An Interview With Eileen Myles, and a Poem From Her New Book

Eileen Myles is a wonderful poet and a fascinating woman, and she was kind enough to respond to an email interview, on the occasion of her new book’s release (Snowflake/different streets).

Eileen, you have a new book out today, but let’s not talk about that just yet. What’s going on? What are you doing right now?

I am sitting in the kitchen. I went to Harry Dodge’s opening at wallspace last night — great, dirty, wise, and tender work. I have my head chihuahua sitting at my spine as I sit at the table writing this. Nice and quiet. So much travel lately, but today dogs in the park, answering messages, and going to another opening this evening at Participant Inc, and a book release for “dead flowers” about a lot of things including Paul Thek, and I’ve written an essay in the book about him and Sontag, since he gave her “Against Interpretation,” the title out of his own mouth. I like returning stuff to the mouth.

On your beautifully designed website there’s a picture of you sitting on a toilet, clothed. Whose toilet is that?

It is the toilet of a motel in Billings, Montana. My girlfriend and I were driving out to Missoula so I could teach for a semester in 2009, and the drive included an accident, was hell. The light in that particular motel bathroom was sensational, so Leopoldine, who is a wonderful photographer, wanted to take pictures of me in this light. The toilet is closed. Bathrooms often have good lighting.

Would it be fun for you to take a crack at a question that came in through our advice line? (No problem if you’d rather not.) If so, here’s one:

I need to teach a friend how to hold on more loosely. Constant texts, chats, emails, etc., all day long from her. It makes me feel claustrophobic, and sometimes when her chat window pops up I feel like it’s a little gremlin on a trampoline, bouncing up and down trying to look into my house. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I’m coming closer and closer to just wanting to block her/cut her out altogether. The more I pull away, however, the more frantically she clings. But she’s genuinely awesome! But I need her to chill out.

One can go invisible on chats. I do it a lot. You could tell her you love her, but you have a problem with concentration so responding to chats derails you from the narrative you were on.

You’re from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and so am I, and so are Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Which one of them do you think is better looking?

I think Ben Affleck is more interesting. I love his Boston films — Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town. I’m obsessed with Boston as a location, and he is too I think. The strange graininess of his films, the docu-vibe is great, and he’s getting the mix of race and street and weirdness correctly. I suspect, though, that he is an upper class boy. Mark Wahlberg is not, and for looks and maybe for acting he is my favorite Boston dude.

My friend (and fellow poet) Jim Behrle wants to know: “How did you maintain your wicked awesome Boston accent over the years living in New York?”

I lose it in my conversation and I keep it for readings. When I got here (NY) it was the ’70s and there was a heralding of working class artists — Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith — and I could see that there was no representation of my regional ethnicity in the downtown mix, so I decided to keep it. I felt that in Cambridge, too, though. A lot of my friends post-college were trying to NOT sound like townies, and I sort of belligerently and proudly decided to hang on. When I met Robert Creeley, which was the first or second year I lived here, he was ecstatic that I was from the same hometown as he. It indicated to hold the spot. There’s a lot of us in the poetry world — both Fanny Howe and Susan Howe, and though they are like half blue-bloods we speak in some way the same language. I write in Boston, so I at least read in it and slip into it wittingly and unwittingly. It’s home, finally.

Is it okay if I embed a video of you after this question so people can hear your wicked awesome Boston accent?

[EZ: No response, but I’m going to embed this video anyway because I love it. Inferno (a poet’s novel) is available here.]

Red Sox or Yankees?

Red Sox, but I really don’t give a shit about baseball or sports. Growing up it was a kind of resistance to my class and its concerns. Then and now I prefer art. Or going the gym — where enragingly the teevees are flooded with sports.

You’re known to have spent significant time in Iceland. Did you eat the hot dogs when you were there? Do you eat hot dogs in New York?

I love hot dogs. I just ate a hot dog on a boat in Rotterdam last week.

If you edited a website and were given the opportunity to ask a poet you admire one question, what would it be?

