The following is Eileen Myles’s foreword to F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry, the first anthology of its kind. F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry will be released by isolarii later this month.
Galina Rymbu and Yes Women group (Nika Dubrovsky and David Graeber), MY VAGINA, 2020.
Only yesterday I think it was yesterday I drove here to Long Island from New York City and I stopped at a small farm that sells milk and eggs. The name of the farm is welsh—Ty Llwyd.
The language excited me and I couldn’t stop telling the woman there about my trip to Wales same time she had moved to the states—’bout 1970. She showed absolutely no interest. Yeah, yeah. I was in Russia in 1995 and 2017. I digress. I’m queer, and most recently I’m thinking of myself as a they feminist. I was formerly a they lesbian wanting to suture the two groups dykes and transwomen in particular since there’s a growing sense in the trans community that lesbians and trans women are in opposition and I just don’t think it’s true. But I’m becoming more interested in attaching my transness to my feminism not my female body. I think the female body is every body’s business. Yet so much of the pleasure of this book (and my own work historically and today) is all the iterations of the things that happen to a female body. The pussy in time:
Her vulva resembles a large gray rabbit –
large, a bit fat and gray
with long hanging ears, why
Rabbits are vivid, they are running around the yard I’m writing in. Pussies are vivid. There are two in the house I’m living in. As a writer early on men got their hands on my female work. I remember a guy an editor cutting away at my poem to what he regarded as essential. I think recitations of the female body seemed unnecessary to him as did story and certain rhetorical strokes. It was like when I was buying the eggs
someone once told me
that a poem is a pure thing that doesn’t have a single
I mean who is licensed to say which words are unnecessary. I remember when I published my first fiction Chelsea Girls a reviewer (male) bemoaned how much it was just my daily lesbian life. On and on. In comparison to works of genius like Knausgaard that aim for a deeper content necessarily?
I often imagine that instead of
books I’m hauling dynamite
What are my instruments. Existence, right. The act of inventory. Rage, paper and pens. The computer I’m writing on. And I will epigraph some future book with this:
The simplest line evokes universes of liberation. Because I want
a world of different labor
Female anger is dead serious. Female anger is funny. To put something on a T-shirt doesn’t mean it’s any less true. To think it could be there too instead of brilliantly being in a poem in this book. This small elegant book. So many of my best lines were hatched in the midst of talking to myself, in the day, all day and launching it in the world. Seeing who sings to it like I do:
it’s possible all women make up
a secret organization working under
the guise of an oppressed class
It gets painterly. And
fog around a child’s bed
It’s incantory, complex and dirty.
I love your pubes suggesting
prospective fucking in the semantic rye
and massive beetles under teeth sheets
rooting in gold roots for gold things
everything in this world makes me think of fucking
My friend CAConrad exists a great deal of the time in ALL CAPS.
I’ve only published one poem that way. It was written to be read at Occupy Wall Street where poets had the ideal situation which was to read their work and have each line repeated collectively like the human microphone. I feel this:
I’M PUTTING SOMETHING IN MY MOUTH
SOMETHING THAT’S YOURS, CHECHNYA
I was having a nervous breakdown in 1995 when I spent the summer in Russia. I was going through a breakup and she was with me, she was femme and I was butch and men gave her space and acted like I was invisible even though it was my gig. And I don’t drink and she did. People stopped speaking English once they got drunk and most of the English speakers anyhow were men. Who I met. And I was going through menopause. An episode in a female life
It’s only proper for a sham wedding,
The last lifeboat in the immense ocean
I’m not so much embedding these fragments of your work into mine as I made a pile of some of the things I found in this book and loved here and thought I’d paint the background in. Grass, intentions. Voices on the other side of the hedge. A lawnmower in the distance. Totally bourgeois. So what. I was moved that the first poem in the book was by Lida who then was named later on by Oksana in the middle of the book. I felt tossed into a community. Reading her work (Lida’s) I felt
impending doom eight months later he was killed in Afghanistan
It struck me that he was probably gay and his friend knew it and was trying to fix him before it was too late. He had sucked his friend’s cock more successfully. I hope.
a little boy was riding a bike down the endless hallway
he looked at me with hateful eyes
there are lines that are just so fucking metonymic in their grace.
There are lines like a curse that yodel radiantly out of the toothy mouth of the curser, way too incendiary to ever become cliché:
so die for us, black sun of the pig’s uniform
We’re hopeless as we reach across that gap
will it be read
Starting there, I mean, in the lines going across the page making sound and pictures, accumulating pictures, throughout this book that propose to my mind the anti-monumentality, the wideness of a vision if not female or feeling that way, knowing oneself, someone othered who nobody knows they are looking and recording and it’s in this horizontal of the battered portion of the human race that we’re living closer to the likely truth of the future as opposed to politicians and developers and investment bankers killing each other in the name of family and friends
I have this dream: there’s no more us. Flying out into the light
It’s a recipe, it’s a formula, it’s a spell
how can you lose something from nothing
but that’s just it
how can you lose something from nothing
but that’s just it
I have been invited to witness. To smell the crowd and be charged by history, our desperate pitch. I’m blasted by fragrant stillness. The smell of us inside and out, a vast interior, a bird runs across the lawn, and—fucking shit—
The blue eyes
of the groundmeat saleswoman.
Eileen Myles came to New York from Boston in 1974 to be a poet. Their books include For Now (an essay/talk about writing), I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems, and Chelsea Girls. They showed their photographs in 2019 at Bridget Donahue in New York City. Eileen has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. They live in New York and Marfa, Texas.
From the foreword to F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry, edited by Galina Rymbu, Eugene Ostashevsky, and Ainsley Morse. F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry is the second work in isolarii, a series of “island books” released every two months by subscription.
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