Oyster Boy Review 10  
  January 1999
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» Levee 67


Giscombe, Madsen, & Myles

Kevin Bezner

  Giscome Road.
C. S. Giscombe.
Dalkey Archive Press.
104 pages, $10.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1564781844

  Burning in Paradise.
Michael Madsen.
160 pages, $14 (paperback).
ISBN: 1888277068

  School of Fish.
Eileen Myles.
Black Sparrow Press.
200 pages, $14 (paperback).
ISBN: 157423031X

Somewhat of a cross between Williams' Paterson, Olson's Maximus Poems, and Dante's Divine Comedy, Giscome Road is an exploration, by the ancestor of an explorer, of blood and water, family and names, and Afro-Caribbean heritage written mostly in long lines that mirror the content of these:

the name cycled along sourceless in the trees
like it was a presupposition of lyrical
  content to the remote
like it was a repeated tone looping the

C. S. Giscombe's repeated tones bring us the news of the past and present, a new historical sense of this continent, where a man can lose a leg because of fucking two women, or an eye in a fight, and can taste blood as rich as strawberry juice. You too taste this "blood as if it were out there telling," let dark earth fill your mouth.

Most who know Michael Madsen will recall him as the psycho Mr. Blonde, or Vic, in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Mr. Blonde is a singular problem for a hapless gang of jewel thieves when he starts shooting up the store once the alarm goes off; he then decides to carve up a cop he takes hostage in one of the most vicious scenes in movie history. That same viciousness, that same darkness, is what informs Madsen's poetry.

Madsen is at once a weary, jailhouse Bukowski and a street wizened Baudelaire. He examines the world around him with detachment that can be chilling and insight that slides easily into flesh, letting warm blood flow. His poems are like the artworks he sees in the Prado:

Faces, faces always passing,
each different, each looking,
all lonely, never finding.
I realized today at the Prado
why art is so important.
It can be manipulated
to reflect the time it's from
for us to see what they hoped
we would or never could.

If some poets write poems that are raw instead of cooked, Madsen writes poems that are like a shot animal taking its last breath, the blood just beginning to color fur. He's a rough; he's got his finger in the wound.

I suppose Eileen Myles would be considered third generation New York School by David Lehman, who recently became the chronicler of that movement. She studied with Paul Violi, Alice Notley, and Ted Berrigan at the St. Mark's Poetry Project, which she ran from 1984-1986. But she's also connected to Black Mountain and the Beats, like so many of those New York poets. It is this confluence of sources that has enabled Myles to write a poetry that has cut its own stream.

In her collection, Myles includes her statement of poetics, "The Lesbian Poet." She writes how even though she is a lesbian, she has gained much from three male poets—"Jimmy Schuyler, John Wieners, and Robert Creeley." The first two are gay men, Schuyler one of the original New York Poets, Wieners a student of Duncan's and Olson's at Black Mountain. Creeley, in my view, is the most important poet of form since Williams. Myles also mentions Ginsberg, Stein, and half a page of women writers from every strain, including Kathy Acker, Marilyn Hacker, Barbara Guest, and Anne Waldman.

Myles is proof of the axiom that to be avant garde one must be part of a movement. One must know the source of one's poetry and how a new poetry emerges from it.

School of Fish is Myles' ninth book. It is a breakthrough book, one that should, as a result of its discussion of poetics and its stunning poetry, find an audience of younger women writers in particular but also any other bent and non-M.F.A. writing poet male or female.

Mostly, her poetry resembles in appearance the short-lined poems of Creeley and Schuyler, and she is as contemplative as both, but she gains a flow of her own both in form and content:

I saw that
lighter. I never
miss a living
trick. It's
my last winter. Never
again see
so much
white. I've
hit the
ceiling now
& the branches
of your

Like Creeley, she's a brilliant poet of love, but a woman loving women love. Here is the poem "No No," which closes the book:

Look I don't know
about getting
things back
a woman stands
in a room
& it's winter
she sees herself
there are 3 hot things
to tell her lover
soon the day
changes shape
not this bird
but it's different
the box stays
the room in her head
soon both heat
& winter are gone
I want to live
in my thoughts
of you, I believe
in you like a door
that returns

In those last five lines, what a payoff.