Made with

Eileen Myles: Loving This World

BY EDWIN TORRES. What an ear on Eileen Myles— to not only uncover, but to capture the underlying truth out of the simplest phrase. The hardest thing to do for a poet, to mine and unearth the gems that move us. And if that’s the definition of what it means to be a poet, then she is a poet’s poet. Before identity interferes with the words we have the voice, the singular infinite 

whose job it is to reveal. Eileen’s singular voice cuts through clutter with a profound sense of place. I always get a sense of honor from her work, as if she understands her being as a vessel is to get out of her own way. That she’s able to dissappear like that while presenting such a powerful focal point, is why she resonates across such a wide spectrum. Through the writing of course…but also the form, the line break, we get to the underlying truth, the world revealed.

I want to leave my introduction at this point, let the work speak for itself. It was a great experience to collect the pieces for Rattapallax…revisiting her work is a humbling reminder for clarity. Stacy Szymasek’s interview uses the interwoven engine of Leslie Scalapino to bring us current, from Eileen’s time as director of the Poetry Project to the ‘real’ America back to breath again. And CA Conrad’s essay summarizes beautifully the Myles arc: a never-starting geometric that passes through staccato id from the perspective of another brilliant poet who happens to be a lifelong fan, and whose life was indeed saved by Eileen’s poetry. 


Eileen Myles: Clothed In Nature With An Open Ear

The tomato


Being intended

to hit god

it hit his mother

I speak for


– from Sorry, Tree (Wave Books, 2007)

BY CAConrad. My friends and I waited in the theater to see Eileen Myles appear in the Harry Dodge film. “THERE SHE IS!” It was great! It was weird too seeing her walking but not in person, not at one of her famous poetry readings, meaning any of her poetry readings because she never gives less than a 100 percent. But there she was walking up flights of steps. Dirty, sweaty, carrying containers of water. She had crossed over into film, and we could see her walking in another city, in the past. Of course film is in the past the moment it’s made, like everything else. This is a conversation which often becomes an argument with my New Age friends who lecture on the virtues of living in the Now. “The” “Now”.

She was walking up the many steps, and was tired, finally at the top. She was carrying all this water. More than a hundred trillion cells make this poet, 75 percent of which are water, and she carries more water in containers up flights of steps. What’s she up to? Ernst Chladni’s research proves that sound has form. He got to this by covering a metal plate with sand, then ran a violin bow on the edge of the plate, and all of the sand vibrated into a perfect geometric shape which looked much like the body of a violin. Poets are bows, the plate, the sand, poet, the poet Myles, and water TAKES that sound and carries form. Water displaces in song. She had all this extra water for her new songs which when sung would turn the leaning towers inside the readers into upright violins.

I find it hard to believe that my essay will be read by someone who has NEVER heard of Eileen Myles. But just in case, she’s queer. In all the ways the word works, queer. Anton Webern once said, “To live is to defend a form.” Being a queer myself I know how growing up THIS DIFFERENT from the respectable and acceptable world can allow one the ability to see and hear outside the norm. One doesn’t HAVE TO BE a homosexual, there are plenty of other kinds of queers around, people not easily inside the norm. Being and staying creative is much easier though, when you already don’t fit the job, the automatic job some don’t mind for belonging in the accepted ways. One of the things that changed my life reading the poetry of Myles as a young queer was her access to herself, her amazing lens that came in on the world however she wanted the poem to be. And her confidence too, yeah, that changed me, permanently changed me. Nothing helps the day run smoother than having confidence. If you’re not queer, don’t ever think it’s easy. I mean if you don’t kill yourself after a number of years you kind of HAVE TO build confidence. It’s a beautiful world when the bullies have no entrance.

