Poetry International Poetry International

Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles

(United States of America, 1949)
Eileen Myles is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Publisher’s Weekly has described her work as “conversational yet exact . . . with seemingly effortless wit and tenderness.” Briane Teare, writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, noted her “genius ear for the tones and syntax of the American vernacular,” and her “Schuyler-esque lines amped up with a feminist, queer, working class politics.” Teare described her latest work, Snowflake / different streets, as “a double volume that confirms and completes her shift from her earlier voice-driven poetics to a more concept-driven texuality . . . her lyrics have increasingly risked abstraction even as they’ve continued to explore autobiographical and cultural experience.”
Myles’s concept-driven focus is scene in new poems, such as in “Dream”:
Close to the
door in
my dream the
small signs

I saw a brown
sign with wisdom
on it
I saw a brown
one leaning
with wisdom
on it

It’s hard to imagine what a sign, “with wisdom / on it,” might look like, but Myles’s characteristically plain language and short, punctuationless lines allow us to move quickly to the concrete image of her mother “leaning over a pond / cupping water.”

The concept of wisdom carries us further into the poem, asking “which materials do you // does your wisdom prefer.” It’s not entirely clear how wisdom functions here, though the “you” of the poem is conflated with wisdom in these lines, and thus wisdom itself may be a person, or, perhaps, a dream-like rendering of a person. Myles then pushes us directly and firmly into waking reality:

which a-
partment in a summer
with someone
I felt brave to
have touched
her love the screen
door and the dogs
and the cats always
getting out. That
was the fear
two signs
fading but recalling
they had faded like words
fade in stone because
of the rain and the days
and waking and the dream
is leaving with every
step leaning over the meat
because I do not want
you to have died in vain
kissing the turkey and
the neck of  my dog
all animals am I.
all dreams, all stone
all message am I.

The inclusion of such simple, domestic images, such as the screen door and “cats always / getting out” create a push-pull between the heady opening and the bright clarity of memory. The poem ends as if in meditation, where everything is coalesced into the “I,” although it’s clear from the poem that loss is also a part of the “I.”

Myles, interviewed by K. Bradford for Trop, states:

I’m really obsessed with the language of my poems being language that is in the world. I’m not having to give birth to new language  I’m using the language that is already there. I’m putting it next to language that might be surprising. Like when you look at a film and see how a film is edited  here are visual puns and auditory puns and there’s repetition and a pan and it’s just an inventory. There are so many different devices which we use in poetry and writing too. I’m interested in recombining different kinds of moments that can be grasped in language and putting them next to each other.

“That Rat’s Death” is certainly comprised of “language that is in the world,” but it also shows Myles’ ability to make seamless leaps and connections between “different kinds of moments”:

that rat’s death
killed me because i
would see it for days
over and over and
it hardly could be the same
rat whose insides
whisked the street

we don’t think that war
is such an incredible
mess but it was
just yesterday
and in ancient poems
years ago in the past

dying the balloon just
bursts it cannot

bring u back again

the huge cool breath
the lake doesn’t want
you anymore or her

Myles moves us from the immediate and intimate death of a rat to war, which is present in the poem as both recent and epic history. The death of the rat is rendered personally and with tenderness: “whose insides / whisked the street,” while in the lines that follow, the body is simply a balloon that “just / bursts.” Even Myles’ brief use of “u” for “you,” creates friction against the “huge cool breath” of a life ending. As Teare writes, “Myles’s genius lies in making the grand gesture that includes the trivial detail and the sublime at once, their juxtaposition underscoring how we are small and made large by connection, paradoxically isolate and dependent.”

Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts; graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1971; and moved to New York City in 1974. She gave her first reading at CBGB's and then gravitated to St. Mark's Church where she studied with Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley and Bill Zavatsky. She was assistant to James Schulyer in 1979 and was the Artistic Director of the Poetry Project from 1984-86. Myles has received a Guggenheim fellowship, a Warhol/Creative Capital art writers’ grant, and the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. She contributes to a wide number of publications including Artforum, Bookforum, Parkett and The Believer. She is a Professor Emeritus of writing and literature at UC San Diego and currently teaches at New York University, Columbia University and the Naropa Institute. She lives in New York City.
© PoetryFoundation.org

Not Me, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 1991
Chelsea Girls, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 1994
Maxfield Parrish: Early & New Poems, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 1995
School of Fish, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 1997
On My Way, Faux Press, Cambridge, 2001
Skies: Poems, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 2001
Sorry, Tree, Wave Books, Seattle, 2007
Snowflake / different streets, Wave Books, Seattle, 2012

Bread and Water: Stories, Hanuman Books, New York, 1987
Cool for You: A Novel, Soft Skull Press, New York, 2000
Inferno (a poet’s novel), OR Books, New York, 2010

The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2009

The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading, Semiotext(e), New York, 1995 (co-edited with Liz Kotz)

PoetryFoundation.org: In Gray There is Multiplicity by Eileen Myles
PoetryFoundation.org: You've Come a Long Way, Baby, CA Conrad interviewed by Eileen Myles
PoetryFoundation.org: 2000-2009: The Decade in Poetry
PoetryFoundation.org: A Portrait of the Artist Engulfed in Flames
The Poetry Magazine Podcast: December 2013
Poem of the Day: Dream by Eileen Myles
Poem of the Day: Dream 2 by Eileen Myles
Poetry Off the Shelf: Eileen Myles for President: The politics and poetry of a groundbreaking author
Poetry Off the Shelf: Poem Before the Event: A pair of poems about September 11th, written before the planes were even in the air.
Poem Talk: Poem Going Down the Drain: A Discussion of Eileen Myles’s ‘Snakes’
Avant-Garde All the Time: The Women of the Avant-Garde
PoetryFoundation.org: Blog posts by Eileen Myles
Publisher’s Weekly: Review of Snowflake / different streets
Los Angeles Review of Books: Everything Moves Close: New Poems by Eileen Myles by Brian Teare
Trop: Interview with Eileen Myles by K. Bradford
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Prins Bernhard cultuurfonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Gefinancierd door de Europese Unie
Elise Mathilde Fonds
Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère