Poetry News

Eileen Myles and JD Samson Talk Gender, Traveling, Occupy, AIDS, Art

By Harriet Staff

Lambda Literary points us to Recaps, where Eileen Myles talks with Le Tigre's JD Samson (who also set up the recent NYC Pussy Riot reading--good reports on that event can be read at The Nation and The New York Times). At Lambda, they talk with Martabel Wasserman about gender expression, politics, art, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. There's even a video!


As for the conversation, here's an excerpt regarding the impact of AIDS on their work:

MW: I wanted to ask you both about the legacy of the AIDS crisis in your work as queer artists and activists.

EM: I am a lot of things but I am a poet primarily and the poetry world is a very particular place. Often I am just the “lesbian” in it. Its not that there aren’t gay people there but it’s parsed in all these different ways. One of the things that I feel I am compelled to do consistently is remind people.

Helen [Molesworth's] show about ACT UP was so important in that way; to have the opportunity to think hard about what the crisis looked like, what the world looked like at the time, how they have changed, who we lost.

The peculiarity of the mourning was so intense. Like in the poetry world, I remember suddenly realizing at Joe Brainard’s memorial, which was huge, that for a lot of people this was the first memorial they went to for someone who died of AIDS. People were talking about who he got AIDS from. I was like, “what the fuck?” Conversations we had been having about AIDS for so long people hadn’t even begun to have.

Even today. I am going to a conference in Maine called “Poetry in the 80s,” and its very intense because there is a way of talking about poetry at that time excludes it. What survived, its that thing about history, what survived was not that. What survived in the poetry world was the world that wasn’t afflicted. There are whole schools of poetry with right minded, smart people who know about AIDS and lost some people but it still wasn’t there absolute set of friends, and it was mine. So I feel like so much of my work as a poet is to keep thinking of different and new ways to bring that up. To remind us that the culture we have is strained through this incredible loss and that loss is part of what is going on all the time.

It’s the same as homosexuality. Like the avant-garde of a certain generation was in the closet. The whole code of the avant-garde was silence. Like John Cage. They didn’t talk about being queer, they just were queer. But that led to a funny kind of affect for the next generation of people who just didn’t talk about homosexuality. AIDS has done that again. It’s not front and center. It’s interesting. Interesting is a weird word.

MW: It’s a thing.

EM: It’s a thing and it’s a real thing and how to keep pushing that out into the world is part of what my job as an artist is. It’s kind of a monument that needs to be there.

JD: I feel like I am part of the generation that has been totally apathetic.

MW: I feel like that too and I am about a decade younger than you.

JD: I had a cousin who died of AIDS when I was younger. I remember not really having anything explained to me. I knew he had AIDS and died but that was it. We felt sorry for him. We had other “homosexuals” in the family so we didn’t feel bad that he was gay but that he was sick and that he died but it wasn’t a conversation. When I went to college that was the first time I really had the history of AIDS and ACT UP, as part of my studies. I didn’t have it first hand, especially living in Cleveland. My cousin lived in LA so that was a different world. But I was never faced with it first hand. It became part of this archive of queer history that I was going to pay attention to from then on. I remember Larry Kramer coming to my school and talking and that was very intense. Intense is the best word for it because we suddenly felt apathetic and guilty.

MW: I remember that feeling. I did my thesis on ACT UP and at first I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt. It is not a productive emotion.

EM: (chuckles)

JD: Yeah.

MW: It was like I wished I were there. Really unchecked emotional responses. Trying to study that period for a sustained period of time was really interesting because I would get very into in my head, thinking theoretically about it etc., and then something would just knock me out. Something would happen and it wasn’t abstract anymore. I would hear someone talk about it or watch footage and it felt like I was being punched in the gut and I would realize I wasn’t just talking about a period of history.

JD: This is kind of separate from that but it’s always hard to study something you weren’t affected by first hand, whatever that means. I think about that when I am writing lyrics even, like am I allowed to touch on this?

EM: I feel like there is no one art movement there are many art movements. There is no rock star; there are all these musics. Part of that is the legacy of AIDS. In that it didn’t affect one group, it affected all groups. So what we ended up looking at was how all those groups affect each other and how all those groups are one thing.

JD: Which makes so much sense that it’s now coming through OWS.

EM: Exactly!

A movement that sees we are all connected. That’s the economy. I had a girlfriend who was an eighteenth century scholar and one of things I learned from her was that two things were invented in the 18th century, which was the beginning of modernism. One was the economic sphere and the other one was the aesthetic sphere. These things didn’t exist as separate entities before then. But they are these monstrosities that connect us all. As is a disease...

Read it all here.

Originally Published: August 22nd, 2012