Thursday, March 08, 2018

Eileeen Myles Warm Up March 15th

Eileen Myles is great. She is returning to Ireland after her huge success here last February, and will be reading in Cork on the 14th and in Dublin on March 15th at the Poetry Palace on Parnell Square. I have booked my ticket and look forward to reviewing the event.

Myles is a very innovative modernist and an inspirational senior poet for oneself personally. A transgressive writer willing to smash convention, say it as she sees and feels it, often very passionately, and try any innovative method to get a text successfully into being, and not care if the readers' critics' or her sister poets' literary sensibilities or affections are offended or exposed.

I first came across and engaged with her in interactive literary conversation over the summer of 2009 when she was a regular blogger publishing spontaneously written pieces that were part of a brief but glorious open free for all and daily shifting conversation on the Chicago Poetry Foundation's Harriet Blog during a couple of years in the later Noughties when the internet was still an unclaimed and contested critical space that the corporations hadn't fully got to grips with. 

And so was filled with a range of experimental and formal voices from across the spectrum of ability, class, education, experience, influence, location, school and talent. All in the one place engaged in the contemporary American poetry whirl's most sophisticated and erudite debate. One in which all were welcome to participate.

For two years from 2007-9, the Poetry Foundation Blog Harriet was at the epicenter of contemporary US poetic discourse. Taking its cue from the popularity of Ron Silliman's blog, that had become the center of literary conversation for American poets in the early and mid Noughties, when the Blogger platform ushered in the era of single user sites in the form of the then new cultural phenomenon of blogging.

That itself had grown out from the early online list discussion venues and formats which were predominantly academic in nature before the internet went mainstream in 2000.

The original was the Buffalo Poetics List. Created in 1993 by the then David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at the University at Buffalo, SUNY Distinguished Professor, and co-founder and Director of the Poetics Program, the high priest of modern American poetry, New York artist, Charles Bernstein.

Harriet was a relatively short-lived experiment where every week a new poet, or set of poets, would write and publish spontaneously written blogs, and beneath which a stream of responsive commentary supported and fueled the subjects of them. And into which the weekly blogger was encouraged to dive and get stuck into the literary back and forth with the other mainly professionally published American poets that made up the regular cohort in the commentariat there. This brief period was a testament to the former strength of robust adversarial critical conversation on all manner of poetries and poetics then being discussed in the US.

One of the most memorable of Myles's Harriet blogs was the deliberately provocatively titled: I Hate Poetry, in which the grand punk poet of Greenwich Village muses in her spontaneous speculative discourse on her outsider love/hate relationship with poetry. As she explained at her Trinity reading in Dublin, she very much views all her writing as poetry, not recognizing the boundaries between prose and poetry in the same way formalist poets do. In this respect very much a cutting-edge avant-garde contemporary American poet.

As she told the audience when she spoke of writing a 20th anniversary Introduction to her inventive autobiographical book Chelsea Girls, she was "trying to work out if Chelsea Girls was a novel, or a memoir, or a collection of stories, or whether it's even really a book at all. I think I mainly want to tell you that in the time of the writing of Chelsea Girls, which was long, 1980-1993, I mostly needed to say what I thought was real. I wanted to cover it'. And continues on this theme of boundary-less writing, saying that:
    "When poetry was invented nobody knew what it looked like so why should it look like this, and sound this way? I don't think anything about whether something is poetry or prose, but people really do like it if you say it's a novel. For a while if you said a poem was a performance people would say 'Wow, I love your poetry.' And the person who wrote this book wanted that of course, as all this dreamy messiness of experience was happening and the person living and writing them was trying of course, because everything was always going to be gone. And how could she ever be real unless she told a story of it. Who was she?"

 I began participating at Harriet a year before Myles first showed up there, during the Obama election year, and had a gloriously joyful and productive time of it over the course of that summer, cheer-leading Obama, and having immense fun and gaining all important experience, and for the first time getting stuck in with the many professional American poets writing above and below the blog-line. And taking part in the heady chat emanating from the Poetry Foundation, that, in retrospect, so few of us were involved in first hand at the literary coal-face of this late Noughties online American poetry conversation and contemporary internet based criticism founded on the concept and practice of spontaneous writing.

I was one of the very few European voices there. Certainly the only regular daily commentator happily and buoyantly writing from Ireland, or Britain. Lucky because one had been fortunate that more by accident than design, I'd been schooled with an avowedly American literary poetic sensibility. 

