Poetry News

Eileen Myles Considers Transparency in an Essay Response to Marjorie Perloff

By Harriet Staff


More Eileen Myles in the news! You've probably already read this one, as it's been making the rounds. If not, head to the new issue of The Volta, where Eileen Myles responds to Marjorie Perloff on conceptualism with emo in her piece "Painted Clear, Painted Black." It's infinitely quotable, as her prose is wont:

Poetry’s where men get to feel like women always feel. Cause we’re really just not there. I agree with Marjorie that what gets rewarded is mostly pretty damn boring. But that’s because there is no scene. No excess. It just doesn’t get any public ink. And this denial seems to be the empire moment. And it’s why it doesn’t matter to me how many poets there are. The most visible poets, the most rewarded poets are literally the ones who aren’t.

Myles also calls to the fore Vanessa Place's complicated Statement of Facts:

...Here Vanessa is showing the body she has access to which is the underclass violated body. The worthless body of the victim. I’m not suggesting it’s wrong of her to do this. I totally get it. But it feels wrong somehow. And for me the biggest problem comes when Marjorie reminds us that this work is not transparent. Cause it’s both awful in terms of how it feels in the room to hear these materials used that way (I feel violated) and it’s transparent in the old fashioned way I began to say earlier which is that “Vanessa’s so transparent.” Sexual violence remains the highroad to success. (This work has a lotta legs.) But back to how it feels “in the room.” I mean since one in three women in this country (myself included – fuck here I go being transparent again!) have experienced sexual violence I think many readers would have to have a wide variety of responses to these materials rather than being merely “forced to reevaluate” as one is singularly being instructed to do here. Whose courtroom in what state are we in anyhow. “Feeling” will always interfere with the advised (and really I mean masculine) reading of such texts but feeling (how about we try substituting “being female” for feeling just as a stunt) is always a problem (a good one) in literature and feeling, and if you remember, feeling, i.e. “feeling compelled” was language poetry’s (for Perloff) downfall. And still I want to know who or what was compelling language poetry to feel that way. The women already in the language poetry room? New Narrative writers in the Bay Area. The fact that people wanted grants or jobs or just realized they looked bad. Maybe something great. That’s possible. But all of it gets compacted in Perloff’s aesthetic (whenever she has to dispense really swiftly with “others” she tends to say “and so on” as if unwilling to recite the interminable list of outsiders clamoring) as identity politics or the politically correct. Which is stunning language for a scholar to use. It’s media speak. It’s transparent speech. Because while not self-identifying one as a sexist, racist or homophobic it does offer a way to speak over the fence to those who know what you mean. But what do you mean? Do we know? Among language poetry’s sovereign powers Marjorie nostalgically cites: it “demanded an end to transparency.” Meaning the refusal of the direct and indirect speech that women and people of color and queers and assorted weaklings of the underclasses have always employed so they don’t bump into each other, die of boredom at work or get killed.

Myles continues to resist Perloff's dismissal of feeling in its relation to both Conceptualism and Langpo: "Perloff finally holds up three very wonderful poets (who do not claim to be conceptualists, she says) each of them as 'an example of the power of other people’s words to generate profound emotion…' Which is obviously the party that language poetry could have hung in for. It’s an interesting thought," she writes. And in a fashion similar to her thinking in this afore-posted interview with Noel Black: "The need for feeling in poetry is of utmost importance to Perloff, but what I come away with is that it’s the quality of the feelers (meaning whose) that’s the thing most important and true. Which is very postmodern, incredibly elitist and certainly transparent to boot."

Read it all here.

Originally Published: May 8th, 2013