The Operating System

6th ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 25 :: SARAH HUENER ON EILEEN MYLES

HAPPY POETRY MONTH, FRIENDS AND COMRADES!

For this, the 6th Annual iteration of our beloved Poetry Month 30/30/30 series/tradition, I asked four poets (and previous participants) to guest-curate a week of entries, highlighting folks from their communities and the poets who’ve influenced their work.

I’m happy to introduce Janice Sapigao, Johnny Damm, Phillip Ammonds, and Stephen Ross, who have done an amazing job gathering people for this years series! We’re so excited to share this new crop of tributes with you. Hear more from our four guest editors in the introduction to this year’s series.

Hungry for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and Stephen’s piece on Ronald Johnson’s Ark, while you’re at it.

This is a peer-to-peer system of collective inspiration! No matriculation required.
Enjoy, and share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator

WEEK 4 :: CURATED BY STEPHEN ROSS

The community of poets and scholars convened here for the OS’s National Poetry Month has never existed, as far as I know, in the same geographical or electronic space. Yet I’m moved to see that the members of this new community (excluding the New Yorkers) all hail from the places I’ve lived that mean the most to me: Montreal, the UK Midlands, North Carolina, Georgia. I canvassed old friends and new acquaintances, as well as friends of friends, to contribute to this year’s Poetry Month, and am delighted to find how meaningfully the contributions resonate with each other. These mutually reinforcing energies are not simply a matter of aesthetic and/or political affinities between the poet-scholars and their poets, but emerge from each contributor’s recognition and appreciation of the particulars of their chosen poet. 

Contributions by Charles Gonsalves (on Barbara Guest), Sarah Huener (on Eileen Myles), and Aaron Goldsman (on Tommy Pico) span three generations of what some might still be pleased to call the New York School–which generation are we on now? Other contributors attend to the limits of poetics: Klara DuPlessis reflects eloquently on Anne Carson’s (de)creative refusal to finish a book, while Zohar Atkins ponders William Bronk’s endless rewriting of the same poem. Aaron Belz’s tribute to Robert Bly’s translations of César Vallejo speaks to the winding, unpredictable process of poetic influence.

Stephen Ross is a literary scholar, translator, and editor. He earned his PhD in English from the University of Oxford in 2013 and is a founding editor of the literary web-journal, Wave Composition. With Ariel Resnikoff, he is working on the first-full length translation and critical edition of Mikhl Likht’s Yiddish modernist long-poem, Processions. He is a contributing editor for The Operating System’s Unsilenced Texts series, and also co-editor with Dr. Alys Moody of the forthcoming anthology, Global Modernists on Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2017), a 190,000-word sourcebook that draws on a large archive of historical materials — statements, manifestos, letters, prefaces, introductions, hybrid works, etc — by modernist practitioners across the arts, with a special focus on untranslated, poorly disseminated (in English), and ‘forgotten’ texts. His current book project is a study of modern American poetics and objecthood.

SARAH HUENER ON EILEEN MYLES

19-eileen-myles.w1200.h630

I can’t write in a book with pen— too many years of borrowed sheet music— but I do read with a pencil. Usually it’s underlines, but sometimes I’ll put a question mark in the margin if I’m not sure what the author means, or I think they’re wrong. There are no question marks in Eileen Myles, only exclamation points. I first read Myles about a decade ago, but I don’t think it settled in until the publication of Inferno, her incredible archaeology of the self. A couple years ago I printed out “Peanut Butter” & taped it to the doorway to my kitchen. It’s survived painting the kitchen and a move.

peanitbutter

Eileen Myles writes her queerness, and there was a point when I needed her permission to do the same. Eileen Myles knows what/whom she is/loves. She’s a dyke and a poet. She loves women, and she writes about fucking women like she’s talking to someone she knows. It’s not in code, in symbolism, in clinical language that’s ice cold to the touch. Sift through her writing and you’ll find pretty much every synonym for pussy there is.

I always put my lover’s cunt
on the crest
of a wave
like a flag
that I can
pledge my
allegiance
This is my country.

Myles can do that casually great thing where she writes a love poem that is also about writing love poems. Here her short lines build up a careening, headstrong momentum that presents to us a brimfull moment:

… It’s more
like a playground
where I play
with my reflection
of you until
you come back
and into the
real you I
get to sink
my teeth…

Despite billboards to the contrary, it’s not always about desire; sometimes it’s about the self. I like to say this about the problem of the body: everyone has this problem, but some have it more than others. How our flesh suits look, smell, feel, sound, and taste is important, however much or little we feel connected to them. Who are we? How should we make ourselves seem? What do we do with the parts of us that don’t show? When I read what Myles wrote about this decades ago, I feel I could have thought them last month.

