Eileen Myles @ the Nourse

One of my favorite living writers was on stage at the Nourse tonight, an otherwise stunning performance marred by the subpar pairing with a Berkeley English professor who bumbled his way through the conversation, not seeming to know much about Myles or her work. She read a few of her pieces, including her memorable Acceptance Speech given in the run up to the 2016 election, celebrating Zoe Leonard’s “I Want a President” piece which was written in 1992 to mark Myles’ run for the presidency.

Best moment for me was the full body slam smackdown she put on the guy who asked her to explain what’s so great about Gertrude Stein. Oh you know, only the most important thing to happen to American writing besides New Narrative. (Myles stuck in a jab at Hemingway, too, “We used to care a lot about him but not so much anymore, but he learned how to write from Stein.”) Her favorite Stein, like mine, is Lectures in America.

Random jottings I captured in the dark:

  • Weird is the real deal. She used to claim to be on the fringe of poetry, but that assumes there is a center of normal somewhere.
  • By anticipating, you find readers. You don’t get small because people might not be listening to you; you stay as big as possible so they can find you.
  • Before the internet discovered cats and you made sure the world knew what your cat looks like, people had to be sleeping with you to know what your cat looked like.
  • None of her books are memoirs although the book people insist on calling them that because of her named character, Eileen Myles. “I would never write a memoir… so sentimental.” Later she joked, “Bound to Fail. If I ever wrote a memoir, that would be the title.”
  • “The obscenity of using your own name for a character.”
  • What’s great about form is that it leads you to spaces you can’t imagine.
  • If you don’t know where to put something, put it at the beginning.
  • Allow the reader to watch the act of invention. Put faith in the act of making art.
  • She had puppets she made as a kid, soon to be featured in a movie about driving from Marfa to Alpine in the back of the truck. (Mentioned Pull My Daisy, a movie about the Beats I hadn’t heard of, written & narrated by Kerouac)
  • What’s New Narrative? The secret, influential writing style that was a reaction to theory’s constraints, the post-poets turned to prose in late 1970s San Francisco (Bob Gluck, Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, etc.).
  • Hitchhiking prepares you for a life in writing, making up stories and lies, becoming different characters.
  • Just like dinosaurs became birds, so did vaudeville turn to radio to TV to performance art.
  • A poet’s impulse to inventory sounds and sights.
  • Found freedom to write the stories as postcards to herself from another time. Follow the visuals, follow how it looks. A story happens right in front of her.
  • Every time she figured out how to do something in prose she got excited.
  • Fame was the only way to survive. “I always imagined I would be known.”
  • Where does she get inspiration? Life is interesting, literature, so much art to see. Turned on by other’s work. There’s always a hole, a yearning to get something done but not entirely. Lots of things in motion, uncomplete. Have 3 or 4 things going, a mess. Always things to do. Defiance is still inspiration. Have to make up projects that no one wants b/c then she’s being bad (instead of working on the book projects she has grants and contracts for).
  • Books are like yoga classes, you do one pose and then you want to do the opposite stretch. Use the energy, change it up, figure out how to make it energetically readable. Keep it moving forward, don’t block the flow. People should know where they are—you can go anywhere in the universe as long as there’s a clear landing.

Later: I’m just realizing the context of the “Are you Robert De Niro, actor? I’m Eileen Myles, poet” comment that Eileen made to De Niro in the 1980s—De Niro was probably introducing himself like that because his dad was Robert De Niro, artist, to that group of people. When reading Ninth Street Women, I came across De Niro (Sr) a few times and was super confused. In reading Grace Hartigan’s journals just now, a footnote explains that the elder was one of the abstract expressionists of the 1950s. YES! Love it when things fall into place in my brain.