"I am glad I am not an artist. A poet kind of is, but really it’s like you’re like a professionalized person. Poetry. Nobody knows what the fuck it is. And what makes it entirely odd is that there’s no money in it.
So in the awards it’s worse than art. No poetry-driven economy. No critical machinery. There’s just no thing at all. Which could be Zen but instead it’s entirely the opposite. It’s so symbolic. And humorless. Awards are the only currency American writing has to describe a writer’s work. It’s almost French. But in France at least the ribbons mean something. You get dinner, a bottle of wine. People know you. Here it’s nothing. And like everything else horrible eventually it leeches into t the soil. Even Allen Ginsberg wanted an award. The week before he died he emailed Bill Clinton to say I’m Allen Ginsberg, the poet. I’ve never received any kind of award from my country. It would be great if I could get something before I die.
But it would make difficulties for you with Gingrich and the right, I understand. Clinton didn’t write back. Nothing for the man who wrote “America”? Allen knew it wasn’t remotely possible to get honored by the superpower that can’t tolerate criticism of itself. But he was dying and he had to ask. Robert Lowell got honored but he wasn’t a queer or a Jew. He was Robert Lowell."
—Eileen Myles, Inferno, pp 165-66.Here's a weird thought. I worry about reading too much Eileen Myles. Her writing is so seductive. It’s saying stuff the way I want to say stuff. She even enjoys being not quite accurate. Like some pants with lots of legroom. Space for the mind to feel comfortable and at home. The words could mean this thing or it could mean that thing. And that’s alright. Like those three sentences that start this passage, the last one having two similes, two likes. “I am glad I am not an artist. A poet kind of is, but really it’s like you’re like a professionalized person.” Like she’s really not sure what she wants to say, not sure she wants to tighten it up so there’s no legroom. Like she wants the reader to figure it out herself if the reader cares. And she hopes the reader does care enough to think about what the meaning of being a poet and writing poetry is all about. It’s a crucial question for Eileen. It was a crucial question for Allen Ginsberg. And it’s a crucial question for me. And, like Eileen, I want to wear my own poetry with lots of legroom. Like those pants I wear in the zendo, the ones with the drawstring. I’m always wondering if they are going to fall off. There I am bowing to the Buddha and my pants slip down to my ankles. My legs are so white. My daughter Susie says I need to get more sun.
See there. You can see why Eileen’s writing is so seductive. Maybe infectious is the better word. Like Creeley was for guys like me growing up poet in the Far West 1960s, not many people to talk to. Those little delicate Creeley lines with the heavy breath stop at the end of the line. Such little poems. Creeley said it was okay to write short poems. Poems the length of your sheet of typing paper. That was okay. Then computers came along and we can go on forever. Sometimes I want to go on forever. Sometimes I’m happy writing little short poems. Shorter than haiku poems. Like I said: You can see why Eileen’s writing is so seductive.
POSTSCRIPT: Eileen underlines words in this novel INFERNO which is so much like a memoir it could be a memoir. But she said it's a novel so that's okay with me. Maybe she'd rather be a novelist than a memoirist. Who wouldn't? Especially if you're a poet. But back to the underlining of words. Like she’s writing on a typewriter and not a computer. She doesn’t italicize words. She underlines them. In some places she strikes through words. She didn’t like this or that sentence but she doesn’t delete it she strikes through it. Again like she’s using a typewriter. It has an old-fashioned look. But Eileen is not old-fashioned. She wants the reader to see what she took out and wants the reader to think about what she took out and why she took it out. Style or meaning? Whatever. It’s important to her. Sort of flip and fun. And important. At least in my head. Yeah, infectious is a good word. Like laughter. That kind of infectious. And seductive is a good word too. One or the other. Take your pick. But read the book. Especially if you are a poet. You can choose between one cover or the other cover. That’s odd, huh? Independent presses are always doing interesting things to make you think. So O/R has these two covers. And Eileen underlines words and strikes out sentences. Interesting publishing kind of stuff. I chose the white cover. Sometimes I wonder if many poets are out there buying books anymore. No wonder there’s no poetry-driven economy.
If you want to read a regular review of INFERNO, Liz Brown did a good one at Bookforum. Also, here's a video of Eileen reading from the novel. She reads the part about why she calls it a novel. "Writing a novel is like being buried alive." Etcetera. She's a very good and fun reader.