Eileen Myles, an interview and a poem

Eileen-Myles-WEBIt was with great satisfaction, and not without amusement that I read several recent interviews with and profiles of Eileen Myles, a poet who has always been much beloved, but who has only recently become the kind of poet profiled by the New York Times. I am always happy to see poets given big profiles in the mainstream press; right after this, I found another profile in The New Yorker. In this brief interview, from the Talk column in the Sunday Magazine, there was so much to love:

Poetry always, always, always is a key piece of democracy. It’s like the un-Trump: The poet is the charismatic loser. You’re the fool in Shakespeare; you’re the loose cannon. As things get worse, poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary.

Which is not unlike what Ursula LeGuin said recently in the speech she gave upon receiving an award from the National Book Awards. Myles’ hyperbole is funny:

I think it would be a great time for men, basically, to go on vacation. There isn’t enough work for everybody. Certainly in the arts, in all genres, I think that men should step away. I think men should stop writing books. I think men should stop making movies or television. Say, for 50 to 100 years.

Myles ran for President a while back, as the first “openly female” candidate. This poem, related, is from her 1991 collection Not Me published by (semiotexte), An American Poem. It as satisfying much like her interview is satisfying: she says things that are profound, necessary, hyperbolic, and funny. Her poetry is accessible, and down to earth:

An American Poem


I was born in Boston in
1949. I never wanted
this fact to be known, in
fact I’ve spent the better
half of my adult life
trying to sweep my early
years under the carpet
and have a life that
was clearly just mine
and independent of
the historic fate of
my family. Can you
imagine what it was
like to be one of them,
to be built like them,
to talk like them
to have the benefits
of being born into such
a wealthy and powerful
American family. I went
to the best schools,
had all kinds of tutors
and trainers, traveled
widely, met the famous,
the controversial, and
the not-so-admirable
and I knew from
a very early age that
if there were ever any
possibility of escaping
the collective fate of this famous
Boston family I would
take that route and
I have. I hopped
on an Amtrak to New
York in the early
‘70s and I guess
you could say
my hidden years
began. I thought
Well I’ll be a poet.
What could be more
foolish and obscure.
I became a lesbian.
Every woman in my
family looks like
a dyke but it’s really
stepping off the flag
when you become one.
While holding this ignominious
pose I have seen and
I have learned and
I am beginning to think
there is no escaping
history. A woman I
am currently having
an affair with said
you know  you look
like a Kennedy. I felt
the blood rising in my
cheeks. People have
always laughed at
my Boston accent
confusing “large” for
“lodge,” “party”
for “potty.” But
when this unsuspecting
woman invoked for
the first time my
family name
I knew the jig
was up. Yes, I am,
I am a Kennedy.
My attempts to remain
obscure have not served
me well. Starting as
a humble poet I
quickly climbed to the
top of my profession
assuming a position of
leadership and honor.
It is right that a
woman should call
me out now. Yes,
I am a Kennedy.
And I await
your orders.
You are the New Americans.
The homeless are wandering
the streets of our nation’s
greatest city. Homeless
men with AIDS are among
them. Is that right?
That there are no homes
for the homeless, that
there is no free medical
help for these men. And women.
That they get the message
—as they are dying—
that this is not their home?
And how are your
teeth today? Can
you afford to fix them?
How high is your rent?
If art is the highest
and most honest form
of communication of
our times and the young
artist is no longer able
to move here to speak
to her time…Yes, I could,
but that was 15 years ago
and remember—as I must
I am a Kennedy.
Shouldn’t we all be Kennedys?
This nation’s greatest city
is home of the business-
man and home of the
rich artist. People with
beautiful teeth who are not
on the streets. What shall
we do about this dilemma?
Listen, I have been educated.
I have learned about Western
Civilization. Do you know
what the message of Western
Civilization is? I am alone.
Am I alone tonight?
I don’t think so. Am I
the only one with bleeding gums
tonight. Am I the only
homosexual in this room
tonight. Am I the only
one whose friends have
died, are dying now.
And my art can’t
be supported until it is
gigantic, bigger than
everyone else’s, confirming
the audience’s feeling that they are
alone. That they alone
are good, deserved
to buy the tickets
to see this Art.
Are working,
are healthy, should
survive, and are
normal. Are you
normal tonight? Everyone
here, are we all normal.
It is not normal for
me to be a Kennedy.
But I am no longer
ashamed, no longer
alone. I am not
alone tonight because
we are all Kennedys.
And I am your President.

Right? She is the partner of Jill Soloway, the creator of the TV series Transparent, who said  of Myles:

I see Eileen as a wayward walking country minister posing as a dyke poet. Her mind is the most expansive mind I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in contrast to. There is no thought or impulse of mine, be it revolutionary, feminist, radical, dirty, beautiful, silly, abstract or murderous, that feels ugly. That totally frees me up to say to myself: more, more, more.

Plus that great gummy smile. Myles is the author of a novel, Chelsea Girls, recently reissued, and the collection of poetry ‘I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975 – 2014.

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