Frank Furness is my favorite architect in Philadelphia is what I used to say. Frank Furness is one of the best architects in Philadelphia is how I later started saying, when saying with confidence. Confidence can be an excruciating lesson, provided you’ve been permitted to learn. There are so many vicious assholes to overcome. Frank Furness is a willing and willful Earthling, and there’s evidence in his First Unitarian Church at 22nd and Chestnut Streets. I never stop smiling at what he did. If you take people there for the first time they often remark, “I love the angel wings.” And you would think there would be angel wings because it’s a church. But no, they’re actually stone-carved tree branches and fronds, their delicate leaves poised for flight. Furness sees this Earth, this place, as holy. Heaven? What’s heaven? A living, gorgeous, spiritual Earth, and translucent are our greatest faults which always hearken back in some way to forgetting how marvelous Earth is.

“I admit I love tulips

because they

die so beautifully.

I see salvation in

their hanging heads.

A beautiful exit. How do

they get to

feel so free?”

—from NOT ME (Semiotext(e) Press, 1991)

Myles puts this in the middle of our reading, reading from the world as we see it, and it is then changed. This is a holy moment, today, on Earth, she has been telling us this. When you read her poems, the natural world is a constant thread, casting a spell for recalling and reaffirming life. If you haven’t noticed how many trees come up in her poems read them again –– there they are, her arms too, she’s trees through her arms, and trees come back around just enough you note her forest of them. “The trees are / my friends. / Hello tree. / Can I come / out to a / tree. I know / you’d hardly / know it / to look at / me, but / would you / believe I’m / a Lesbian.” (from NOT ME). In her recognition of the quiet giants who hold the paper in their guts she provides as many visits with trees as there are with her lovers. She is a willing and willful Earthling. “Once traveling / across America / I watched / my plane’s / shadow / fall over / trees. I / felt evil. / Who wants / to watch / themselves / travel, / darkening / the land.” (from NOT ME)

Rescued drowning victims often claim that after the struggle they go under the water and fall asleep. We go to sleep when suffocating. It’s just too much. It’s hard to breathe writing this, do you feel your breath reading it? Too much. Eileen Myles woke me when I went to sleep while suffocating. This is not a metaphor, there are many ways to drown without water. The best poets have the best wake-up poems: WAKE UP! WAKE UP! It was her book SAPPHO’S BOAT (Little Caesar, 1982). I woke from a terrible night on the floor next to friends after mixing too many intoxicants. Everyone else was still asleep, and we were in someone’s sister’s apartment and the sister was away. Poetry had already saved me before, but this time in my life, this time was particularly dark, you know, you’ve already been there yourself. But then I woke and my beautiful friends were still asleep on chairs, curled in corners, and this book poked from a pile of magazines. From the first poem WAKE UP! WAKE UP! the Eileen Myles alarm clock:

Big library where read Sappho.

Holes and all. Feel the wind

Shifting through. Aeolics.

Shiver when Sappho speaks of her

Heart Beat. It

Pounding down through the ages.

Old adrenaline, gives me a rush.

And morning sex was nice. In

morning light. Day blast-off.

Rusharound. Through the lightness.

That book that morning pulled me into my shoes, young and nauseous, not wanting to die. A couple of years later NOT ME came out and it took me a little while to realize that it was by the same author as the book from the party. WHO WAS THIS writing these poems? The state of queer, Queer, to be Queer came through the filter of her lines, her incredible insistence I AM HERE I AM GOING TO FUCKING PIN YOU TO A PASSING CLOUD IF YOU TRY TO REMOVE ME. To keep from suffocating, it really is too much to not go to sleep otherwise. Her queer ear, and woman’s perspective changes the reader who cares to hear, “I abhorred Dr. Williams’ / self-proclaimed com- / passion for the / woman giving birth. / O sensitive man / getting lyrical about / her labor pains.” (from NOT ME)

I LOVE that line! How many years did the world wait for Eileen Myles to write it for the quietly angry? WHO KNOWS! Centuries of men setting fire to women. “I visited Carryl / at all sorts of / loony bins & hideaways / The Church of the / American Witch / she says.” (from NOT ME) You’re allowed to be irritated. It’s GREAT to find that out! It’s fine if you want the world a certain way and it’s not and you feel like saying something about it. Robert Duncan said “Responsibility is to keep the ability to respond.” YES! And Eileen Myles said “I pick up a book and / another book and memory / and separation seem to / be all anyone writes / about.” (from NOT ME)

