I think of poems as made by doing as well as not doing as well as by who you do them around. I went to one of the most amazing readings a few weeks back and it was organized by Nathaniel Siegel and it was held at the gay community center in New York. I had been to this event before. It was in a little cubbyhole of the second floor of the center and out there around us in the larger space was the Rainbow Book Fair. You know as a poet and a writer I always resist describing myself as a queer writer, a lesbian writer. And I don’t ever want to get published by a gay press. I’m happy to be in anthologies but the idea of putting all of my book, or all of my poet self into another outfit, be it female, gay, Polish, 61 years old or whatever seems like putting a very strong spin on the poems. It is right up there with title. I mean the act of putting the title on the poem. I always think of the title as something that organizes but also implies ownership like the ownership of a car. So permanent installations of my work – I think this other factor - time - is crucial here – is it a temporary gathering or a permanent one – but permanent gatherings of my work under one tent always make me uncomfortable. It sort of says to men or straight people don’t shop here, don’t read here. It suggests my work is for a specific group and it really isn’t. Also it suggests that now THEY, the male or straight readers have to get out of their boxes or be willing to in order to get to my book. In general I don't believe the writing has to be accessible but the work itself does. I want people to be able in a variety of ways but in this big one - meaning acquire - I want people to be able to get it. And they can't always 'get' gay. I can't always either. Nobody feels it's a trusty category finally so we have to use it I think carefully, but once inside be wild. So I just want to say in light of all that I was frankly comfortable to be spending my afternoon with LGBT poets reading and there were a multitude of approaches that everyone in the group used to denote being queer or gay. Like gay was a bump in the road and every driver took note. Cause today there was a sign. Most of us when we go to an event like this deliberately choose our most gay work but that still is not a uniform perspective – what makes my work gay in the context of other gay writers. Is it content, is it feeling, is it lineage – i.e. which well-known gay poet am I most clearly influenced by. And I suppose there was also such a thing as reception going on as well. Meaning that we had been invited that way and had accepted the invitation among a group of others who did also meant by their presence they agreed to be frankly homosexual as poets so that it was a very comfortable event. We eased into it and listened and read that way. Everyone had sorted out beforehand the ironies of being the oral part sequestered in a cubbyhole of a rainbow literary gathering and now we were each about to unfold our parties and did please ourselves right then and there. It sounds dirty but it wasn’t. And would we stay there in our chairs to hear everyone else. We did. Some of us did. Many did. I still don’t know if I’ve yet explained the radical nature of my pleasure in this event. It was a radical experience of category. Poets are my family. And I have many families inside that family. And families outside that one too. But to sit square in this one in almost spring and listen was like being inside of a strange and loving bell. I’m just saying it felt good.
My title for this post refers to an invite I received from a poet friend who is celebrating her menopause. I bet there will be some poem reading happening at her party, but a lot of talk about female bodies as well so what does this have to do with the craft of poetry. I’ve thrown the gauntlet down with that question and it won’t happen, my answer, till after the poetry month is over. So we’ll just have to see. I’ll see. And I’ll try and make it that you’ll see too. With of course considerations for privacy. The invite said women and transgendered people only. Is this starting to constitute political poetry. I don’t think you necessarily have to think of it that way. But it’s somewhat embodied. Don’t you think a book is an embodiment. That’s the part I resist. But I’m excited about this and other group non-group ways of being a poet. It’s all of us bellying up to the bar in a multitude of ways. What does a poet give – to herself and anyone else. Does she only and always give poetry. A poet gives widely in a multitude of ways. I’ve used that word twice. Multitude. There now I’ve done it again.
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...