Before tonight I knew next to nothing about Eileen Myles. A week ago I’d happened to be browsing the stacks in Waterstones when I saw a poster advertising her appearance the following week in conjunction with the Manchester Literature Festival. What particularly attracted me to this event was its description of Eileen Myles as an avant-garde poet. So I doidwhat most people do these days when they want to learn more about someone, I Googled her. I found quotes from Maggie Nelson, who is hands down one of my favourite writers alive today, singing her praises so I decided to go along and see for myself. What an interesting night it was because I found Myles to be both incredibly funny and very engaging.
Before Myles arrived I sat reading Chelsea Girls which I selected from amongst her many published works. I have to be in the right mood to read poetry, I much prefer to hear it read aloud or performed like plays. When Myles arrived she started off by reading a story from Chelsea Girls and I was hooked. She has ‘cool’ written all over her. I say this as someone who doesn’t possess a single cool bone in her body.
Aside from Chelsea Girls she also read a number of poems, the first an untitled poem she said she wrote for a dancer she fancied to dance to. It starts with, “my lover’s pussy…” and continues in that vein. She chose to read this one tonight as a nod to American’s new pussy-grabbing President. Myles followed this up with the poems, ‘the mirror is my mother’, ‘sleepless’ and ‘a debate with a glove’.
My favourite part though was when she talked about her run for President in 1992 and she read from an acceptance speech she wrote had she won. This was apt in light of the failure of Hilary Clinton to win the Presidency. There was very much a political tone to the evening which I enjoyed, especially hearing first-hand an American’s perspective on what’s happening over there at the moment.
In the Q&A session afterwards Myles talked about Chelsea Girls and never wanting to write a memoir hence why she called it an autobiographical novel. She also revealed that the book was being turned into a screenplay which she’s writing and it will also include new stories that didn’t make it into the original book.
What was also interesting was that she talked about class and how a lot of writing dealt with the issue of class. How, when she started out, she didn’t know anyone who was a poet and that a poet’s studio is in there head. But she acknowledged how important it became to have a community of other poets in New York that formed part of the St Marks church poetry scene where the likes of Alan Ginsberg hung out.
She said the performing and open mikes where a way for her to not only innovate but also to make money. Myles finished by saying that it was a great time to be a poet in the current political climate because you’ll find out in out time what resistance really means.
When asked about her influences she named the likes of Maggie Nelson, Kris Kraus, Dennis Cooper and Renee Gladman. Aside from Maggie Nelson, I’ve not heard of any of the others so I intend to look them up and start reading, that is once I’ve finished off reading Chelsea Girls.