In Jane Brox’s book Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, there were always plenty of reasons to fear the dark, no matter what continent you were on: hyenas, tigers, wolves, other people. For centuries they used animal and vegetable fat for torches, but Brox never mentions the use of poems. Then there were candles and lanterns, still no mention of the poets. And yes it’s a terrific waste of energy having ALL the lights on in an empty building at night, but I understand it. And all the lights on an acre-wide empty parking lot ON all night, but I understand it as much as I understand Myles writing:


has one missing piece

and all the beauty’s

about it

–from on my way, (Faux Press, 2001)

We’re looking for that piece. What’s artificial about light anyway? How can it ever be artificial? Poets and the little creatures glowing in deep sea. All we’re wanting to do is see one another. Poets. Even poets who – at one time – railed against the personal “I” write their memoir, to see, just as their poems were to see. Nothing artificial going on. It’s okay to think you were the first, you were the best, the light, the great source, it’s okay. There’s enough love for it. There are plenty of poems in this lantern to get us to the next morning.

A few days ago I went with my friend Frank Sherlock to see the documentaryCOUNTDOWN TO ZERO. It’s about impending nuclear war, which is a very bright light, unless of course we manage sanity soon! I had a nightmare last night where all the oxygen burned away like they said it will. And I fell on the floor of my apartment in agony, hoping to die quickly. It was beautiful to wake and take a deep breath, HAAAAAH, for now. And I wondered about all I’ve done this week, not wanting to squander time. Well, I’m rereading ALL of Eileen Myles’ poetry, falling in love all over again! I don’t even know how to thank her, but I’m grateful for not suffocating so often. For instance this morning I was getting back into SKIES(Black Sparrow, 2001), and her infectious insistence of loving this world took hold:


Since the light is so perfect now

please take this picture

of hoover chewing the torn soccer ball

or the sound of chief anthony’s


how about you with your legs

crossed taking a picture

or you, not even

on the porch but packing

in this perfect


An Interview With Eileen Myles

Stacy Szymaszek: We recently had a brief conversation in the Poetry Project’s office about Leslie Scalapino, where I learned you were friends. In honor of Leslie, I thought we could begin with her in our interview. As a response to the Gulf War, she sent her writing to newspapers she thought would publish her, but none of them would – this grew into her book Front Matter, Dead Souls. At around the same time (1991) you declared your candidacy for president, and wrote your brilliant “Dear Citizen” letters. Through both of these actions you and Leslie refuse poetry as an outside category, and demonstrate that poetry is public discourse or “speaking what is real” (LS). Were you and Leslie corresponding about what you were each working on during this time?

What I want to get at is, I’ve been thinking a lot about the reception of poets in the United States and in my experience when I am asked what I do by people other than poets it can often put a damper on the conversation. A couple of times people have misheard and thought I worked at the Poultry Project, you know, a project for chickens makes more sense! One of the great things I, and so many others, got from you is that I needed to be the hero of my own life, and it takes a healthy ego to sustain that – but then we come up against a deficit in the culture’s education or understanding of poetry – what is your experience of those moments of potential disconnect. Is this where teaching comes in? Formally, but also informally, as in, just taking the opportunity to speak up?

