Poetry News

Eileen Myles Talks to Noel Black About Shaping a Heap of Women

By Harriet Staff


Noel Black interviews Eileen Myles at The Brooklyn Rail--immediately striking a worthwhile point, invoking Myles's 2011 essay on poetry and gender, "Being Female," and the fact of I'll Drown My Book:

Rail: ...I can’t help but think how much more interesting it would’ve been at this point in history if I’ll Drown My Book had come out first [before Against Expression, the 2011 anthology of conceptual writing and found that out of a total of 112 poets/writers (depending on how you count collectives), 24 are women and 87 are men] and just been labeled “an anthology of conceptual writing” and had been still been 100% women without any qualifiers whatsoever. I mean, why the fuck not? But it begs the rhetorically loaded question (to borrow and rephrase the title of Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?”): Why are there so few “great” women poets, or why do women have to have a separately labeled anthology, even if it is self-organized?

We've often found the "non-labeling" of such projects to be only a momentarily effective veil, but it's a good question. Myles responds in kind:

Eileen Myles: It’s a really good question. I think while female writers and editors are observing exactly what you are observing – that the proportions are bad – I don’t think anyone’s truly interested in waiting for the world to get it right in male editors’ eyes. I myself would always rather do a female majority publication so that men can be included in a female literary vista, and feel that, and we can have that option of looking to see which men are saying something that resonates with the work that needs to be put out publicly by us. So I think I’ll Drown My Book needed a few men. Me, for example. I’m glad they did their book but I think it comes from an early-in-a-career spot which is always so serious — where someone’s making her mark and circling around and looking at how she will shape a heap of women — that is what at some point most eminently matters. It’s not a body (bawdy) book which is I think a mistake women’s anthologies often make. Since we’re always being essentialized it’s like when we rule the world we walk out the door just wearing our heads. It’s kind of boring. Men never leave their dicks behind. When Vanessa showed me their book at AWP a couple of years ago she said: Here it is. Everyone and everything. I pointed out that I (for example) wasn’t in the book and she went into a disquisition on “school” suggesting that I in her mind was associated with the New York School and that in arranging the book she did not include people who had affiliated so strongly (in her mind) with one school or another. I pointed out that Rae was certainly a language poet and that Bernadette was affiliated even more than me with New York. Vanessa then said that there were exceptions. Which meant that the group’s editing process was just the typical mix of loves, opportunities, swaps and wishes. Dodie Bellamy I even heard wasn’t going to be included for instance. I don’t know. To make an anthology is to both push something away phobically and same time doggedly scale one’s own mound of ambition. If Kenny and Craig really wanted some women they would have chosen a female co-editor. But that’s not what they meant.

They also talk Duchamp, almost-historicism, queerness, transitioning, and more. Read it all here.

Originally Published: May 7th, 2013