We live in a Gogol world. He may have died 150 years ago but his world is our world, a world of absurdities haunted by ghosts and government clerks, where people are victimized by committees and asylums, where rational insanities and irrational truths determine the course of lives. His writing remains modern not only because he avoids the archaic language that makes other writing of the era virtually unreadable, but because he deals in universal truths.
Eileen Myles is a feminist, beat, punk poet and it is no surprise that she was befriended by Allen Ginsberg upon her arrival in New York City in the mid-seventies, giving her first reading at CBGB's in 1974. Her first book of poetry, The Irony of the Leash was published in 1978. Like Michelle Tea, Myles grew up working-class, lesbian, and well-read in Massachusetts. Somewhere along the way, she fell under the mentorship of poets like Robert Creeley and James Schuyler. Myles cites them as some of the reason that much of her writing often takes on somewhat of a masculine tone. However, she has always identified as a lesbian poet and uses her poetry and writing in other genres to constantly question our conventional ideas about gender and even about poetry itself. She is the author of one novel, ten volumes of poetry, one short story collection, and the co-editor of a collection of lesbian short fiction entitled The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading. Her writing (including art criticism) has frequently appeared in the Village Voice, The Nation, The Stranger, Art in America, Book Forum and in the late nineties she was part of the touring feminist poetry collective Sister Spit. She is also the former Artistic Director of St. Mark's Poetry project and the current director of the Creative Writing Program at UC San Diego. In the midst of all of that, she even mounted an inventive campaign for president of the United States in the 1992 election.
Imagine standing under the night sky on the side of a mountain, surrounded by a thousand Ku Klux Klan members, all wearing their ghastly hoods and sheets. A huge burning cross casting monstrous shadows over the proceedings. You are also wearing a Klan sheet, but you are not one of them. You are there as a spy, to report their illegal activities to the police and expose their tactics of hate and intimidation. They have made it clear that they will kill anyone who betrays them. If they find out who you are, you're in trouble.
That is exactly what Stetson Kennedy did in the late 1940's. He wrote about it in his classic 1954 book, The Klan Unmasked, a gripping account of the experience. Disappointingly, the police and the FBI were reluctant to take direct action against the Klan, even when presented with hard evidence of arson, vandalism, assault, inciting riots, and murder. It turned out that many policemen and government officials were themselves Klan members. In fact, Kennedy says some of the Klan robes weren't quite long enough to cover the shoes and trouser cuffs of what looked suspiciously like police uniforms.