Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eileen Myles: An American Poet



a love letter and short interview by Jenni Olson that was published somewhere back in the day.
*unearthed from the archives of 1992, yet no less relevant nearly 20 years later as her, "INFERNO: a poet's novel" is about to come out from O/R Books on November 30th. Click for more details HERE.

I am always hungry
and wanting to have
sex. This is a fact.

So begins "Peanut Butter" from Eileen Myles' 1991 collection of poetry, Not Me (Semiotexte).

I fell in love with Eileen Myles in 1989 when I first read her collection of short stories, Bread and Water (1987, Hanuman Books). Her simple reflections on life and love (and her picture on the cover) captured my heart. Who could resist such temptingly cynical prose as, "A woman uses you because you let her in so naturally never expected it's just chess." 

In 1991 I got myself onto Eileen's campaign letter mailing list (she was running for president as a write-in candidate). Eileen's mailing list. Eileen was writing letters to me.  She spelled my name wrong on the mailing label, but I didn't mind. She called me "Dear Citizen." A bit impersonal, but sort of a sweet idiosyncrasy, I thought (she was a poet, after all). She wrote about all kinds of things — political, and, well, personal. And she would stick the stamp on my envelope upside down. You know what that means. After awhile I realized that the stamps she used had a picture of the White House and a big American flag on them. So maybe it was just a political gesture. She probably put everyone's stamps on upside-down. Still, I think it was also her way of saying what Ross Perot got to say on national television — that she was running for president because she loved us.

In May, Eileen came to San Francisco to do a reading. At last I would meet her… and not have anything to say. "Loved your reading. Thanks," I managed anxiously.

I finally got the chance to interview Eileen in October of 1992 during her presidential campaign tour. In person, she's more handsome than I'd expected — looking like a full-blooded Kennedy, and with an unnerving idiosyncratic (Eastern?) personality that makes me incredibly anxious. Her gestures, expressions, speech are abrupt and bursting. Like her poetry. Interviewing her I feel too eager, feel like she doesn't know what to do with my nervous intensity. I'm afraid I'm acting like a fan. The whole experience makes me feel like crying.

Throughout 1991 and 1992, Eileen merged art and politics in a fabulous propaganda trek which took her to 20 states across the country, as well as Mexico and Canada. Keeping supporters informed through her unique series of campaign letters, Eileen expressed platforms on everything from reproductive rights to the North American Free Trade Agreement. She received some mainstream media coverage (MTV even interviewed her), and although Clinton won the race, she says of her campaign, "As an artist and poet it provided tons of opportunities for me to make speeches and make my work become more political."

Discussing her evolution as a writer, she recalls, "I didn't come out 'til I was 27. My poetry really took off when I came out. Falling in love and writing poems seemed like the same gesture." Personal changes in her life led to political changes in her work, she explains, "I stopped drinking almost ten years ago. My work started to get political when I got sober."

With her sensual vocabulary and dry sense of humor, Eileen entwines the personal and the political in both her prose and her poetry. In "A Poem" (from Not Me) she touches on relationships, world views and the meaning of art:

Symbolically
I want my black jersey back. Realistically
you must give it to me because I will keep
talking to your machine if you don't.
Our mayor is a murderer, our president
is a killer, Jean Harris is still not
free, which leads me to question the
ethics of our governor who I thought
was good. There is an argument
for poetry being deep but I am not that argument.

Eileen identifies as a "lesbian poet" but acknowledges that she has little in common with the canon of lesbian poets that includes Adriene Rich. The pitfall of, "being labelled a lesbian artist," she notes, "is that people think it tells you something about content. But I know it doesn't. It simply tells you something about me. And there is a gap between me and my work."

Although her presidential campaign is long past, her political campaign is only just beginning. "Ending things is my favorite part—the poet part, full of death & incredibly sweet," she wrote in her final campaign letter. "At this point I can say any damn thing I want."

