Times I've Got Paid
It strikes me that Eileen Myles is the first person in this series of pieces about money and poetry to name dollar amounts. I think this is a working class origins thing. I don’t think I can claim working class because my dad ascended to the middle before he died. Or I don’t know what I am. Sliding back down. Comfortable. That’s how I appeared in Josef Kaplan’s Kill List and I can’t argue. Remember when Kill List came out, how, in many heated conversations, people felt compelled to confess something about their class position, ascension, sliding up or down? It was a good moment. Same, but different, Eileen’s writing always makes me feel compelled to write, to meet that drunk feeling, so here it is: I’m getting paid $200 per post to edit this series, $1,000 total. I need the money. It’s not a small amount. It’s not poetry, yet, as Eileen writes, since poetry is the currency of my life when it works double-time and produces money too (or something else) I probably like it the best.
Even thought it feels like an (aerosolized) salary, I get paid by the course which means I can sort of calculate how much I got paid to write the intro when Eileen read at Mills last fall. Depending on how you do the math I think it’s about the same, $200. It turned into my version of the endless articles that are like Duh People, Eileen Was Already Famous to Poets. And Women’s Careers Still Get Talked About Differently. Eileen is taking a lot of heat as she rises. It’s interesting. I saw somebody write off Chelsea Girls recently because of her support for Hillary. I get it, I can’t get down with Hillary either, but what a loss. I don’t get it. What am I saying. I’m getting double time for this: I spent Sunday afternoon with Chelsea Girls again, my beat up Black Sparrow paperback. I was thinking how much I learned from this book. About writing, I often tell people to read it, sometimes I just say, sort of helplessly, it’s so good, or something about description, I guess by that I mean the real world of the book, its nouns, its way of speaking to you, telling a story as wild as private as public, hot, sad, and lonely as it needs to be, all over the place with precision. Like the endless sartorial details that signal class hierarchies, how Myles’s intricate reading of a shirt, a kind of coat, a shoe, taught me something too about the way I learned to read money’s appearance, where ownership excluded me or not, like sometimes you pull it off, you get the outfit right which can also feel wrong. Different period, same divisions, Chelsea Girls taught me so much. About being an artist, about sexual violence, about living in a body marked female.
It’s an interesting moment to think about The New Yorker as Eileen describes it—generalist (while, as she notes, limited in the kinds of poetry it doesn’t publish much of, or, as Timothy Yu wrote about last week, the kinds of poetry it does.) Generalist in the sense that poetry appears alongside things other than poetry, other than poets. My person is a theater artist and always says he prefers “civilian” audiences to the closed loop of performing for other practitioners. But also: Perhaps people love the New Yorker because it is the end of something.
I’ve sent poems to the New Yorker for about 30-40 years. Through three different editors. Not every day or every year but it would strike me every now and then that it was something I ought to do. And to explain this I mainly need to say my desire to be in the New Yorker has to do with the fact that it’s a general interest magazine. I mean like toney to everyone in the writing world with all the up and downsides that entails (certain kinds of female sex don’t appear, certain kinds of male sex do. Men are still represented as the adventurers there and broadly speaking ((outside of sex)) the New Yorker is not too stylistically risky, that’s a fact). But by general as I said earlier I mean there’s political commentary, there’s listings, there’s fiction and there’s non-fiction, cartoons, and poems. So you potentially get read by everybody who likes those other things. Genre-wise in this situation poetry seems normal. I like being read that way. No matter what my poem says or even how it says it in a general interest magazine I am not writing in a deviant form that should be only consumed alongside others. That general condition of the poetry world entirely sucks yet frankly it is not my life quest to upend it. Wish I could but I only have this one life. Perhaps people love the New Yorker because it is the end of something. And I always like to be there. Generally I’d send a pile of my best I thought. Generally they would be poems in which I didn’t swear & ironically when I finally did have a poem accepted by the New Yorker it did have a swear in it. I just checked and it’s true. I say ‘shit.’ The time was ripe. So. Let’s see. I’ve had plenty of thoughts about the New Yorker and the poetry they publish. I particularly liked years ago when Sparrow spurred a project in the poetry world which was translating poems in the New Yorker into English. The joke was they were pretty canned, those New Yorker poems. Lots of them had that sound right through the reigns of three different editors so it seems that much of the poetry world has that sound. I didn’t admire many of those poems but three different editors didn’t like my poems either so I was seemingly of some other demographic I think one that generally didn’t aspire to having poems in the New Yorker. But then you know people like Jimmy Schuyler and John Ashbery and later Rae Armantrout would have poems there. Allen Ginsberg got one in when he was dead. Each time someone I know or approve of would have a poem in the New Yorker I’d think fuck I have to try again. And I would and nothing happened and a decade passed. I think I basically had a fight with Paul Muldoon, the poetry editor, and that helped. I mean c’mon I’m a really good poet and I write good poems whatever that means so if anything nice happens I stand on that fact first but incidentally as I was sending my 900th poem to the New Yorker Paul wrote me back a reply that irritated me. I won’t even honor it here. Then I thought well I never have had a poem in the New Yorker obviously and this is sort of a drunk feeling or a “hey I just realized I’m in a dream” feeling in which you think eh who cares so I wrote him back a terse note. He wrote me back another one. Ha. I decided to stop there but since I largely or very often live my life like it’s a dream—say when I decided to be a poet and was so off the grid in really many ways—all your life people say what do you do and you say I’m a poet and they just kind of look like you said you’re a stripper. And then they throw a blanket on you. Like so how do you live or something. Or are you published. You know how it goes. I mean sometimes you have amazing conversations on planes this way. They’ll say I love Sharon Olds. Or I love Billy Collins. She seems nice. He doesn’t. I pick up my book. So once Paul and I had our exchange rather than thinking well that was fun but now I’ll never have a poem in the New Yorker I found myself in front of a mike at a reading introducing one of my poems by saying this poem was rejected by the New Yorker. I guess I still wanted to be branded by the New Yorker in some way. I love when people say this poem was in the New Yorker. I have actually said it. I realize now that you feel a little redundant reading a poem that is in the New Yorker. I’ll explain that in a minute or maybe not but it is a curve in my understanding of what people say now that I have had the experience. But anyhow I would say this poem was rejected by the New Yorker. Did I stop there. Uh uh. I think because I grew up in an alcoholic household and I was suspending belief so often as a child just to survive that it now felt like a bicep flex. Feeling a little nervous I might do it. So I told the whole tale of our spat. I thought you guys might want to see a real crazy poet monster. Something happens to me in front of a mike. I can’t help it. As I once said to my ex Jill Soloway when we were on a panel at the Jewish Museum last spring: You just sexually abused an entire room. I don’t remember what she said but I got a huge laugh saying that and it was the beginning of a great love. I think I am abusing a room in some way when I act boundariless. I’m just acting out and something about electricity and amplification seems to do it for me. Back to the poetry incident so then after I indulged myself in revealing my spat with Paul I thought I will NEVER have a poem in the New Yorker. I am totally in control there. Summer comes and with it the Frank O’Hara Fire Island poetry festival. Who’s reading in it among others. Me and Paul. It wasn’t even awkward. He gave me a nice summer hug. I’m eroticizing it. In summer you wear less so you probably know more about the other’s body. It’s a hug. It’s a real fucking hug. We kind of made nice together. We looked at each other. He might have even encouraged me to send more poems. And for the two days of the festival we were quite friendly. I had just been living in Belfast a couple of years before where Paul is from and I had been up for telling Paul about it and did I? I forget. I mean honestly I own a book of his called The Mule which I had been meaning to tell him I liked. Did I? I don’t know. So about a half a year later I sent some poems to the New Yorker. To Paul. I didn’t hear a word. I think I wrote him again. And then he told me he was accepting a poem of mine. He mentioned its title and I quietly told him that I hadn’t written that poem. Ah he laughed and he gave the correct title. Is this a rocky road to a story of poetry and publishing and money. Not very rocky. My life is so much rockier than this. But it’s the one I choose to tell today. Only moderately abusive to several relationships that I won’t enumerate. I’m thinking Paul will enjoy it. Since I have had my poem in the New Yorker I have sent another bunch and Paul rejected me again. I’m tempted to show you one of the poems and how good it is but that would be shooting my wad. A poem is my money. I had a couple