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Eileen Myles on getting a poem in the New Yorker


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For Harriet, Eileen Myles writes about her decades-long quest to get in the New Yorker. To Myles, having a poem published by the New Yorker resembled a feat as it’s such a well-circulated general-interest magazine–though the poems they publish often feel canned. It’s interesting to read Myles, ever unfiltered, as she recounts how much she makes from various outlets, saying that her poems are currency, her property; “like my lawn.” Her hilarious social interactions with New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon are also pretty endearing. Read Myles in partial below, in full via Harriet.

Each time someone I know or approve of would have a poem in the New Yorker I’d think fuck I have to try again. And I would and nothing happened and a decade passed. I think I basically had a fight with Paul Muldoon, the poetry editor, and that helped. I mean c’mon I’m a really good poet and I write good poems whatever that means so if anything nice happens I stand on that fact first but incidentally as I was sending my 900th poem to the New Yorker Paul wrote me back a reply that irritated me. I won’t even honor it here. Then I thought well I never have had a poem in the New Yorker obviously and this is sort of a drunk feeling or a “hey I just realized I’m in a dream” feeling in which you think eh who cares so I wrote him back a terse note. He wrote me back another one. Ha. I decided to stop there but since I largely or very often live my life like it’s a dream—say when I decided to be a poet and was so off the grid in really many ways—all your life people say what do you do and you say I’m a poet and they just kind of look like you said you’re a stripper. And then they throw a blanket on you. Like so how do you live or something. Or are you published. You know how it goes. I mean sometimes you have amazing conversations on planes this way. They’ll say I love Sharon Olds. Or I love Billy Collins. She seems nice. He doesn’t. I pick up my book. So once Paul and I had our exchange rather than thinking well that was fun but now I’ll never have a poem in the New Yorker I found myself in front of a mike at a reading introducing one of my poems by saying this poem was rejected by the New Yorker. I guess I still wanted to be branded by the New Yorker in some way. I love when people say this poem was in the New Yorker. I have actually said it. I realize now that you feel a little redundant reading a poem that is in the New Yorker. I’ll explain that in a minute or maybe not but it is a curve in my understanding of what people say now that I have had the experience. But anyhow I would say this poem was rejected by the New Yorker. Did I stop there. Uh uh. I think because I grew up in an alcoholic household and I was suspending belief so often as a child just to survive that it now felt like a bicep flex. Feeling a little nervous I might do it. So I told the whole tale of our spat. I thought you guys might want to see a real crazy poet monster. Something happens to me in front of a mike. I can’t help it. As I once said to my ex Jill Soloway when we were on a panel at the Jewish Museum last spring: You just sexually abused an entire room. I don’t remember what she said but I got a huge laugh saying that and it was the beginning of a great love. I think I am abusing a room in some way when I act boundariless. I’m just acting out and something about electricity and amplification seems to do it for me. Back to the poetry incident so then after I indulged myself in revealing my spat with Paul I thought I will NEVER have a poem in the New Yorker. I am totally in control there. Summer comes and with it the Frank O’Hara Fire Island poetry festival. Who’s reading in it among others. Me and Paul. It wasn’t even awkward. He gave me a nice summer hug. I’m eroticizing it. In summer you wear less so you probably know more about the other’s body. It’s a hug. It’s a real fucking hug. We kind of made nice together. We looked at each other. He might have even encouraged me to send more poems. And for the two days of the festival we were quite friendly. I had just been living in Belfast a couple of years before where Paul is from and I had been up for telling Paul about it and did I? I forget. I mean honestly I own a book of his called The Mule which I had been meaning to tell him I liked. Did I? I don’t know. So about a half a year later I sent some poems to the New Yorker. To Paul. I didn’t hear a word. I think I wrote him again. And then he told me he was accepting a poem of mine. He mentioned its title and I quietly told him that I hadn’t written that poem. Ah he laughed and he gave the correct title. Is this a rocky road to a story of poetry and publishing and money. Not very rocky. My life is so much rockier than this. But it’s the one I choose to tell today. Only moderately abusive to several relationships that I won’t enumerate. I’m thinking Paul will enjoy it. Since I have had my poem in the New Yorker I have sent another bunch and Paul rejected me again. I’m tempted to show you one of the poems and how good it is but that would be shooting my wad. A poem is my money. I had a couple of poems in Transparent last season and they paid me for it and for the next season they are using another in a slightly unusual way and when Jill told me about it rather than commenting on how they were using it I asked her if they intended to pay me for it. Which I think offended her. But it was this feeling that my poem is my property. Like my lawn. I get a thousand dollars for a poem in Transparent. Which kind of ruins the rest of this piece. I think the New Yorker gave me something like $600 for the poem “Dissolution.” It had been the most I had ever gotten for a poem I think. Sometimes now when I am asked to write a catalogue essay for an artist I realize I could do a poem and I propose that or simply send it. In those cases I have gotten $1500 for the poems which is the most. Yet it is low for an art catalogue so in a way writing a poem is a kind of complaint. Here take a fucking poem for that price. I mean it doesn’t literally feel that way but I’m always looking for the easiest way for language to pour. Especially in relationship to cash. I’m getting $400 for this, being asked for at least 1500 words which is low. But poetry and money is a hot topic meaning one around which I can easily pour, divulge and even satisfy myself in some way so it’s a little bit like being paid to masturbate in public.