Please describe in detail your greatest ever sexual experience. I love hearing writers talk about sex, or trying. It’s a great aesthetic problem, joy.

[Missed opportunity!] Poets are thought of as very flowy and peaceful and … I don’t know, dressed in linen all the time. How would you say this stacks up to your own personal flowy, linen-wearing peacefulness?

I think we take the hit for language in any era. To decide to do “this” as a living is to invite barbs that generally pile up around gender and power. The poet is a fag, the poet is a drag, the poet is righteous. But really I think people resent our freedom. Our choice to keep doing something they may have done badly when they were younger and were full of feeling and to keep doing something that supposedly anyone can do — making something out of something as practical and mundane as language is to brand oneself as a lifelong fool rather than merely a fool in her youth. People feel sad about what they disavowed to become who they are now. Poets are human of course and have disavowed plenty, but to stand behind this nonetheless significant or foolish act — it’s a kind of self identifying, self categorizing act (like language itself) that enrages people exactly in the place where they’ve made choices and need to assume you haven’t. This — to be a poet — was the biggest choice in my life, and I suffer fools gladly and have a great life. Look at this. I just wrote a book called snowflake, for god’s sake.

Two great books you read recently.

Bleak House and Mercury, by Ariana Reines.

What kind of music do you listen to when you cook dinner?

I don’t really cook and I don’t usually listen to music while I hear music. We like Beach House, though, right now.

What’s the future of poetry? (Five word max.)

Now. Always now. People are discovering that we are the link between all kinds of other media, so poetry is not so much stepping up as insinuating itself in the culture wildly. Poetry is wild, always was.

Do you have any allergies?

Alcohol and drugs. Don’t do so I don’t die.

Do you have a favorite rapper?

Erica Kaufman.

Is there a word for that little whoosh of silence that comes at the end of a poem? That moment when everyone mentally cocks their head, like, “ahh.”

Great observation. It’s like the inter poem. It’s where you need to let the stillness hold it all. It’s cool. Sip. That’s what we do.

And if you don’t want a poem to end with that moment, how do you fight it?

I don’t. But some poems like another poem right up on them. It depends on the poem, the reading, its speed and its content.

And thanks for asking real questions. All of them. But these especially. It’s sudden. Nice.

[It is an honor that you’re responding.] Back to your new book, Snowflake/different streets. I read it and really enjoyed it. I hadn’t read a book of poems all the way through since college, which maybe I shouldn’t be admitting here. But I loved it, and I think other people will love it, too. (They should buy it right now! Hairpin readers get 30% off with the code HAIRPIN.) I’d like to end with an excerpt from the book, if that’s okay — is there a poem you’d prefer?

The Nervous Entertainment — I like the part that says “I don’t have a working voice…” I’m hearing that in my head at this moment.


The Nervous Entertainment
For Cathy

just when I
thought I should
break it up
the other one
licked from
across the
room. A red
echo, and a blue
one slithered
on the star
leg of an
eames type
office chair

I saw
a rainbow in
a gush today
soft green
mountain I
couldn’t write
about cause
my recorder
kept checking
itself &
wouldn’t work.

I’m happy
cause I don’t
work. I’m like
a band that
tours people’s
houses playing
when they’re
not around

when Cathy
said I love
poetry I thought
well that’s
cause it’s
going to happen
here. It’s
gonna contain
that remark. After
it enjoys
your fire. When
Cathy said wait
till you see
the morning I said
I’m excited
though it sounded
like I
was dead.

I don’t have
a working voice
I just have
a voice that
comes out the
way it
wants apart
from me. I think
of voices
I admire & try
to use
& you
know how
your friends
shirts are.
it does look
good. These
jeans are
dead. They’re
getting re-

Though not till
I finish
my novel.
Robert Walser
did huge
things in
tiny spaces.
If I say
thank you
at one
more gas
I’m going to start
believing oil
is god. But
it’s when

I’m still
in the
the numbers flip
the land is

Snowflake/different streets is out now. Use the discount code “HAIRPIN” to get 30% off.

Photo by Leopoldine Core.