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BOOKS Eileen Myles: Still brazen after all these years
by Sarah Toce
2015-10-28

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Eileen Myles will read, discuss and sign copies of her new book I Must Be Living Twice: New & Selected Poems at Women & Children First on Saturday, Oct. 31, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

"It's nice to put together what you think are your best poems in one book," Myles said. "It's really cool, and I've been on my way to this book for eight years, so it's great."

If the title "I must be living twice" sounds familiar, it should. It's a line from Myles' 2010 book Inferno: A Poet's Novel.

"The Eileen character is high on drugs and riding in a cab when she realizes she had that cab driver before," Myles recalled. "Then she [finds] a pack of cigarettes in her jacket and another in a different pocket. At that moment she says, 'I must be living twice,' but it was kind of a druggy joke she had with herself."

Myles added, "But when I stick it on a book I'm thinking about retrospectives rather than drugs."

If given the chance to change one thing from her past, Myles said she would live in "New York as a poet" or maybe "go away to college."

Our histories can find a way to resurface when we least expect it. Take for instance Myles' beloved 1994 book Chelsea Girls. The autobiographical account recalls the poet's volatile '60s adolescence with an alcoholic father and the "cultural accident" that led to the development of a passion for the written word.

"I finally had the right publisher to reissue it," she said of the decision. "I wasn't going to give it to just anybody. Black Sparrow was a great publisher. Ecco's great, too."

Trust is paramount in Myles' experiences in the world. In somewhat of a dichotomous musing, she explained why she is—and always will be—Catholic.

"I am always a Catholic," she said. "Though, I despise their politics particularly around gender and queer gay trans issues [and] I despise their policing of women's bodies."

In a similar vein, the mediums of poetry writing and performance art, while uniquely different forms of expression, are intermingled in Myles' perception.

"They are completely interrelated in my mind and freshen each other," she said. "They are both sorts of codified experience."

The issue of trust resurfaced when Myles was asked about women writers being able to make a living wage while harnessing the written word.

"C'mon. Poetry is free," she answered. "And one can write a poem at work. I don't trust this question."

To push the issue further, she was asked if female writers were more prominent in today's society than they were 20 years ago.

"Women are smarter than men so it makes sense that we would be better writers," she said. "I think the world 20 years ago wasn't that much different. I'd go 40. That was different. Men really made it impossible for women to be around, never mind heard or published."

On the topic of inspiring a minority group ( such as the LGBT community ) to engage in writing, Myles seemed to get even more combative.

"I don't believe the LGBT group is a minority," she said. "I don't [think] there is any accurate count of how many people are queer, trans [or] gay in the world. I think they are breathing just fine and don't need anyone to inspire them. If people would rather go to bars than go to art events, I wouldn't stop them. But I only know about the world that treats art events like bars."

In general, learning about events at bars—or art clubs—has gotten significantly easier with the adaptation of technology in our social lives. Has technology hurt or helped today's modern poet?

"Well we're all different," she said. "I love twitter, hated answering machines. I like pencils, hate hard drives."

One thing she does love without a disclaimer is Chicago.

"I was once having breakfast in some neighborhood that was lately gentrified and the restaurant I was in was kind of hip ... the music, perhaps Motown, was blaring and the neighborhood," she remembered. "Outside was poor and desolate and I was overwhelmed by how much great food and good music and green paint could create a fish tank effect. It was very drug-like the way this hipster restaurant sat in a poor neighborhood, and I thought the illusion of fullness inside was as mind-altering as anything I'd experienced during my years of getting drunk and fucked up. I felt I was in a movie of wellness that was really contradicted by the neighborhood. I felt I should be sad, but I wasn't."

One thing Myles is feeling lately, though, is tired.

"I'm sort of tired," she said. "Lately I'm thinking I should read John Donne and finally watch the entire run of Battleship Galactica. Oh, I'm reading Oliver Twist. I just finished Middlemarch. I probably like reading more than anything. It really keeps the room full."

Find out more about Eileen Myles and her upcoming event at Women & Children First at www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/event/evening-spooky-poetry-eileen-myles .


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