Educationally inculcated into oneself over the first three years of higher learning on a modular course of poetry (2001-4) that began with Pound's manifesto on Imagism, A Few Don'ts, and ended three years later, after a focused academic trawl across the 20C schools and movements of American and European modernism, with a seminal text by the high priest of US contemporary poetry, Charles Bernstein's prophetic 1999 essay in which is laid out the future of the online global commons: 'I Don't Take Voice Mail: The Object of Art in the Age of Electronic Technology.'

On this side of the Atlantic there was nothing comparable. The closest equivalent in terms of the intensity of debate and number of commentators was Carol Rumens' long and still running Guardian Poem of the Week series, that began around the same time as Harriet blog.

But unlike the commentary below the blog-line on Harriet, that drew a broad and balanced mix of published and unpublished poets, most using our real names; the commentary at the Guardian Poem of the Week was, and still is, generated mainly by anonymous literary lovers who just love poetry and talk about it in print online amongst our/themselves.

Myles was one of the few poets there who took to and was successful in this highly contemporary interactive spontaneous conversational form that few contemporary poets seriously practice due to an unwillingness to experiment and aversion to entering what those who do not practice speculative spontaneous online critical discourse, view as an uncertain and highly risky literary environment where they are not in total control of what is being written and published.

Part of the general closed-mic special star guest highly controlled live poetry environment that has been the norm for a decade. One in which the concept of open mic and democratic conversation is alien to nearly all the minor big Facebook schooled fish swimming in their tiny artificial pools and echo chambers of online reception in which there is no culture of criticism. 

Partly a Caxtonian hangover and fear of not being able to live up to the many over the top claims made in the blurbs and marketing spiel of all the many thousands of award-winners.

A sense of the Reader seeing through the manufactured over the top boasts of their publishers and friends which appear as the ads, endorsements, pablum and puff pieces on the average contemporary award-winning excellent amazing MFA poets' Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Partly a reluctance to step into the open mic network and fail, fail better, and gradually, the more the poet does not enter into the contemporary all comers open mic public arena of the global online commons, they retain an untried muscle and their fear of looking foolish intensifies. A fear that only looking foolish can make disappear.

The less a poet risks it, the less chance they ever will, and when they do, the very real possibility of the poet being satirically mocked and made to feel foolish and silly by a rival with far more experience and superior working wit. In what can be a very in ye face contemporary spontaneous casual conversational and critical global writing forum that has no buffer or boundary between the published poet and their audience. 

But which when done regularly and becomes from the start just another strand in the practice, and when it is done well, as Myles does, the poet will be standing head and shoulders out on the page from their more timid less experimental conservative literary peers unwilling to brave it fully out there at the most naked social-media cutting-edge setting of a poet allowing public comments on their professional social-media slash Facebook accounts.

Unlike many others in this weekly revolving cast of featured American blogger poets, most of whom did not enjoy getting stuck into the critical back and forth below the blog-line, Myles did thrive in this environment. And was a feature all summer of 2009. And for a brief period this healthy radically new form was practiced by many and looked like it might become the norm. 

But sadly, with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and the ease of blocking out all superior intellectual ideas and creative criticism that successfully counters the level of eloquence and critical standards on Twitter and Instagram, hence the reason for the attenuation of public criticism in poetry, that has sadly sunk to its current uncritical level of one line tweets on Twitter and emojis on Instagram being deemed legitimate acts of considered scholarly engagement.

Poetry 'criticism' today is very much like the Irish government's Special Communications Unit (SCU), that is to be disbanded because of the controversy over newspaper 'advertorials'. In which partisan narratives and advertising is passed off as objective 'news' reporting, for the sole purpose of positively promoting the Government narratives and spinning party political propaganda as straight up journalism.

So too the situation with much poetry criticism. Advertisements and blurbs masquerading as objective analysis, for the sole purpose of selling books and promoting a chosen poet's practice, with the actual love of ideas and intellectual play noticeably absent and something the reader only becomes aware of when the real thing turns up and upsets the apple cart by talking about ideas and not the prize and award-winning 'things' of poetry that serve as a distraction from the solitary sport and art of spiritual enlightenment and praise of whatever deity or form of secular Creation it is the individual poet is driven to lure out from within themself and sing in their practice of what Irish tradition labels the speckled art of praise and satire.

Most poetry criticism today reads as little more than log-rolling and boosterism. The sole aim being to sell it for money. All the poets and none with any kind of patron apart from large corporations.

Indeed, any writing more substantial about a poem than 'great, excellent, love it, it made me wanna cry - a must buy,' is often viewed as a form of bullying by a whole generation of new and somewhat delusional performance rhymers and slammers. Qualified as contemporary poets in the social-media age instantly by putting a profile picture on a social media account, reared solely on Facebook Twitter and Instagram, and without any culture of criticism to what they are doing. Where everything is always brilliant, excellent, and amazing, and to dare go against the orthodoxy imposed on the current highly uncritical poetry scene is viewed as the act of a troll.

