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PS 4: this is not a poem, it’s just how I paced myself

By Eileen Myles

One of the greater parts of my silence piece is that we have invited the Poetry Club and a 4th grade class from PS 4, the Duke Ellington School on 160th Street, kids with an interest in writing to write a poem collectively, to learn it, and perform it silently on the 30th and then when the opera singer hits the high note, do a loud fun version.

So on Tuesday I went up with Christine Hou who’s worked with the kids before with visual art and I got to make a tiny presentation. I had to think of how to discuss this issue with kids. Here’s what they got:

When I was a kid in school
silence was bad
not necessarily
often it was a command
I remember enjoying
listening to the room
when we were working
rustling paper
and sneezes
sounds of heat coming up in the winter
sounds outside in spring
there was no such thing as silence.
Friends who make films
have told me how they gather some
after each scene they shoot
for the purpose of editing

later on in catholic school
just before easter we had to pick an hour
and go to church
be guarding the thing
actually the exposed Christ
I felt like a loser
I chose four o’clock
and sat there for an hour
I felt like a loser because nobody else did it
but it was my first private silence
one I owned and I liked it
I use silence in my poems
all the time
I’ll write a thought:
“Even my cat hates me.”
and then cars honk so I write that down
“cars honk”
Also when you do a poetry reading
sometimes it’s quiet
sometimes it’s not
when it’s not
you can either
walk away mad
read against it & be mad
or read like it’s your band
you’re reading with all the sounds in the room
In this project
the collection of silence
everything is our band
and it’s like we turned
the volume down on us
so everything else can
play and walk around
watching us perform silently

I’d just also like to tell you how this happened
I was invited to do something
this summer
on the outdoor plaza up at the museum the audbon plaza
which reminds me of birds
and the museum people brought me inside
they said do what you want
so there were all these
collections inside
so I wanted to have a
collection outside
They talked about difficulties
with sound
because when you perform outside
the whole band of
everything else is playing
and it’s hard to hear
I decided to make it easy
instead of fighting the city
to let it play
and be performing our poems
privately until they end.

Comments (8)

  • On June 4, 2009 at 10:13 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    This was your poem or the kids’ poem, Eileen? Some of it sounds very kid-poem, and some sounds like an adult voice.

  • On June 4, 2009 at 11:23 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    Well it really was pretty much what I said to the kids to introduce them to silence. So I took notes when i was preparing in poem form which I often do – like when i teach I write my notes in beats or whatever. So it just seemed like a fun in between thing to post. It seems like some posts say things and some are just wanting to be around.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 1:02 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    And it’s interesting as such. Not everything is there to be argued with. Everyone in the poetic blogosphere waiting to pounce! Noise and silence are not necessarily opposites. Here’s a sixth-grader’s poem about noises, mostly:

    Teachers talking to kids that don’t listen
    Walls full of words
    Houses changing colors and dancing
    Eyes falling and getting wet
    Pencils that are dancing
    while writing on people’s hands
    Trees growing with money
    instead of things to eat
    Phones ringing ring ring ring
    Women cooking with lots of cream
    Kids eating ice cream
    Men reading some rules
    Boards that have written “Don’t ask”
    Points going up and down
    Kids trying their best
    People with names

    —Jasmine García

  • On June 5, 2009 at 2:06 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I like it very much, Eileen. However you arrived at it it’s a beautiful and encouraging girl of a start for a bunch of kids, for a poetry reading, for a meditation on silence or a Harriet dance.

    So two questions:

    a.) if you’re a poet what do you do with it?

    b.) if you’re a reader how do you judge if you don’t know Eileen and you don’t know the start?

    Same observation about the wonderful, indeed perfect little poem by little Jasmine Garcia—and you don’t say it’s a translation, Simon, so I guess she’s one of your bilingual class.

    Great work, to have modelled for her such hope.

    I’ve taught children too, and been overwhelmed by what with a tiny bit of encouragement they can do. I’ve also watched children who have been encouraged by their parents to keep going in art, as if their genius somehow could carry over into adulthood. But of course we human beings have to lose it all before we can discover it again, and such children usually end up feeling failures.

