Local San Diego: Eileen Myles

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Eileen Myles, 3/12/12

This is the image they used to advertising Myles’s reading. To me, it kind of sums her up perfectly. As an artist, as a writer, as a poet, she is incredibly human. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to her read at UCSD three times now and every time I am amazed by how utterly normal she is. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s kind, she’s the sort of person I’d want to narrate my life if my life was a movie. And above all, I find her to be quite humble. There are those people who you know think highly of themselves even if they’re not saying anything to that effect. Some of them deserve it, some of them don’t. But Eileen Myles isn’t one of them. She’s quite well-known, but she’s the humblest famous person I’ve ever encountered.

I can’t decide if I like hearing Myles’s work or her stories about her life more. It seems she’s been everywhere, done everything, met everyone worth knowing. She even ran for President once.

There are some people whose actual voice and their writing voice, don’t jive. For whatever reason, they seem like separate parts of the same individual. It’s hard to imagine them reading their own work. Myles isn’t one of those people. When she’s reading poetry, reading fiction, talking about her life, it’s all the same. There is no boundary between Eileen the artist and Eileen the person.

My friend once pointed out to me that in my writing, the word/image of “dust” always sneaks in. I always found that interesting, but considered it to be sort of weird quirk I should probably try and get rid of; I’ve never heard it/seen it in another. But tonight, for whatever reason as I was listening to her, all sorts of words and ideas kept popping out over and over. Chief among them is the idea of water, of wet, of the ocean, of things that flow. I don’t know Eileen as a person, but after hearing her several times, I would say this concept is important. The idea of something that exists everywhere with the power to calm and to destroy and to mold everything around it. Yet water is innocuous in that we need it to survive just as we need the food we eat, masticating it between our teeth and destroying it beyond recognition. When we take in water we reduce it to its most primitive level and strip it of its power.

Eileen finds meaning and beauty everywhere around her, even if it’s as mundane as a box of Tampax sitting on a window ledge (actual inspiration for a poem). Eileen Myles isn’t your grandmother’s poet; like a lot of the writers I’ve been profiling here through my Local San Diego series, Eileen is a modern poet, someone young readers and writers can connect to. You won’t find a Shakespearean sonnet in her work (at least, I don’t think so. But if you did it’d be a Shakespearean sonnet like you’ve never heard it before). Like Charles Bernstein, Eileen is a thoroughly accessible poet. She told us she’s sixty-two, but like Bernstein, she might as well be a thirty year old with thirty-two years of experience. I sort of had a thought as I was sitting there: Does writing keep us young?

Someone asked her a question about her writing process. While she didn’t give a straight answer, she did impart us with a little gem, however unintentional, in reference to a pencil that captivated her attention: “I wrote until that pencil had no more poems”. I think that’s something we can all aspire to as writers.

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