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Reading/Living Eileen Myles

By Harriet Staff


This morning at the Paris Review Daily you can find a great article about reading Eileen Myles and living the experience of reading Eileen Myles. Rachel Hurn writes about her first encounter with Myles’s work while living in San Diego and buying a copy of Chelsea Girls from a used bookstore. She writes:

The first thing I noted about Myles was that her voice on the page reads like she is reading to me. She was reading to me that day in San Diego, sitting on my Craigslist couch with grad-school applications laid out on the floor across the room, about to go study creative nonfiction, whatever that meant. Chelsea Girls is a book of prose that reads like memoir and is called fiction. I didn’t know this at the time. I thought it was all true, all about Myles, and in a big way I still think so.

The essays jump around thematically and sequentially, beginning in a gay bar in Augusta, Maine, where Myles tackles a police officer: “I’m a poet, you fools, you asshole cops!” She describes New York in the eighties, taking the F train to Queens to collect her “light blue pills,” which she would buy for thirty-five dollars and sell for a hundred: “Go someplace out of your life, come back new, bring it around and make a little money. Clean your apartment. Write some.” Myles has a boyfriend: “I thought we looked alike … ‘Is that all,’ I asked as his dick ‘entered’ me. That’s all I’ve got, he said.” She has a girlfriend: “The first woman put her head between my legs and the complete sin, the absolute moment of sex came back and I was all in one piece coming apart. I was willing to sacrifice all for that moment.”

She publishes a book of poetry, A Fresh Young Voice from the Plains (1981), and throws a party at her publisher’s loft, where her friends found her discomfort amusing: “How’re you doing, Eileen? [Ted] put this faggy little turn on ‘Eileen,’ like it was a made-up name, something I’m pretending to be. It sounded right.” She works at Little, Brown in Boston, a position “underpaid but prestigious,” sneaking poems on her electric typewriter. She lives in the East Village on $250 a month, and friends offer her drinks, drugs, and cigarettes, but she is too embarrassed to ask for a steak: “I was thirty-one years old and it was too humiliating to admit I wanted food.”

Hurn goes on to talk about how Myles’s writing was a sort of life companion as she moves from San Diego to New York, through graduate school and beyond. And finally meets her literary hero:

After the reading at St. Mark’s, I approached her, this badass poet who sat at the information desk in the back of the store. All I could manage to say was, “Your voice. Your incredible voice.”

She smiled. I told her about leaving San Diego to come to New York, which she had also recently done, except that she was coming back after having taught writing at UCSD. Now she was home. I handed her Chelsea Girls—“Woah, I haven’t seen this in a while,” she said. On the title page she inscribed a message that looks like one of her poems:

Rachel —
us escaping from
SD now in NY
yay —

It sounds very nice, right? Well, we don’t want to pull any spoilers so go to the article and read to the end. Eileen might be getting creeped out!

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, March 14th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.