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Eileen Myles goes mainstream, still blows it up


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After decades of slugging it out in the avant-garde poetry trenches and generally becoming a legendary underground artist, Eileen Myles has penetrated the mainstream, or so says The Guardian. She has two books coming out with a big New York publishing house, had been lauded by Lena Dunham, and serves as a consultant on the award-winning Amazon show Transparent. Yet in her conversation with The Guardian, she remains as wry and fierce as ever:

But in person, her demeanour turns out to have much the same quality as her writing. She shows up simply dressed, unadorned by any of the rich trappings on offer in the post shops of the gentrified neighborhood around us. And as soon as we begin to talk, the kinetic energy of her mind sucks me right in.

She starts by telling me about how much trouble she’s had getting her selected poems published. One literary publishing house, she says, called it too big (“That means, ‘too female,’” Myles says). Her identity as an out lesbian – a “dyke”, in her terms – made it even harder to get publishers to believe she could have wide appeal. If you get her going on the subject of feminism she’ll tell you she thinks it might need a name change – “there’s so much stuff stuck to the outside of it” – but that she also considers social change her “life’s work”.

Myles can be wry on the subject of men’s dominance in the artistic and literary fields – in the art world, where she’s got a second career going as an art writer, she tells me, publishers literally tell women artists that their catalogues raisonné should be shorter than men’s…

“People just have to blow it up,” she says. “And honestly, that’s what I feel that I was doing for 30 years. I felt, in my heart, that I would make a living doing this if I just stuck to it. I thought, I mean this is very kind of American dream, but I was just like: ‘This is what I want. This is all I want. So it just has to work.’”