I visited to Ravenna to visit Dante’s grave. I got a grant. To research this book, in fact. In Ravenna I got an older couple to take my picture in front of his big mound. It was a handsome flat stone surrounded by ivy. Ravenna was an ugly town, mall-like and depressing. I went racing in cabs to hover stilly in the alabaster light that he did (I imagined it the morose light of the inferno)–craning my neck in a little chapel to gaze at the mosaic of the river man with his walking stick moving across the ceiling. I assumed it was god, but he seemed even older. A god of the river, one I’d like to know.
In my little room at the Hotel Byron I stayed up reading a copy of Seabiscuit I found on a shelf in the lobby. I had bought it for the trip thinking a horse book would be good, then I met this really nice lady on the plane. I handed it to her. Really? And her face lit up.
Yes, it’s the compelling story of an unlikely horse and jockey who won a legendary race. In 1938–a legendary time. My parents were young. Is that not important. It was really great. Not like this book, or any of the books I love. Anything by Halldor Laxness for instance. But I couldn’t put Seabiscuit down.
And, now, when I’m reaching into the meat section, I think: book, racehorse, and family-size pack of ground beef. I look for the pack with the shiniest star and I grab it. I don’t know anything about meat. And luckily cold dead mammals are all covered with medals and stamps. Definitely in the chain stores. In fact, if there’s no stamp you almost think the meat is bad. Like Allen Ginsberg?
I’m honestly thinking about the reading experience. Why is it good that we read Seabiscuit so fast. If you read the reports before it was even published you can practically hear the joy in the salesmen’s voice. A lot of people are going to like this book. The tone’s all over the map. Like porn. Or something’s a little bit dirty at so many points that it’s kinda dirty for everyone. I liked the book. I can’t say I’m not part of that demographic. Let’s all swallow Seabiscuit together. That’s it. Good, good, going down. And you feel–just a little bit sick. And that’s good. Cause it’s about what losers we are. All of us. Americans. But we’re going to win. Especially my parents’ generation. They’re about to die. So we want them to feel like winners. Soon the world will be ours.
My girlfriend and I were standing in our kitchen–while I pondered the hopelessness of this–a book about poet…Well she tooted. Have you ever considered the demographic you are writing for. Yes I have, as a matter of fact. While I imagined lowering her into a shallow grave. This proposal for a novel is the g-spot, the utter singularity of my entire writing career. Though where did I get the brilliant idea to write about myself. Did I have no other idea.
Well actually I got the idea from Truffaut. All those boy coming-of-age movies. But that was Chelsea Girls, so I already did that. I’m doing it in greater detail, issue by issue, age of my character, upon age.
Yeah. Um-hmm. This book is extremely…focused in terms of its relationship to people, all people…and publishing as a whole. I write about myself and marketing people say–who is she. Who is the author of this book that we should listen to all this shit about her development. Her lesbian poetic youth. Spit. She didn’t win anything, right. Okay. Did anything horrible happen to her. Noooo. I mean yes, but that’s not what she’s writing about here and maybe it wasn’t so bad. I have pretty much heard this kind of discussion by people in the business–for years.
Then it occurred to me in an explosion of light–wait, that I am the poet Eileen Myles. That is the story. How I got to be her. I am singing the hell of the female poet. If a fucking horse can tell his story why can’t I. If you take Eileen on you’re going to have to work very closely with her. But it is an American story. Even Eileen can write a novel. We’d like to prove that. We’d like to help. The horse gets jammed, legs waving, in the grinder, and now they’re smoothing on the stamp. This meat is old. Let’s run it through photo shop and get a crisper version. Are you bored.
That’s what literature feels like, right? Boring. And after a while you can’t even see a distant tree. Eyesight atrophied. The poor little culture just grew up too fast. I guess that’s it. Thanks to all those nights in the 80s after the invention of the fax when the business world stayed open all night long buying and selling food stores and bookstores and planes. We (artists and writers, people in bands) were the final executioners– sitting there legal proofreading those agreements all night for $30 an hour, a good gig. Records and books and movies, DVDs getting consolidated around the world into one long undifferentiated meal, sip-sip, what astronauts eat from tubes, and each substance correctly labeled for the journey: poetry, music, art. Spin the dial. There. It’s on the menu of your IPod. Uh-oh. The song isn’t here. Would you send it to me. Please. Then this won’t feel so wrong. Sitting on a plane, driving my truck. I mean, it’s great. The sun’s setting, and I feel really good. I’ll skip that track. Buy the book! Make me huge!
But we are definitely missing something–a layer–well, maybe two or twenty got washed away by the storm or quietly removed, scrape-scrape, or plunk, drop it in the trash. The trash icon–in the past twenty years or forty years–not much public thinking going on in this country (watch out, world!) outside the academy, itself a very expensive finishing school for artists who indenture the next ten years of their lives gambling on the prospect of their art career paying out, getting a gallery, selling a book so they don’t have to meet a bunch of losers, waste time working millions of hours a week to pay rent here in New York, especially during their highly marketable youth while the government, Leviathan, fartingly collapses onto the vulnerable context of its own stupidity, the poor suffering world.
You know like bottled water is also a total fraud and most of the people in the world right now are drinking poison. There should more socialism. Isn’t socialism like feminism, only actually helping people. Cause people just feel fucked up by feminism. Don’t even make me think that. Not even for a second. Take one of those kids. Everyone over a certain income should be required to adopt a child and pay for better water everywhere. Cause you can’t taste the difference. We know you can’t. If we stopped buying the bottled water that’s actually less clean than tap water we could pay for clean water all over the world. Put the Deer Park down. What if your child died cause she couldn’t stop shitting. That’s what our global culture has created. Massive death by diarrhea. Your child dies in the stink of her own shit. That’s what I was proofreading into existence. Our minds, our collective reading, is a metaphor for the deep inside of the world. The squirting end of that poor kid’s gut. That’s a very quick read.
Of Sorry, Tree, Eileen Myles’ most recent collection, Chicago Review says: “Her politics are overt, her physicality raw, yet it is the subtle gentle noticing in her poems that overwhelms.” Eileen Myles is among the ranks of the officially restless, a poet who writes fiction (Chelsea Girls, Cool for You and forthcoming The Inferno/a poet’s novel); an art writer and journalist whose essays and reviews have appeared in Artforum, and Bookforum, The Believer, Parkett, The Nation; and a librettist whose opera “Hell” (with composer Michael Webster) was performed on both coasts in 2004 and again in 2006. Her first full collection of nonfiction writings, The Importance of Being Iceland, for which she received a Warhol/Creative Capital grant, will be out in April 09 from Semiotext(e)/MIT.
“I am really crazy about flat front porches. Level with the grass or the ground. I don’t like the elevation. I like the continuity like a modest rectangular deck.”