Eileen Myles's was born in Boston and moved to New York in 1974. Her Inferno (a poet's novel) is just out from OR books. For her collection of essays, The Importance of Being Iceland, she received a Warhol/Creative Capital grant.Sorry Tree is her most recent book of poems. In 2010 the Poetry Society of America awarded Eileen the Shelley Prize. She is a Prof. Emeritus of Writing at UC San Diego. She lives in New York.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Outfest Legacy Project to restore 1971 Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day footage

Super exciting news on the LGBT Film Preservation front — check out this Outfest announcement (especially the last paragraph — ah, the glamor and excitement of queer film preservation):

"We are thrilled to announce that The UCLA Film & Television Archive in collaboration with the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation has been awarded a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to restore historic footage recorded at the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day in 1971.
Shot by a collective under the name Women's Liberation Cinema (including feminist writer Kate Millett and artist Susan Kleckner), this footage is extremely valuable documentation of one of the earliest events of the LGBT Rights movement: one of the first LGBT Pride marches in history. The restored footage will serve the LGBT community as well as academics and filmmakers seeking archival evidence of an event for which very little moving image documentation exists.
The 16mm film was in Ms. Kleckner's storage locker until 2006 when filmmaker Jenni Olson discovered it.  Ms. Olson delivered the reels to the Legacy Project, a collaborative effort of UCLA Film & Television Archive and Outfest."
The footage is really fantastic and I look forward to eventually seeing it show up in lots of forthcoming LGBT documentaries (when the preservation is done and UCLA/Outfest are able to make it available for stock footage licensing)! It is particularly exciting that there is a lot more footage of lesbians than you often see in archival gay Pride footage. Of course that is probably because it was shot by women!

So, attention documentary filmmakers! Here are some highlights of the footage you're going to want (from my original viewing notes):

  • Woman holding "I Enjoy Being a Dyke" sign and she is also holding a can of Tab! 
  • Pan up to big banner for: Christopher St. Gay Liberation Day 1971.
  • Shot of Radical Lesbians banner (and footage of Kate Millett in peasant blouse, long hair and weird sunglasses — this is just the year after the publication of her landmark book, Sexual Politics and her coming out as bisexual; and before NOW made their official statement in support of lesbian rights). 
  • Shot of yellow "GAY" balloons being blown up.
  • Great shot of a lesbian shooting a 16mm Bolex.
  • Woman holding up a "Come Out" sign.
  • When the march actually begins there is great shot with big banner from the Gay Activists Alliance! 
  • Shot of cheering construction workers.
  • Great shot of flyer on phone pole that says: Christopher Street Liberation Day March & Gay-In Sunday June 27th. And great pan over to front of march with banner on street corner (Prudential Savings Bank). This is probably the best reel - with all the people milling about in front before the start of the march and at least some of them must be recognizable figures in NYC gay movement.
  • End of march at Central Park. So many hippies! So much hand-holding! And so many smokers!


The Back Story of Finding the Film (because I like to reminisce):

In November, 2006 while I was in New York City for the Museum of Modern Art screening of my film, The Joy of Life — read the wildly entertaining account of THAT right HERE — I literally spent an entire day in Susan Kleckner's storage locker digging around trying to find the print and negative of this 1971 documentary called Three Lives (the film had been produced by Kate Millett and I had somewhat randomly mentioned to Barbara Hammer a few months earlier that I was in search of Kate's film and she said I should contact Susan Kleckner, thinking she was the likely holder of the film's original elements). We did find Three Lives in the storage locker (it, too is now in safe keeping at the UCLA/Outfest Legacy Project Collection).

And this Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day footage just happened to be in the same pile of dirty old film cans — it was a total surprise discovery, she had completely forgotten about it. Susan proceeded to tell me about the shooting process and how they had been in the midst of production on Three Lives, they had the camera equipment and the film stock and just decided they would go shoot some of the Liberation Day event.

Sadly, Susan passed away in July, 2010. I only had the chance to meet her that one time; she was extremely gracious, helpful and full of stories about the 70s and Feminism and Art, etc. She was also a photographer and filmmaker in her own right and taught at the International Center of Photography. We are all indebted to her for hanging on to this footage all those years!

It is really exciting that the footage will be preserved. And this is one more great reason to support the Outfest Legacy Project and all their amazing work.