Myles then did not have the elder stateswomen profile of US poetry cool that she acquired due to her success with and patronage of the editors at the Poetry Foundation. When we first connected in the handful of below the blog-line communications we shared in the summer of 2009, Myles was still an underground rock star, known to far fewer readers than she is today. 

A much more localised New York audience, with a transgressive and subversive reputation, whose gender and sexuality was a primary plank in her public persona and practice. Myles was, and still is, well able to handle the sometimes vicious American literary back and forth below the blog-line and what I always admired about her is when you ask her a straight question she will give you a disarmingly honest and straight answer.

In one of her most fiesty blogs, Political Economy, from later on in her six month rolling weekly tenure, August 16th 2009, Myles totally subverted and turned the tables on the usual practice of staying stoically silent about negative reviews, by going nakedly and shamelessly after the author of one, and gave the reader and commentators an entertaining kicking of Sean Patrick Hill’s review in Rain Taxi of a political anthology titled, State of the Union, that Myles had contributed a poem to.

There was a lot for someone in a similar outsider and excluded boat to Myles when reading this blog to admire and be inspired by, because she allows the student poet still learning a permission to follow her lead and do what was previously frowned upon and virtually unthinkable. 

By instead of being a good girl and keeping quiet about the petty slings and arrows one gets, and perhaps even invents at times as a figment of paranoia, to just launch into a full bodied lunge and attack on the literary perps that have offended us gals, and write what we are really thinking, instead of playing the courtier poet game, that America has a long and noble tradition of subverting in its quickly changing transiently fashionable contemporary tradition. One in which a year is a very long time, and much of what was edgy hot and relevant at the time, five years down the road will seem incredibly unfashionable, stale, and wholly of its moment.

But not with the writing of Myles in her Harriet blog titled Political Economy, that began with the arch Cambridge New Yorker offering her opinion on "His (Hill's) poems, kind of prosy, are gentle nature poems with an aesthetic burnish"; before winding up to mock him by saying that "when I read his review of the State of the Union book I’m not more confused I’m depressingly lulled by instead how predictable his review is/was."

There is no messing around by this rock star, who stands out precisely because she is not the little quiet Highness and Lady one expects from the British and Irish poets who do know their place and do stay silent even though inside they are raging at the injustices of these depressing male-acting courtier poets and their puffed up egos.

She sneers at Hill's review, writing that it is "so full of assumptions that simply quoting him might be enough. I could stop. I could put a few beats or bullets zinging behind his grandiloquence and I think I’ve got it made, but wait it gets even absurder."

Before coruscatingly bashing him up for his wholly male-centric view of Politics and let's him have it both barrels when she asks, after mocking Hill for being "a good boy after all and this is a review, despite the bombast he excitedly frames it in"; rhetorically asking: "I wondered what else (besides being a soldier) is considered political to this writer."
    "I mean I noticed what wasn’t. Rape? Why isn’t rape considered political by Sean Patrick Hill? Isn’t rape part of war. I mean war everywhere. War in America for instance. I mean if the percentage of female contributors in State of the Union is in keeping with the rest of America it’s probably pretty high i.e. I’m thinking about the number of us who have been sexually assaulted. Should that be in my bio? Do homosexuals have any purchase on the world’s political strife. Guess not. Even though we see them hung in Iran. I think you have to be hung (internationally) to be taken seriously in this review. Be hung with a gun at war I mean. I know one gay contributor whose lover was murdered for being queer. That’s not political. I mean unless it appeared IN THE BIO.

    So there’s a gross essentialism going on here in one single regard. Man at war. Instead of talking about the complexity of the question that frames the book he’s reviewing – what is a political poem today and how do we describe, experience, understand the intimate balance going on between information, sentiment and aesthetics that determines how we read a poem and whether it even seems political to us (because isn’t the notion of “the political poem” a complex projection and reception of self and selves onto the moving surface of the poem in its time? I think so. Isn’t every political anthology a new thesis of that. ) Sean has avoided the philosophical and aesthetic questions of the review he is writing to instead not so indirectly suggest that poets as a class are insipid."

I think this is why Myles is going overground to a mainstream audience of new young Millennial poets and readers who she speaks directly to and that are not prepared to put up with the patriarchal power structure and old boys networks that previously reigned. 

In Ireland this shift is ongoing and one imagines will reach another high point if the eighth amendment is repealed and Irish women in the Republic no longer have to travel abroad but will be able to have abortions at home in a culture where this would have been totally unthinkable two decades ago when the Catholic Church still had a perverse grip on the minds of a nation.