Eileen Myles: That’s funny. My response to the Poetry Project was more that it was the pottery project, which also smeared to potty. I like the pottery project – I did think we should focus more on making things, spinning stuff, getting our hands dirty with poetry. I interviewed Leslie for a piece I wrote about her for the village voice at the same time I was running for President. It was a problem while I was running – whether to do other kinds of work. Does a presidential candidate do journalism. Even shopping for groceries felt strange. It was like Sabbath. Every activity became under the regime of being candidate rather than poet. I feel like that was the territory Leslie and I shared and I think some of it sprouted from Buddhism. If the world at center is empty, without meaning how do we proceed in the activities of our lives and how does the way we view our lives or view ourselves in it alter our perception of poetry and what the poet’s job might be. I think Leslie was open to outlandish proposals in that regard though part of the miracle of her was the lack of distinction between the outlandish and the conventional. I think she attacked the conventional by being quietly outlandish whether she knew it or not. I always wondered what she knew. As a poet I am interested in distributing myself differently as a worker. When I was young it was simply wanting to be only a poet – after all I had chosen what I wanted to do with my life – write poetry, so why should I bother with anything else. Which lead to the poverty project. I remember being asked when I was younger why I wasn’t aspiring to more middle class jobs – you know climbing up the rungs of art magazines or getting an mfa. Anything not to be a poor poet bum on the lower east side, doing any job, tossing newspapers off a truck to newsstands with a bunch of dykes (which was fun) but the point being that for years I did any job – because any job didn’t interfere with my idea of myself as a poet, whereas a middle class job would have engaged a part of my mind in a disturbing way. Squatted therein and proceeding to take more and more. When I got a little older I started understanding the concept of doing something else as a poet – being a journalist, a performance artist and probably the hardest – being the director of the polity project – having to work all those other people, those poets. I started to conceive of being a poet as an action that could infuse and inform other activities. Increasingly being maybe not “moral” in the world but as a responsible adult letting how I conducted myself in public spheres, whether I “spoke up” or not be a kind of radical question. Leslie thought her own thinking belonged in broader social spheres than just the sphere of poetry. If I critique the poetry world in any persistent way it’s asking it – and myself why I’m not being generous. If how I frame language, how I distribute consciousness is “poetic” ie informed by the history of poetry why do I want to incarcerate that thinking labor in the poetry world. Why am I obedient to the increasingly loud silent cultural command that we all stay in our zones and not think anyone else would be interested in hearing, reading, engaging these same thoughts too. Are poets really doing thinking just for themselves. Our labor, our critique of language is enormously valuable to the world. I sincerely believe it. The most exhilarating thing I heard about lately is a journal called The Lamp which critiques the media, which is about media literacy and it conducts workshops in the city teaching kids media literacy. So they can understand the messages of the culture. The elitism that informs the poetry world is enraging to me. That no one cares about poetry except us chickens is another was of saying us chickens are in a rareified librarian specialist world. Something without tone. I mean I can imagine this thought being interpreted as advocating for a kind of simplicity in poetry – like let’s have a big slam of some kind. I’m not. See that’s where I admired Leslie’s project infinitely. She really thought newspapers should print her pieces. She believed. I’m for escalating belief as a factor in our work. To move to the side a bit I’m so frustrated to have not seen the kids are all right – the movie in which Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play lesbian parents. I picked up a copy of the daily news at the airport and there was an immensely homophobic piece by Andrea Peyser about how the kids are so not alright with gay parents. To simply act as if we belong, as poets, as queers is to invite an enormous response. But if you stayed in the comfy confines of queer culture, academic, social or otherwise you’d never know how, well, for instance, unsafe you are. But you know Andrea Peyser is more unsafe than me because she thinks I want to hurt her children. I don’t. Poetry is to some extent about testing the world, palping it. It’s not so much am I here, as are you. What are you. What am I. It’s a Buddhist question and it comes out of interaction and breathing and acting as if you are here.

SS: “Acting as if you are here” is a great mantra, and deeply important to maintain the belief that our critique of language or the status quo, is valuable to the world. I’m reading Inferno: A Poet’s Novel, which is just out with OR Books. You write a lot about jobs you’ve had and describe coming upon St. Mark’s Church because of an assignment you had “to go to each building on the map that was still standing… and get into their files.” I love that your first encounter with the place was as a researcher of a historical site, and while you were there you saw publicity for the potency project. As kind of a side note, I’m assuming as Director, you heard the criticism that the Project is elitist, but it seems to me that people who say that are responding to something other than class – what do you think? But then you talk about a community of artists in “economic drag”. Are poets supposed to be poor even if some of us are not? Does this mean that the poor have access to some types of beauty that the upper class doesn’t?