    I would say chidlike qualities inhabit all great poetry, but that a great deal of our contemporary sophistication is childish.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 1:32 pm Sandy Kirkley wrote:

    Good for you..taking time to do that! My daughter benefited so much from art therapy. She continues in that for others now..as she has and is very sensitive to photographic expressions.I happen to know she is a “writer” also, which she does not admit.Keep up your concerns for others! Thanks, Sandy P. Kirkley/Marietta, Ga.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm john wrote:

    this would have been the summer of
    ’79 or ’80 age 16 or 17 and we were playing
    an outdoor party at someone’s house when
    we got rain delayed and the bass player
    had to leave for a junior symphony
    concert so i who had never played bass
    played bass and we played an improv-Dada
    set though we didn’t know the word
    Dada we started playing “Cortez the
    Killer” and the singer and our friend
    Brian just did word association
    taking turns one word at a time
    for the lyrics then the drummer who
    never sang sang a verse of “Catch
    the Wind” before we segued into a raging
    punk version which we’d never played
    before and when we played “All Along
    the Watchtower” the lead guitarist
    lay on his back and made feedback
    and i decided to stop playing and
    just tell a story about my dad and his
    dad who had died when i was 3 and i
    was telling the story off-mike talking
    and gesticulating and nobody could hear
    me and all the other high school kids
    looked at us like we were annoying
    but one cool kid who played hockey and
    got into an ivy league school was
    leaning back in his chair laughing hard
    he was a good-looking guy

    the silence of being drowned out
    by technology i did another piece like
    that in college too but i knew Dada then

    after we were done the host’s band came
    on and played Eagles covers which i
    disdained though i was friends with the
    people in that band and respected them
    as musicians and now i even like the
    Eagles too the other day i even heard
    “Hotel California” come on the radio
    after “I Wanna Be Sedated” it struck
    me as funny times have changed

    Thoreau Ives Cage now Eileen Myles
    talk about silence and practice it
    too one of my favorite things to do
    as a musician is lay out listening
    to yes listening to the world is yes
    a spiritual as well as an aesthetic
    practice and i’m always grateful
    for my ears and thinking of the sounds
    of the world as your band is lovely thanks Eileen

  • On June 9, 2009 at 2:45 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    I’m trying to wrap my mind around your questions:

    a.) if you’re a poet what do you do with it?

    “It” being the thing I declared not a poem? I think you read it or not and find pleasure in it or not. I felt it contained some things that butted against some of our ongoing conversations so I felt it was an engaged artifact.

    b.) if you’re a reader how do you judge if you don’t know Eileen and you don’t know the start?

    The start being what this thing is apart from say that classroom, my project or this blog. I think it’s meaning is entirely contextual – I mean for my purposes. But like a found letter on the street it could become something for someone else but that part’s not my business.

  • On June 9, 2009 at 4:15 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I’m so glad you came back to this, Eileen.

    I thought it was wonderful, in fact, and just wondered what you, the poet, might do with it if you wanted to make it into a poem that could stand on its own two feet anywhere in the world quite alone. Because what made it so effective was the situation in which it was delivered, obviously, and you just can’t package that situation with the poem in a book or a periodical. Indeed, as it stands you’d also have to package yourself with it to get the full effect, and giving up your life to be sandwiched in a book or a periodical would be a terrible waste!

    So what would you have to do to make it a poem that anybody could read and enjoy on its own? You don’t have to do that, of course you don’t–you can just leave it.

    And then there comes that moment when Eileen Myles’ work is famous enough that someone could publish it and everybody would know it was just right as it was. Like so much of Picasso.

    Or a found letter on the street, precisely, but if the letter was picked up by Picasso and found scrunched up under an old leather bicycle seat in his studio it would be worth gaping at by millions.

    And by me too–my heart beats faster just thinking about the Musée Picasso in the Marais!


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, June 4th, 2009 by Eileen Myles.