The inimitable Eileen Myles

It’s been an incredibly hard week in many ways. I left work while the storm clouds gathered and fought off the desire to just go home and crawl into bed. This is a pretty rare feeling for me.

I had promised myself a trip to McNally Jackson (now one of my very regular haunts and probably where I’ll meet him) to attend a reading and Q&A session with Eileen Myles, a poet I have admired and loved for years. It’s really one of those New York City dreams-come-true to walk into a bookstore and attend something like this. I got there early and sat reading with my back towards the rest of the store, crying out the week with Jack Gilbert. I made my way downstairs to sit with the rest of the rapt audience, in a room with way too few chairs. In a good way. I felt better immediately.

I’ve always had this weird relationship with “poetry” and such, because I love it but I feel like people have this very pre-defined assumption about what poetry is, who reads it, and what kind of people write it. Maybe it seems silly now, but when I was younger I would correct people when they asked me if I was a “writer” or a “dancer” or a “poet” because I didn’t like to be categorically defined. “I’m a person who happens to write,” I would respond.
eileen myles
Eileen Myles is the sort of writer that forces you to recognize the breadth of what poetry can even mean. She was witty, intellectual, relaxed, and hilarious. She made a lot of jokes and also very relevant commentary about the New York Times review on her new collection, I Must Be Living Twice (“it’s very female treatment to have a major part of the review talk about what I look like”). If I’m allowed a joke, I kind of knew that this reading would make me realize that I’m definitely not feminist enough. I have a long way to go.

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The humor Myles weaves into profound topics makes it all more powerful. She read from her new collection (her 20th book!) and from Chelsea Girls. Her candidness was such a relief.

I scribbled down so many things in my notebook- below are a few paraphrased notes.

  • There’s this great new taco place called El Diablito in the East Village, and I’m always standing in line for my damn tacos so devils keep coming into my poems.
  • Much is made of my poverty, so why not put it front and center? So here’s a very poor poem.
  • “Don’t want you to kiss me anymore/ because I don’t want to feel alive.”
  • “Missing you in New York is not possible.”
  • “Oh the pain, I need whiskey on the rocks. And sex. And I get it.”
  • Some parts of your writing are a part of you, you carry it everywhere. Other parts, when you look back, you realize you have no recollection of it. It’s amazing that your mind does this, you know, protect you from yourself. Time is forgiving. You’re safely historicized.
  • “You poets make me nervous because you’re always making things up.”
  • I loved Marfa so much, I bought a house there. There’s just enough wilderness but also night clubs for when you don’t want to be by yourself anymore. It seems a good place for a writer to go.
  • On the “agoraphobic” horizon of MarfaI’m from the East Coast, and the openness is not something I’m used to. It feels like blank pages read to be written on, and it’s exciting.
  • Whenever I was smoking, I was thinking about how I should quit. When I wasn’t smoking, I wanted to smoke. So I had to choose a side.
  • When asked about her use of substances: I used substances because I was too absorbed in how I could change how I was feeling. Drugs tend to erase the reality of time. Time, as it turns out, is really interesting. I like observing how time changes me, and I think my mastery of time was the turning point, when I succumbed to it rather than trying to avoid it.
  • Poems are a charting of the weather inside of you. I’d be crazy if I didn’t write poems. In life transitions, I write a long poem and then I know it will be ok.
  • If something leaves dents, then you know it was actually there.
  • I have a taste for ruin.
  • California’s sparseness made me into a different person. Each new place has a different sound to it. The writing is a trail of this. Marfa is inhabited in a way San Diego isn’t.
  • As you get older, the road gets narrower. You make choices to narrow down what used to be more broad. I use fewer words, I take more leaps.
  • We [the ideas of women] are like male inventions. Like we fail by definitions that we have nothing to do with. Mythology, really.
  • Feminism gets blamed for wrecking “culture” even though it’s always the men leaving the story.
  • Family — what does that even mean?
  • I’m afraid to not be home. I travel all the time, and I have to do the same 7 things to feel like I’m home. To have a home is my ultimate dream. So my dream is actually be the Householder. The one staying instead of the one leaving.

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