It was with great satisfaction, and not without amusement that I read several recent interviews with and profiles of Eileen Myles, a poet who has always been much beloved, but who has only recently become the kind of poet profiled by the New York Times. I am always happy to see poets given big profiles in the mainstream press; right after this, I found another profile in The New Yorker. In this brief interview, from the Talk column in the Sunday Magazine, there was so much to love:
Poetry always, always, always is a key piece of democracy. It’s like the un-Trump: The poet is the charismatic loser. You’re the fool in Shakespeare; you’re the loose cannon. As things get worse, poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary.
Which is not unlike what Ursula LeGuin said recently in the speech she gave upon receiving an award from the National Book Awards. Myles’ hyperbole is funny:
I think it would be a great time for men, basically, to go on vacation. There isn’t enough work for everybody. Certainly in the arts, in all genres, I think that men should step away. I think men should stop writing books. I think men should stop making movies or television. Say, for 50 to 100 years.
An American PoemI was born in Boston in1949. I never wantedthis fact to be known, infact I’ve spent the betterhalf of my adult lifetrying to sweep my earlyyears under the carpetand have a life thatwas clearly just mineand independent ofthe historic fate ofmy family. Can youimagine what it waslike to be one of them,to be built like them,to talk like themto have the benefitsof being born into sucha wealthy and powerfulAmerican family. I wentto the best schools,had all kinds of tutorsand trainers, traveledwidely, met the famous,the controversial, andthe not-so-admirableand I knew froma very early age thatif there were ever anypossibility of escapingthe collective fate of this famousBoston family I wouldtake that route andI have. I hoppedon an Amtrak to NewYork in the early‘70s and I guessyou could saymy hidden yearsbegan. I thoughtWell I’ll be a poet.What could be morefoolish and obscure.I became a lesbian.Every woman in myfamily looks likea dyke but it’s reallystepping off the flagwhen you become one.While holding this ignominiouspose I have seen andI have learned andI am beginning to thinkthere is no escapinghistory. A woman Iam currently havingan affair with saidyou know you looklike a Kennedy. I feltthe blood rising in mycheeks. People havealways laughed atmy Boston accentconfusing “large” for“lodge,” “party”for “potty.” Butwhen this unsuspectingwoman invoked forthe first time myfamily nameI knew the jigwas up. Yes, I am,I am a Kennedy.My attempts to remainobscure have not servedme well. Starting asa humble poet Iquickly climbed to thetop of my professionassuming a position ofleadership and honor.It is right that awoman should callme out now. Yes,I am a Kennedy.And I awaityour orders.You are the New Americans.The homeless are wanderingthe streets of our nation’sgreatest city. Homelessmen with AIDS are amongthem. Is that right?That there are no homesfor the homeless, thatthere is no free medicalhelp for these men. And women.That they get the message—as they are dying—that this is not their home?And how are yourteeth today? Canyou afford to fix them?How high is your rent?If art is the highestand most honest formof communication ofour times and the youngartist is no longer ableto move here to speakto her time…Yes, I could,but that was 15 years agoand remember—as I mustI am a Kennedy.Shouldn’t we all be Kennedys?This nation’s greatest cityis home of the business-man and home of therich artist. People withbeautiful teeth who are noton the streets. What shallwe do about this dilemma?Listen, I have been educated.I have learned about WesternCivilization. Do you knowwhat the message of WesternCivilization is? I am alone.Am I alone tonight?I don’t think so. Am Ithe only one with bleeding gumstonight. Am I the onlyhomosexual in this roomtonight. Am I the onlyone whose friends havedied, are dying now.And my art can’tbe supported until it isgigantic, bigger thaneveryone else’s, confirmingthe audience’s feeling that they arealone. That they aloneare good, deservedto buy the ticketsto see this Art.Are working,are healthy, shouldsurvive, and arenormal. Are younormal tonight? Everyonehere, are we all normal.It is not normal forme to be a Kennedy.But I am no longerashamed, no longeralone. I am notalone tonight becausewe are all Kennedys.And I am your President.