of poems in Transparent last season and they paid me for it and for the next season they are using another in a slightly unusual way and when Jill told me about it rather than commenting on how they were using it I asked her if they intended to pay me for it. Which I think offended her. But it was this feeling that my poem is my property. Like my lawn. I get a thousand dollars for a poem in Transparent. Which kind of ruins the rest of this piece. I think the New Yorker gave me something like $600 for the poem “Dissolution.” It had been the most I had ever gotten for a poem I think. Sometimes now when I am asked to write a catalogue essay for an artist I realize I could do a poem and I propose that or simply send it. In those cases I have gotten $1500 for the poems which is the most. Yet it is low for an art catalogue so in a way writing a poem is a kind of complaint. Here take a fucking poem for that price. I mean it doesn’t literally feel that way but I’m always looking for the easiest way for language to pour. Especially in relationship to cash. I’m getting $400 for this, being asked for at least 1500 words which is low. But poetry and money is a hot topic meaning one around which I can easily pour, divulge and even satisfy myself in some way so it’s a little bit like being paid to masturbate in public. I just want to say finally flowing over the number of words I was invited to write and sweeping in here now to my point which is value and it’s two fold, damn this will be long. First is that I had no idea how many people and what a wide range read the New Yorker. I think it’s some kind of national or international sign of class, and knowingness. So all sorts of people read my poem in the New Yorker. Remember when Facebook began and all sorts of people reached out to you from high school. That never happened to me. Nobody did. But having a poem in the New Yorker brought really sweet letters from people who went to Arlington Catholic high school, granted the smart ones who I remember getting in to good colleges or better I thought than mine. So I said to Mary in an email "and you went to Marquette." I was envious of anyone who went away to college. I commuted from home. She said "no there was no financial support. I stayed in Boston too." But what I’m trying to say is I just had this wide sense of being read as a poet, so that was actually much nicer than the $600. And last summer around when it came out and many friends posted my New Yorker poem on Facebook and you really know something of what you symbolize when people go holy shit look who’s in the New Yorker but because of this distribution it was really easy to share my poem and prove it had been in the New Yorker which is how it became a final form of currency and then I will tell you how I feel about it all. Which is glad. I like reaching, I like getting the thing. I got a house in Marfa TX last summer. I mean I bought it. And it was being renovated and the renovation kept taking longer and longer. I have been told however that my renovation was one of the fastest, quickest. It took longer than they said but like a month longer, not six months or a year. So my dog and I had to stay in motels and other people’s houses. And it still wasn’t ready. And I was getting kind of broke. And every now and then I think of how poetry can be applied more widely and more naturally in the world. So I got the email of Virginia who owns the Thunderbird my favorite motel I’ve stayed in in Marfa TX. And my dog Honey likes it too. And they’ve got a pool. I said Virginia I’m a poet. A famous one. Very successful. I realize this is very crass. It’s like taking your currency and making of yourself a coin. Though I don’t feel like that. Back to Virginia. I said: for instance I’ve got a poem in the New Yorker this week. Here it is. Attached. So I would like to offer you my services, I will write a poem for any purpose in exchange for a few nights at your motel. She accepted the offer and gave me two nights and I wrote a poem. I went right to the motel and sat at the pool—and I was not staying there anymore. I was by now in my house but I hadn’t paid my debt. A man I know named David and his boyfriend Ricardo were in the pool and I put them in the poem and I sent it to Virginia when I was pretty certain it was an okay poem. I left her a hard copy too. And I never heard a word. I would like to know how she liked it. But that wasn’t the exchange. The exchange was complete. So I would say finally the New Yorker poem was $600 plus two nights at Thunderbird which is another $300 or so which makes it very close to the Transparent poems in terms of literal worth. Yet they are different pleasures all of these. It’s the truest thing I can say. And just to say even more honestly since poetry is the currency of my life when it works double-time and produces money too (or something else) I probably like it the best.
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. They gave their first reading at CBGB's and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where they studied with Ted...