EM: Well I think everything is class especially in poetry. The first criticisms of the p. project I heard was that it was a place – like “our scene” had a place and the poets who made this comment I think were assuming their poetry was more egalitarian because it instead made its own home in “the world”, or was studied in college so it was an early version of the mainstream critiquing something that seems coterie as separatist whereas everything else is theirs, hence unmarked, normal, ie classless. What seemed like the dominant poetry world in the 70s weirdly professed to feel rejected by this smaller “elitist” world that was not striving to get into the Norton anthology or whatever. Later it was feminists referring to that white boys scene at the church. And it was that, for sure. Only many of the feminists themselves wrote a more middle class egalitarian bourgeoise verse. Elitism is a blurry charge since it seems to be used to describe categories that don’t include me, whoever I am. I remember when Allen died and I was at some event at NYU and I mentioned the event beforehand to an extremely well known poet of the other, mainstream caste. He in his presentation generously referred to the event, though making the time frame of it be “all day” and kind of eye rolling instead of the specific time I gave him. I realized that a different sense of time was key in what was different or other to him. I suppose I would describe his conventional sense of time and his charge that ours was endless and all over the map as elitist. The planes have a schedule after all. When did you agree to leave, begin, whatever? How can I control. I think having left wing politics is supposed to be elitist now, in relation to “the real america,” something we hear get thrown around all the time. “Poor” is poetry’s real America, it’s this conceit for many poets that defines their authenticity. Being a little bit unable, ungluttonous, unambitious holds the spot for a lot of poets of all classes. Maybe booze and books are the only things it’s cool to admit to wanting a lot of. There are things that poets like to get like awards and big publishing deals but it’s supposed to come to you sort of accidentally or naturally, because aspiring or angling is a mark of not being really of the poet’s class. I think it’s this rift in America between commerce and art, the thing that famously tore Hart Crane apart – or that’s the story. Being an artist in America is not an adult profession. Right up there with being queer in terms of never growing up. But somehow those adult things are supposed to come your way and I think class ultimately becomes a set of manners that enables you to be a worthy recipient of these accidental gifts. The work you did mustn’t show. You did it for the team somehow, not for yourself. It sounds like a system that would work best for a man. Probably is. Should we talk about poetry?

SS: We should. I saw you riding your bike down 2nd Ave. once and you were smiling, which caused me to smile too. I feel on the verge of coming across very dorky but your work gives the reader your presence, and just as importantly opens up the door for one’s own presence. I most often get a sense of elation when I read your poems and I think part of this is because you reorder things into a “healthy chaos” – a Joseph Beuys phrase. There is not a denial of pain, death, hard times, in your work, that’s for sure. Do you think you are doing something formally that defines pleasure as presence?

EM: That’s such a good question. And one I’m honored to answer. Because I’d like it to be true. Joseph Beuys is such a good person to be thinking about – always. When I landed in the poetry world in the 70s there was a sense that a person could become an institution and Beuys was an example of that and so was Andy Warhol. Gertrude Stein was I suppose. Susan Sontag was definitely some kind of institution. So was Allen. I mean it was a men’s idea and so I’m not exactly sure how it truly works for women (we don’t generally see women getting crucified either – something’s always wrong for women in terms of “big” ideas…) but I was excited by it for sure. It was cooler than famous. I think there was this idea that if your work was anchored firmly in a specific art practice and also was sort of a medium to begin to do other things with – make peace and question institutionality in the case of Beuys then you became a free individual and free of being an individual across the board. And one could free others. Get off the hook. One became a star or a citizen, just something other than being the thing you initially set to do. I suppose it was on the cusp of realizing that there could be a corporate self. A self that was more of a franchise than a person. Joy Division for instance. Later Martha Stewart. If I think of a couple of people from my generation say Charles Bernstein and Bob Holman you don’t think of them specifically as poet poets but guys with a mission of some sort. So in answer to your question yes I think I’m doing that too and you could read my work and my efforts as endlessly branding Eileen Myles but I’m thinking my brand is fairly transparent rather than thick. I think my “I” which I felt much pressure to dump over the years is a generalist “I,” no one in particular in a way almost the more specific I get and I think I write a poem every time I find a new way into that space where the specific me sees something else or is anyone. I like it when there’s less of me and something’s still looking. I think human pain is more complex than just being just a bad performance. It happens in an actual room and you’re building that room when you’re building the poem – a place to have the feeling in and ideally when you’re done someone else could enter it too. Sharing your pain – the how of it – I mean pleasure’s pain too right. People clench their teeth on the roller coaster because how can this be happening to me. And what if they are the last – if the thing falls apart. For experience to feel true it’s got to feel a little final. It has to have that feeling at the end, that something’s been accomplished and we never do that work alone. You leave it for someone else to read it, right. Though sometimes that someone else is you.

