This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in America, from Ugly Duckling Presse (fall 2012). Hix loves the interview form as a way of thinking together (itself a condition of democracy, justice, philosophy, and other ideals and practices he values), and as one element in a community poetics. The subject of this interview is Eileen Myles’s Sorry, Tree (Wave Books, 2007).
H. L. Hix: The only intervention into otherwise “normal” typesetting is the circle around “why” in the very first poem. I took this as a clue that the poems would be asking questions, and as a suggestion that I do the same, though I have no real reason for interpreting it that way. I wonder how you yourself meant that intervention.
Eileen Myles: I felt there was no punctuation that adequately stopped in the splashy way a handwritten circle around a word does. I wanted a real sign, like STOP on a street. I wanted to push through the limitation of the page and be in another medium. I wanted to be standing on a stage. It felt like a performative punctuation. I’m always thinking about the depth of the page, its way of holding more than it generally is assumed to be doing. The circle was throwing its hands up somehow.
HH: The attitude toward culture expressed in the lines “I’ll just write / into it” (43) intrigues me. What does this (writing into culture, rather than about it, say, or from a place already within it) imply for you about the subjects and purpose of your writing, and how it stands in relation to other aspects of your life?
EM: I think writing into it implies the physical space of the culture. How we are participating in it when we are thinking and writing. I don’t think writing is ap art. If anything it’s connective tissue. When I write I’m participating more deeply, marking it (the culture) it seems to me.
HH: I’m similarly stuck on the brief comment about bad luck in “Everyday Barf”: “It hasn’t stopped. It’s normalized” (77-78). I think of the narrator in Camus’s The Plague opening the book by describing the habits of his fellow citizens, which the plague is about to interrupt; when he criticizes the banality of daily life, he seems to assume that human nature cannot resist reducing experience into the everyday, except when prevailed upon by irresistible forces from outside and even then only briefly. Am I right to hear you suggesting that we are capable of not treating experience as if there were an “everyday”?
EM: The everyday is this myth we’re invited to slide into endlessly in the literary world. That is if we seem to be commentators on it. If your work can be seen as having identifiable subject matter then you are readily invited to speak on the everyday. That convention makes me want to splatter on it with the fluids of my body for starters. That is actually quite everyday but not the everyday that everyday organizers generally have in mind. So in the collectivity of everydays one can peel one away from the rest by attack, for example. But really the everyday is wide open, not so easily categorizable. It worms its way as it likes.
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, MA and moved to New York (where she still lives) in 1974 to be a poet. Her latest books are Snowflake/different streets, Inferno (a poet’s novel) and The Importance of Being Iceland for which she received a Creative Capital/Warhol art writing grant. She’s a 2012 Guggenheim fellow.