Myles is an inspiring poetic role model because unlike most British and Irish poetry, where decorum, manners and knowing one's place are tantamount, there is a history and ethos in contemporary American poetry of rule-breaking, heretical utterance, and rebellious literary behaviour. 

That, unlike this side of the pond, puts no store in the Sir, Lord, and Your Highness sensibilities of British and Irish professional courtier poetry. Where smart craic and mocking jibes by bardic sub-grades 'spewing their brute mouthfuls' are simply not encouraged or tolerated by the pashas and potentates of BrIrePo.

And woe betide anyone that does, for verily they will never appear in print as long as Her and His Highnesses have it within their power to editorially exclude those that refuse to acknowledge and bow before their, frankly, plastic aristocratic sensibilities. 

What in the US is considered the self-conscious and extremely artificial posing of pretentious European poets with reputations gained not from studious scholarly toil and hard-won experiential knowledge of the magical Art of mouth-music in which s/he claims to speak in song; but all too often from the dreary individual Poet Highness's networking skills.

Who and what corporations approve of them. What editorial friends publish them. And an entire old intellectually Caxtonian founded school and courtier poet model in which knowing your place, networking and total bluff trumps any of the seven degrees of bardic and literary filidh wisdom.

Where one's affected aristocratic tone trumps Tuatha De Danann truth and spiritual nobility, that the more plastic people of the goddess art devoid of any have to invent and peddle as their credentials in this much misunderstood spiritual vocation. 

That has as its apical form the anamain praise poetry derived from what spiritual within s/he the individual mind discovers as their faery women of what island s/he has created, formed, realized within, and speaks without in letters as an act of cerebral love, life and spirit purely all Her.

I landed on Harriet as a student writer, during one's fifth to sixth post-graduate year as an independent scholar, still then studying and trying to make sense in English translation of the 80-90% of what is left of the voluminous set-textual curriculum that taught trained and turned out bards and literary Irish filidh poets from the 7-17C.

I'd had a great summer 2008 there and so by the time Myles turned up a year later was part of a community of American poets as their token European regular. I had fallen in with the three amigos of the American Foetry Movement, the creator of which, Alan Cordle, was then the most hated person in American poetry because he had been exposing the relationships between numeorus poetry manuscript winners and the judges. 

And although at the time the American Poetry Establishment lambasted him, with the passage of time it is generally acknowledged that the Foetry Movement brought exposure of what until that point had been all too depressingly normal grubby practice across the board in poetry competitions, on both sides of the Atlantic, and Cordle's Foetry site had served as a much needed corrective process of cleaning house.

At that time the below the blog-line debate was filled with the literary contributions of such well known contemporary American poets as Annie Finch, Daisy Fried, Jason Guriel, Catherine Halley, who was then the digital editor of the Poetry Foundation, Kent Johnson, Bill Knott, Reb Livingstone, Michael Robbins, Don Share, Eliot Weinberger, as well as Canadian poets Sina Queyras and Robert Archambeau. 

Who began his own career as a rebel on the Buffalo POETICS list leading a protest against the appointment of Billy Collins as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. With Anselm Hollo, also to be read in the Harriet debates, who was elected to this honorary anti-Billy Collins Buffalo Poetics Laureate position.

But things are changing across the board. Under Don Share's editorship Poetry monthly went in a very short time from the all dead white male Boston poets that were the unvarying feature of the previous editor's tenure, to its monthly multi-cultural mix of performance and slam poets, people of colour and the many poets from previously marginalized communities such as the LGBT, disabled, and many other sections of American society, that under the previous editor Christian Winman's tenure were conspicuously absent.

In the UK the head of the Poetry Society and the Editor of Poetry Review are both women. And in Irish poetry also, the majority of the arts administrators running the Republic's Official Verse Culture vehicle of Poetry Ireland, are nearly all women. Six-sevenths of the state employed staff, from the director to the editorial assistant, are all women. With only the long serving Publications Manager, Paul Lenehan, the sole man in this organisation made up of nearly all women.

Which I personally think is long overdue and very welcome, great stuff. Who knows if we the lucky Irish public would be going next week to witness and review Myles if the current Director of Poetry Ireland had not been appointed by the state to the role of leading the seriously spiritual endeavour of "achieving excellence in the reading, writing and performance of poetry throughout the island of Ireland?" Who came in and really did bring a whole new energy to what previously had been an old boys network during the age of the Bellaghy bard's global dominance.

Love it. Can't wait to witness the poetry on the 15th March and review it back in print. Slainte.

Kevin Desmond

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