SS: To pick up a bit from something you said in response to the first question, would you describe your engagement with Buddhism, and how/if it alters your perception of poetry.

EM: Well I sure got excited at Naropa when I realized this was what they were all about. Of course so much of the practice we know as poets is just co-terminus w Buddhism. The impact of John Cage is a Buddhist impact. But Gertrude Stein is looking at a world in which everything is moving too. That’s not a western thought. But it’s such a piece of America, always has been, right? Once a catholic lets the water out of the tub there’s a Buddhist sitting there. I think. I don’t know how everyone isn’t a Buddhist except that everyone doesn’t have such a drive to believe and Buddhism perfectly refuses that desire so it’s this endless cartoon. I mean there’s Leslie again. Buddhism was such a joint of her work. Everything hinged on it if it hinged on anything at all. When poetry failed me as a commodity there was Buddhism to tell us that everything failed right away and if one liked writing poems you could write about that failure. Again that sounds like Stein cause poetry does. But so does Buddhism.

Artwork by Fernanda Rocha. More information at

Rattapallax is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of 

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Designed on Racontr platform.

Your House


I’ve walked past your childhood several

and friends of mine babysat
your friends. The enormous calm
this morning kernals
flowing through my clenched
fist into
an old fashioned milk bot-
tle exactly I’ve
constructed that time, I thought
waves, wooden ones
no flames. As
a good middle
I climb on top
and then politely
move over. I was sexually
abused by an
entire house
every shake of the building
was my lover
me abandoning you from not noticing
me. Eating alone
for years
in my family
not putting my foot
down but not picking it
up either. Suddenly strong
in the new presumed
position. Wider than
no more private
than yes. Everyone’s with
men all of
a sudden men made
like my time
in the morning didn’t
choke the limits
of the bottle
can leave me
in satiety.
Not safety
something more
native Listen
to me going all horny. Play
lover, play.

No Excuse

The crows
were never here

I don’t remember them
and you could
put your hand in the water
& hit a fish or two

now you gotta
go look.

She was the first one from
India to outer space.

I don’t remember
those trees
and I don’t remember
it being so hot

but winter used to be
really cold
You remember that.
I know to hold back
tends to keep the thing
going but I don’t

I like it kind of square
all there.
We played the reading
at Gallery 6
maybe it was his
description of it.
We read it
in class

some things get saved.
I like to return.

I like the farmer
who studied science
came home
and made it work

He was Japanese.
He stabbed himself right
in the chest. Like
Elliot, not Kurt.

The two kinds
of death are different.

Of all the songs
you ever wrote
you wrote some

guy in the airport
read about farming
he had big thick thighs
and he looked like a businessman
and that’s what farmers
look like today.

He was trying to get better. To improve
his lot

this immense restlessness on the

remembering Rae
thought the birds had changed

and something else

and Peter said the fish
were practically everywhere
and now they’re not.

I don’t know myself
and that’s a sin.


I’m not even a boat
I’m where a boat
I put my impossible
body in your hands
is this a pen

Your Name

It’s very hard
to hunt
from indoors
I’ll say that for
you. And
text is
at best
an attenuated
sound has
a range
of many desires
not just map.
I subscribe
to the grandpa
bunny bunny school
of theory
I mean genesis
to write
is a form
of accounting
& approximate
in the sunny
mouth of
time. A horny
bet. Or else
lolling around the fire
what did you
get. How can
I avoid it.
This “making
a speech.” Long limbed
& maybe
in July. Aren’t
we lucky to have
captured each
other in this
hideous neon light.