I’m reading Eileen Myles. I didn’t know who she was, until I read an article about a “punk poet.” Two words I’m drawn to–“Punk” and “Poet.” Two words I love.
Later, I come across her own words: “Can I just say for the record I’m not a punk poet? I’m from the working class, I sling the vernacular w style and I’m a dyke.” (Posted on Twitter.)
Well, I don’t know enough, I guess, to understand how being from working class or being “a dyke” makes her not a “punk poet.” After reading Chelsea Girls and I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems, and a number of articles about her and her work, I can understand why she would be labeled “punk poet.” But labels are invented by critics anyway. It’s my understanding that Robert Lowell hated being labeled a “confessional poet.” I’ve never cared for that description of Sylvia Plath either. In some ways, all art is to a certain extent “confessional.” Or you could say “personal.” Art is informed by an artist’s personal life experience. At least, that’s how I see it.
Some people have said to me, “I want my story heard.” I’ve never responded to this whine. I’ve never told someone, “What makes you so special that your story has to be heard?” At the poetry reading and open mic I attendED pretty regularly for three years, this woman described it as “a place where people tell their stories.” When I read there, (featured and open mic) I wasn’t “telling my story.” But it was assumed I was. Sure, there’s an element of personal experience in my poetry. But it isn’t my intention or objective to write about my personal experience. It’s simply inevitable. I am not writing “my story.” Who am I that I need to tell my story? It’s the story, it’s the poem, it’s the writing that matters, not me. My intention and objective is to create art.
At the same time, I do love autobiographies and memoirs. But autobiography is only a perspective. It is a story the way the writer sees it, remembers it, not to mention tells it. A person writing autobiography “creates” her narrative.
Sort of like, what is true really isn’t, or not completely, and what isn’t true (or isn’t meant to be) really is, or sort of.
To me, the story, or the poem, matters more, beyond the person writing it.
Eileen Myles’s Chelsea Girls is described as a novel. In an interview I read, the interviewer asks Myles about “the character Eileen.” I don’t know. Chelsea Girls reads to me like autobiography. To me, Eileen writer was the Eileen in Chelsea Girls. Even if it’s the narrative she creates, and anyone she writes about might disagree with her point of view. “I’m not like that.” “That’s not how I remember it.”
Novel or autobio, I very much enjoyed reading CG. Though there’s some writerly characteristics I wonder about. She writes “me” and “her” when it should be “I” and “she.” I remember seeing a comma when it shouldn’t have been there, and there were times when I thought commas were missing and would add clarity. But it’s my understanding that Myles considers herself an avant garde writer. Apparently, a publisher wanted to edit her work “for better clarity,” and Myles refused. She’s the writer. So, I’m ok with that.
I mostly read men. My most fave writers are men–Bukowski, Raymond Carver, Richard Brautigan, Denis Johnson. But my most favorite women writers are poets: Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop. Of my fave male writer, Bukowski is the only one whose poetry I like. (Well, I love it.)
As for specifically lesbian poet, I really like Eileen Myles. I could never get on the Adrienne Rich bandwagon. The best way I can describe it, is that she just feels too cerebral. Her poems strike me as “creative lectures.” I don’t feel spirit. Unlike Bishop. In her poetry I feel music and beauty–spirit.
What I admire most about Eileen Myles, is that she has lived as writer. Not for fame, not for monetary gain, just the writing. “I wasn’t afraid of being poor,” she says, “I didn’t want to live in a big house. I’m the perfect size for poetry. I can move around.” (Vulture, Sept. 24, 2015) Yet, fame and monetary gain found her.
It doesn’t hurt that Allen Ginsberg attended her reading, that Robert Mapplethorpe took her picture. (That photo is on the cover of CG.) She was an assistant to an ailing New York poet, James Schuyler, who lived in the Chelsea Hotel. I mean, these particulars are impressive. But if she didn’t have the talent, none of this would matter.
Sometimes poverty, hardship, is a price to pay for love of art. The starving artist. And sometimes Fate rewards the hard work. Not always. There are plenty of artists who died penniless.
I’ve come across her name, “Writers to read.” But I ignored it. I don’t always trust opinion. (I tried to read Lydia Davis, The Collected Stories. Stopped halfway through the book. Really disappointed. A story is NOT one line! ) Having read the article about a “Punk Poet,” I got curious. I’m glad I did. I need to read people that inspire me. ♣