In the absence of dedicated queer spaces, visits from distinguished national or international guests can be a catalyst to create – even for just one night – a place for queer communities to gather and celebrate.
On Oct. 3, Eileen Myles will be in Winnipeg to launch their latest book, Evolution, at aceartinc. Myles recognizes the importance of queer cultural gatherings, and not just in Winnipeg.
"I read at Greenlight (Bookstore in) Brooklyn, which is right in the middle of New York, but still, it's the same phenomenon," Myles says.
At "some point when I was signing books, somebody just looked at me really excitedly – she was really young – and she was just like, 'there's so many lesbians here!' A bomb, a queer bomb had been dropped on her poor brain. So it was great."
Evolution's launch and Myles’ visit are being funded by the University of Winnipeg Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies as well as aceartinc. Dr. Roewan Crowe, associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, also organized Myles’ last three visits here, beginning in 2009.
"I lament the absence of a devoted queer space. And I think there’s a yearning here in Winnipeg for that," Crowe says.
"And certainly (QPOC Winnipeg) is doing a great job creating events. But more people need to come together to make these kinds of spaces, and for me, what kind of spaces are created are those that are intergenerational, that create connections for queer poets, queer writers, and that can also connect to the histories of queer writing. We need to know our poetic histories, right? Where we come from, what we’re writing from."
Myles may be best known as a poet, but their writing spans genres including fiction (Chelsea Girls, Cool for You), art writing (The Importance of Being Iceland) and even a dog memoir (The Irony of the Leash).
"I think it looks like I do a lot, because I go off in a lot of directions," Myles says. They're working more in visual mediums at the moment, which dovetail nicely with the launch of Evolution.
"Something that’s happened to me lately is that Instagram has made it so the pictures I take are getting distributed, and I love it," they say.
"Instead of having a book party (in New York), I'm going to have an art opening, and that's going to be kind of queer, inviting people to come and celebrate this book, too. And I’ve got one of my photos on the cover of the poetry book, so I'm trying to make it all kind of one art, or one gesture – which I think it is. Separating visual art and writing makes less sense than the excitement people have about them being together."
The Winnipeg launch of Evolution also provides an opportunity for visual art and writing to come together, as Myles' reading at aceartinc will happen among Steven Leyden Cochrane's show, Shining Tapestry.
"I can’t wait to feel what it's like to have Eileen's words mingling with Steven’s tapestries," Crowe says. "In Steven’s work, he’s talking about the loss of his mother and loss more generally, and one of the early poems in Eileen’s book, in Evolution, is about the loss of their mother … There's this poetic treatment of grief and loss by both of them."
Myles describes Evolution as a book of poems framed by the loss of their mother (and includes their mother's own words), but it's also interspersed with other forms, including an opening essay that addresses the current political climate in the United States.
"When I say essays, they're actually things that I wrote to speak publicly," Myles says.
Before Donald Trump was elected, "when we all thought we were going to have a female president," Myles says, their friend Zoe Leonard’s 1992 poem titled "I want a president" – most known for the opening line "I want a dyke for president" – received renewed attention.
Myles says the poem was inspired by their "actual presidential campaign" in 1991-92, when they ran (unsuccessfully) against Bill Clinton.
In 2016, "I want a president" was turned into an art installation in New York's High Line park, and Leonard asked Myles to update their campaign for a public event surrounding the piece.
"I thought to update a presidential campaign that you didn't win would be to stand inside of it 20 years later. And so I basically wrote an acceptance speech. So that’s in the middle of the book," Myles says. It's “more of what I would do if I was running this country."
While the content of Evolution mixes poetics and politics, the act of creating a launch event such as the one on Oct. 3 does the same.
"I like to make these kind of feminist interventions to promote these kinds of events," Crowe says.
"I think the work of making context that people can write and make art from is a daily practice. We have to keep making these spaces, and so we need to promote these spaces and let people know they exist, and that we have always existed, and so it's important, because this is the context that we write from, and this fuels us, it gives us energy, it makes our writing stronger. It makes our community stronger."
Eileen Myles will be in town to launch Evolution on Oct. 3 at aceartinc. from 7 to 9 p.m.