Polar Ode by Eileen Myles and Anne Waldman (Dead Duke Books, 1979). I found out about Polar Ode on the ABAA site looking through book listings late at night. I was surprised to have not heard about it before since there were so few female collaborations in the 2nd generation New York school. Polar Ode was written back and forth by mail between, as the end of the poem notes, New York, Boston, Cherry Valley, San Francisco, and Florida for “a reading at Zu, NYC December 22, 1978,” the winter solstice, and also the same day Bernadette was writing Midwinter Day in Lenox, MA, which is a cute nerd fact. The back matter notes that Polar Ode was printed at The Poetry Project in an edition of 350. The cover is by Steve Levine. A Secret Location on the Lower East Side lists four titles under Crony Books/Dead Duke Books in 1979-80, which was run by Greg Masters. At some point Dead Duke became Crony, which still exists now and recently published At Maureen’s, a collaboration between Masters and Bernadette from 1981 about staying at Maureen Owen’s house in Connecticut.
Like how Waldman and Ted Berrigan’s Memorial Day (1971) was written for the occasion of a reading on Memorial Day, and so moves through themes of death, loss, and remembrance, Polar Ode, written for a reading on the winter solstice, marks the movement of fall into winter and moves through ideas of cycles, seasons, and the subtle ways that bodies and time are kept or patterned, both on a large scale and in terms of personal movement and identity. The mythopoetic tropes of the seasons, especially how seasonal changes correspond to sexuality in Greek myths, become a way of approaching feminine sexuality, particularly being an openly gay woman poet. The gossip around Myles’ having come out in her poems at a reading (there’s a part about this in Inferno) repeats a few times, and a critique of “acceptable” femininity and sexuality runs throughout the poem, moving between flirting (“I mean, um, do you come here often”) to camp (“need more jewelry in this poem”) to abject (“And / as you’ve been taking oatmeal baths / I’ve been ‘eating it’ each morning”) to punk (“I like a good fire, / a good fuck”) to mystic (“that the goddess Parvati is having a business to do to be holy in this world, that Dickinson’s poems will make you cry, that you will cry”) assertions of female power and ability. There’s also this great movement between astrology and science as a way to open up ways of thinking about sexuality beyond heterosexuality’s mostly dichotomous codings. What it means to be hot or cold (summer or winter/turned on or turned off), in the city or out of the city, and having made it or not made it also recur as ways of interrogating sexuality and bodies, and behind that is this tension of being in the poem or out of the poem: “I once asked Blank to do a collaboration / and she said she didn’t do that sort of thing // I thought she was being snotty” (Based on what comes directly after this in the poem, my guess is that “Blank” here is Alice Notley.)
This leads into how fraught even the poetry community of the late-70s/early-80s in New York was when it came to including queer women: “Couldn’t be queer / until I was legit” and “I am curious to be queer young poet / for the first time / etc.” The poem quotes a number of lines from other poets that directly or indirectly address queerness, including from Frank O'Hara, Notley, and William Carlos Williams, to display the sexual marginalization embedded in their own avant-garde tradition. The phrase “asexual daze” repeats as this condensed acknowledgement of the violence of being forced to assign yourself a clear sexuality, but there’s also this attempt to throw off the assumption that it’s “a big deal” to be openly gay in a poem: “there was some comment, my dear, / on a recent poem of yours / using the pronoun "she” / for the first time / referring to a lover // was this a big step? // double brrrr. I took a pile of valium and / turned on the tube, / become one with her. A true truce.“ The avoidance of a direct answer with this gloriously decadent moment of fuckmerging attests to the poem’s audaciousness when any either/or distinction seems on the verge of splitting the poem, splitting the writers. There’s this great part where they’re playing with this 2nd wave feminism Wittig-cliche "all women are lesbians” and saying, Yes totally we’re all lesbians which means straight women are actually “deviants on ice,” which is funny since ice skating keeps coming up in the poem. Race, the canon, music (The Ramones, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads), the issues/difficulties of collaboration, drugs, spirituality, health, and capitalism all play a role in the poem as well. The last line of the poem, which is in quotes, is “'So, do you want to go to bed together?’”
On an unrelated note there’s also a great drunk John Ashbery moment (the “you” here is Anne): “John Ashbery, inebriated & coming on / the other night at / Jimmy Schuyler works reading: 'I want to SEE you!’ / 'But I’m going to Florida in the morning.’ / 'Don’t give me THAT!’”