I was having an exchange online with a friend about a book of essays I just published and in response to him saying he was enjoying reading it I gave a short essay in reply about my suffering. How utterly hard this book was . . . not so much to write but to put together. It was a monster. Every time I read publicly from this book I make similar allusions to the martyrdom of the process. It’s a book from of lot of moments, I mean like 80s and 90s and ought’s thus it’s also a lot of formats and decisions and untold agony throughout. When I teach one of the things I generally tell students is that often things that feel utterly great when you are writing them prove to be terrible later on whereas things that I have slogged through with a thick burden of self loathing and ill feeling, bad weather and existential humidity manage to yield something really great – not always but often enough to think there is no relationship between how a piece of writing turns out as opposed to how it feels to write it. Writing might feel bad or good but that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad writing. Weird, right.  The reason I mentioned Jimmy is often think about the great poet James Schuyler who I had the good fortune to work for a while in the late seventies and eventually we became friends. I spent a lot of real time with him in his room in the Chelsea because of the nature of my job. He struggled with mental illness for a big part of his adult life and he was nearing another bout it seemed one autumn afternoon in New York. In the midst of it he was writing a poem. He was wearing a dark red orange flannel shirt and he was sitting at a table by the French windows that faced 23rd St. and I was aghast because in my time of knowing him I had never observed him writing one though I sometimes arrived right after and he showed it to me. This time he was in the throes of writing it and I knew he was very agitated and he seemed like I said very close to having a nervous breakdown. It was that thing of knowing a person to the extent that you can feel their vibe and his was thick with something. Later when I saw the poem he had been writing it seems exquisitely calm, meditative and peaceful even. I wondered if the act of the writing a poem was a kind of balancing for him. Creating a world that would hold the agitation he was feeling even as he was passing through it. 

Originally Published: September 3rd, 2009

Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1949, was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1971, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. She gave her first reading at CBGB's, and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where she...

  1. September 4, 2009
     Matthew Zapruder

    That's an amazing story Eileen. \r

    Yesterday I was hanging out with a poet, we were looking at the Richard Avedon photographs in the SF Moma. He told me that for a while he had without realizing it been writing poems to explain things to others, but recently he has begun trying to write them to explain them to himself. It's hard to know how something abstract like that relates to actual practice, but what he was saying really struck me as much better, very profound. Maybe the difference between the egotistical sublime and negative capability. \r

    I am really looking forward to the publication of Other Flowers, the Schuyler poems retrieved from his papers.

  2. September 4, 2009

    Matthew and Eileen-\r

    I too look forward to Schuyler's new work.\r

    I love the idea of watching someone write poetry. When I finish writing a poem and read it over, I often find there are these palpable scars in the text at the moment I started watching myself write, fidget, agonize. Sometimes I love the way my self-consciousness works its way into the poem, but other times, I think anything that comes afterwards has to be excised/amputated and the poem must end there, even if it feels premature.\r


  3. September 4, 2009
     Don Share

    Look for a special section of previously unpublished Schuyler poems in the November issue of Poetry!

  4. September 4, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Matt Zapruder wrote:\r

    >He told me that for a while he had without realizing it been writing poems to explain things to others, but recently he has begun trying to write them to explain them to himself.\r

    I never knew that there were two such "kinds" of poetry!\r


  5. September 4, 2009
     Matthew Zapruder

    Kent, please stop calling me Matt. Also, my post doesn't say there are two "kinds" of poetry. I think there are at the very least three kinds.

  6. September 4, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Sorry Matthew,\r

    I didn't intend any offense by calling you Matt.\r

    The "third" might be political, as they call it, poetry, perhaps, on which we had some active discussion here, springing from a post directly related to your anthology? It's too bad, as I mentioned during the thread, that you didn't come in on that, as I think it would have made things even more interesting. Eliot Weinberger, even, was here.\r

    Sorry about the name thing. \r


  7. September 4, 2009
     Matthew Zapruder

    Kent, I realized after I posted that I sounded a little peeved about my name, which I wasn't. My apologies. I just wanted to nip that name shortening action in the proverbial bud.\r

    Mainly, I was relating a comment a friend of mine had made that struck me as not only interesting, but also related to Eileen's story of seeing Schuyler so obviously going through the throes of changing consciousness. Which made me think of the realization my friend had, which in and of itself is a sort of poetic realization, a change in how one looks at the world, brought about by immersion in poetry. Which made me feel lucky to be a poet.

  8. September 4, 2009
     Matthew Zapruder

    Hi Albertine,\r

    I'm curious why is it that you think those remnants or evidences of struggle need to be excised? Is that a personal decision, a sort of privacy (which would be understandable)? Or an aesthetic consideration? Are there poems you think are ruined by that sort of thing? \r

    I often love to feel the thinking consciousness very present in the poem -- and it's funny we are writing this in Eileen's thread, since she is a serious exhilarating master of this sort of inclusion -- though I have actually always found one of the more famous examples of that sort of interjection , Bishop's villanelle, One Art, with that "though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster," to be kind of annoying. I love her poems but that strikes me as a fake moment somehow, which I know is totally personal but still it's a feeling I have.

  9. September 4, 2009
     Rebecca Wolff

    This all makes me think of an amazing section of Catherine Wagner's forthcoming book called My New Job (Fence Books). The section is called Everyone in the Room is a Representative of the World at Large and it's a series in which each poem has that title and all poems were written when Cathy was in the room with at least one other person. (I almost wrote "at least one other poem.") So I think it would be great if we could get all those people to write about what it was like to be in the rooms with Cathy while she wrote.

  10. September 4, 2009
     Matthew Zapruder

    that chapbook is one of my prized possessions ... I'm really glad to hear it's coming out in a book, can't wait to read it with all the other poems.

  11. September 5, 2009

    Hi Matthew-\r

    You ask great questions. I think I must not trust myself to reach a peaceful ending after those moments of struggle–but what a silly thing to think, that we need peaceful endings!\r

    Of course it’s more complicated than that–I must not trust my reader to follow me into and through the struggle. I was trained to read and enjoy straight-up lyrics and to study or struggle through reading Modernist poetry with it’s ruptures of consciousness. Maybe I associate those ruptures with work, and I’m just a lazy reader (and writer), and I worry my readers would see something true about me in those moments–my own inattention, perhaps, my laziness. In which case, I might crave privacy.\r

    I’m probably also afraid of becoming more like Gertrude Stein–who’s all rupture and hardly read for pleasure, rather than like Eileen Myles, whose embedded agonies are well-worth the wait. It’s so rewarding to get to follow Eileen’s train of thought in her poems, here, in her posts, etc.\r

    That said, the only single interruption I can think of gives me a great deal of pleasure and relief: TS Eliot’s “In the room the women come and go/ talking of Michaelangelo.” Or however it’s punctuated. But that lives in the middle of a poem of inaction and agony. I’ll keep thinking of contemporary examples, but thanks for your questions.

  12. September 12, 2009

    We used to write "in response to his saying...". Where did that go?

  13. September 12, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Ou sont les neiges d'antan?

  14. September 12, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald



  15. September 12, 2009
     John Oliver Simon