Eileen Myles on relationships and refusing to align with Greek statues

By Harriet Staff

Antonio Gonzalez's Lambda Literary interview with Eileen Myles covers a lot of ground—race, class, gender, sexuality, politeness, sentimentality, professionalization—but the discussions all revolve around poets' relationships to one another and what it means to belong, or not, to certain artistic communities.

I don’t really have an ambivalent relationship to feminism, but I think it’s like the novel. I mean, I think genre and gender are both terms that morph according to how we use them and I think feminism just… when I first experienced it as a person in her 20s coming to New York, feminism just seemed like a very kind of…I don’t know, kind of a little staid, you know?

I arrived here at the moment of punk and was living in a kind of messy, lesbian, young artist’s way in the East Village and I didn’t get that vibe from the feminist scene. It seemed like there was a great reverence for our foremothers, and classical references, and wanting to align oneself with Greek statues.

Myles describes navigating the etiquette of being confronted (and confronting) Amiri Baraka on issues of race and sexuality; finding more kinship with the works of gay men like John Ashbery, John Wieners, and James Schuyler than other lesbians; sharing influences like Gertrude Stein with Jill Johnson and being influenced in turn by Johnson's columns in the Village Voice; and the changing social/creative climate, particularly in New York, for young poets:

The word mentor sort of makes me kind of recoil, because it’s such a professionalized relationship when it seemed like the thing when I came around was to hang out and get yourself invited to parties and it’s sort of like you just sort of read your work and hope that the energy would come your way.