabited by us, purveyors and emitters, and curators of poetry.  So we began in one space, a Robert Irwin piece that admittedly I wasn’t so inspired by, blueness and fencing cordoning off a space outside near the George Washington statue I now realize I never looked at directly, he was just there awakening occasional thoughts like Oh . . . Washington is named after GEORGE Washington, and using the statue as a way to know I was approaching the Henry. Inside the Irwin space we were each imagining an activity that could be accomplished here publicly. I had a thought and dictated it to Tara one of the three transcribers who were lurking for that purpose, to take down our ideas which in itself was a nice experience, to have it and be free of it like that, but mostly I felt like I was at recess which maybe was nice in kindergarten but by the time I got to catholic school was hell.  And blue, or playful or not the Irwin piece brought up the memory, the sensation of a time and I was not grateful. But after that the next day we were presented with the notion of rewriting the texts of the museum, the wall text, the introductory hello text you get in the lobby in newsprint with colored photographs and what about the texts that accompany individual pieces and what would you say to the guard for instance if you could share one thing with him about the work.  I took the tack of following one work all the way in – preparing you for it in the lobby, rewriting what it said on the wall about the two Chinese video artists who make work about work or their culture shifting intrinsically in response to China’s new identity in global culture. Do we have to think about that I thought. Are artists compelled to discuss these “issues” so overtly in their work, or because they don’t are they handing props to critics and what if we don’t agree to read them that way. What if we act instead like a poking friend in the screening – I like her bangs, is a poet just an idiot in my rendition, or an anchorperson, or someone who wants to perform a rocky horror picture show duplication of the action on the screen – how provisional can an intervention in a museum be was my response, setting the possibilities loosely and widely really for the fun of it. The things any of us thought didn’t have to happen, but I recalled any time the wall text busted out in a museum in my memory: “Jackson Pollock was such a bad alcoholic when he was working on ‘blue poles’ that his friends had to hold him up” has stayed with me so profoundly that it remade what kind of speaking instrument an institution could be. The last day we imagined the Henry architecturally. How would you use these corners, elevators, outdoor lunch spots, entire structure poetically.  The Henry had handed us a job for the weekend essentially. I remember when I first got a dog, a pit bull, I began to read about the pit and heard the pit described as a dog that likes to work. Other dogs had jobs, too, some shepherding, some catching rats. What could a Chihuahua’s job be. What got proposed in this dreamy weekend among ten poets at the Henry was that if we had a space to work with we had an excess of ideas which unfolded what was happening in there to a froth of reinterpretation.  It was a little bit like doing homework with others and being handed a new three dimensional notebook for instance like when Robert Smithson was given the plans for the Dallas Fort Worth airport and invited to think how sculpture might become part of that space. The airport didn’t use his plan but Smithson’s art and where it belonged was forever changed. I’d like to change the Henry, one of my proposals was they identify a poetry year, 2011 sounds good, in which poetic installations are part of the plan or the art’s neighbors or the art itself. The one part I probably haven’t made clear or can’t is the literal feeling of the enterprise from our weird residence in university dorms, our cafeteria breakfasts and lunches, and the silent trawling around the museum with notebooks and the whispered what are you doing and the joyous party at the end of it all at our publisher’s pad.  It was utopian work. The poetry weekend was an odd job and a good one. I remember years ago reading how in Hindu culture work, all work was symbolic, planting a seed, begging, running for president. Now that might be a way to justify castes: we’re all in this together, Dude, but I draw some contradictory and actual beauty out of the experience of taking something on – an art institution, as a group, and asking ourselves, as poets, how would we rewrite this. And we did and we could and I’m suspecting our new infiltrations into our former lives will be changed.  And so will fall. Our territory feels wide and ready for the writing. 

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Eileen Myles.