I don’t know
why the universe
chose me
to be female
so much beauty
& pain,
so much
going on
inside
all this
change
everywhere
coins falling
all over
the bed
& death
is a dream.

She’s not interested in being her own therapist (or, by extension, ours). She’s simply telling it from the inside; she even tells the telling.

… I
want to look at myself in the mirror
but I look so shitty I don’t want
to expose my third-rate vanity. The
other two of us light a cigarette.
Three women at different angles
smoking cigarettes. We each sneak
peeks at ourselves in the mirror.
Push this piece of hair. Move
that collar Inspect that eyelash.
I can see us from overhead
and call the configuration “Feminism”

She skips thoughts, sometimes, which is part of the torque and yet somehow chooses the exact right ones to keep. That’s how we enter the brain a little, the way — if we’re lucky —  we also enter the entirety of its landscape, a quick, fading mirage of Eileen chemicals filtered through Eileen synapses.

Lately I’ve been reading the New & Selected like riding the subway. Get on wherever you are at the time, stay as many stops as you like, leave somewhere else— and the train keeps running even when you’re not reading it. It’s like a sushi conveyor belt. You can pick it up and read a poem from anywhere, or read four in a row, or read only the ones that have proper nouns in their titles. These poems work whichever way you look at them.

It’s impossible to read Eileen Myles and not think of Frank O’Hara. They’re both poets of the city, of coffee and cabs and very specific fire escapes. Frank O’Hara, too, writes poems of movement, of energy, fighting off “quandariness” through the creative act. Eileen Myles also demonstrates this fertile linear, this wonderful directionality. If you write it, it’s alive. When thinking about these poets and how to describe their kind of poetry, I was reminded of T. S. Eliot via Caroline Shaw: the detail of the pattern is movement. Repeat it to yourself, say it out loud, & it’s not just yours; it’s everyone’s, it’s dynamic, it’s gorgeous. In her Paris Review interview, Myles talks about negotiating the relationship between biography and oeuvre by claiming her life as her own. “You tell it cause you’re lonely— you’re the only person inside that life.” She writes an anthem of dailiness, and it’s a way out of solitude, one we all can’t help but understand.

The nouns and verbs of (usually) New York —  trains, birds, period blood, cigarettes, windows, dirty shirts—  combine to recreate the split second the poem-photograph was taken. To take Annie Dillard completely out of context, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And so it is in these poems: peanut butter, reading Prout, swimming, hazel eyes, & a sand-/ wich coalesce into something greater than its parts. This kind of poetry can’t be faked; you can study sonnets and practice writing sonnets, but it will come to naught if you don’t realize that bobby pin, that Coca Cola, that grilled cheese is important.

In the same PR interview, Myles says, “…on some level my writing’s just a really medieval account of what’s there. A loose and meticulous copy. What’s there is often fantastic.” In the end, the things are a gesture toward a day, and the day is a gesture toward a life, which is all we are & know, finite & blessed.

as the lights go down, the moon comes up and another
season starts shouldering in. But the purple lilacs
are the most beautiful and I will always love you.

Ultimately, the power of her work is in her frankness. Reading these poems, you feel as if there’s no barrier between you and Eileen. It’s the opposite of Elizabeth Bishop (whom I also love). In his NYRB write-up, Dan Chiasson puts it simply: “If you look at her, she looks back.”

Eileen has a way of looking that is a way of living. Rather than the definitive truth, Myles writes a kind of absolute subjective truth, truth from the inside. By this I mean life’s events and how we process them sometimes allows us to find certainties within experience. That truth, sometimes, is the truth of identity; sometimes it is the truth of desire, and sometimes something undefinable come upon through the honest work of earnestness. And it is a way forward. From Chelsea Girls: “A war is storming and it is behind me and I am moving my forces into the light.”

—————

Excerpts are from:
“I put my lover’s cunt…”
“Peanut Butter”
“Bleeding Hearts”
“ ‘Romantic Pain’ ”
“Whax ‘n Wayne”
respectively

Sarah Huener received her BA from UNC Chapel Hill and her MFA from Boston University, after which she traveled in Croatia and Israel as a Robert Pinsky Global Fellow. Sarah’s recent work can be found in StorySouthThe CollagistNew Delta Review, the Greensboro ReviewSalamander, and in the North Carolina volume of the Southern Poetry Anthology (Texas Review Press, 2015). She was named the winner of the 2016 Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize for her poem “To Pluto,” and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Sarah reviews poetry for the North Carolina Literary Review.

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