Spinning Such a Word as Poetry

Spinning Such a Word as Poetry

Eileen Myles on the unstoppable democracy of poetry


By Karina Vahitova on May 3, 2017

Eileen Myles. Photograph by Ben Sisto

Every day for close to a year I'd walk around with “The stars were glowing tonight / like all the paranoia in the universe / The air was chill / though it’s early March / but that makes sense / Doesn’t it, Love, Doesn’t it?” in my head in the rhythmic voice of Eileen Myles as I heard them read these lines some time in March 2016 at NYU. A few seasons later, I still recite Whax 'N Wayne (from Sappho's Boat, 1982) out loud randomly and make my friends laugh. In September, I saw Myles at a lecture we were both attending and took the opportunity to ask them to talk to me about money and the arts, knowing somewhere in the back of my head that the conversation would encompass so much more. I was right. Myles is refreshingly honest, bold, and to the point. There’s no bullshit, no wavering, no talking around the issue. While they’re speaking, I can’t help but think about how much their candor reminds me of the truths instilled in me by the Soviet women in my family. There’s a large emphasis on hard work and dedication. There’s little room for giving up. There’s an understanding that if you want to be successful you do everything and then do it again and again. There is no tolerance for disrespect and a graceful awareness of their own value in the world.

When we interview artists for this journal, we almost always send them the transcript before it’s published. Sometimes there are large edits, sometimes not. In the case of Eileen and this 6,093 word transcript, they only clarified a few phrases and words and i cut one or two sentences out of my own lines. In the months since this interview, I’ve thought about one thing they said that has stuck with me as a queer in her early 20s. When I asked if there was anything they'd learned over the course of their career that they wished they could have learned sooner, Myles replied, “It would have been helpful to know that I was young when I was young… I wish I was a little more self conscious about the power I actually had with youth.” I have really taken this to heart since September when we sat at a coffee shop in the East Village and I got to buy one of my favorite poets coffee. I am the most confident there is something for everyone in the interview below.

Karina Vahitova: I wrote down some questions, but organic conversation is how I usually try to do this. The first thing I want to ask you is if you could debunk the starving artist trope with me. Let's talk a little bit about it. When I was growing up and wanted to become an artist or a poet, there was this idea that the financial struggle is a part of that and that as an artist this struggle is something necessary — as if starving and poverty and lack of resources is what makes art happen.

Eileen Myles: I don’t know what a lack of resources means, but I think the first part is not untrue. I think context makes a lot of difference. Being starving in a place where you are surrounded by a lot of wealth seems horrendous, but being broke — let’s just avoid the word starving, let’s say just “not having a whole lot of money” — can be very porous to young people. If you're young in a place where there are lots of people like you, where rent is cheap, where the economy is not so much booming, but there are lots of jobs and you can pick them up and you can quit them, it's not so bad. The way it worked in my 20’s in New York in the 70’s was that you could not work for a month and be totally fine, you know? And then you would always find another job and the rent was a hundred and something a month. Everybody had their own spaces unless you were a couple. There was a feeling of a lot of time. Yes, many people came from middle class and upper class backgrounds which I did not, but there was a place where we met and it had to do with the fact of being young and not having a whole lot of resources. However, one of the resources was the real estate market that afforded people large or small spaces depending on what you wanted. For $300 in the 70’s you could get a loft.

KV: How did that compare to the amount of money you were actually earning?

EM: It compared fine! You were making $100 a week and your rent would be $100 a month. It wasn’t bad. I think about growing up in Boston where most of my friends did not want to be artists, just a handful did. It was just the thought of going and living this bohemian, hippie life and not having a nice apartment or money coming in and not having your parents’ approval was quite threatening to most of the people I knew. I wanted to get away from my family so it was very appealing to come and do this. Even of the friends who wanted to be writers there was still this sense of a void or an abyss that you did not want to fall in. The myth that you’re describing, in whatever version it existed in people’s mind at that time, was still threatening enough that most people at that time did not take that road. I think also being from a working class background, my brother and I being the first ones to go to college, it was hugely threatening to my family for me to not do something middle class after college. Coming here made a lot of sense just to get away from them and their tentacles.

KV: I have a similar situation with my mom. I’m from Ukraine originally and so my mom comes from a Soviet background and she struggled to bring me to this country and was like, “you’re going to become a doctor or a lawyer!” I considered it for a while but eventually realized I could not do that. It was a huge blow to her because she worked so hard to bring me here and give me a leg up to some sort of stability she did not have and I still was like, “I’m sorry I can’t do this!” What you described I agree with, but I think there’s another part of the story in which people believe that financial instability is integral to the work.

I think you do need to kind of destabilize your class background, whatever it is, in order to become something different and make something new. Part of what affects our work is class relation and I think that has to be challenged.

EM: Well, I think you do need to kind of destabilize your class background, whatever it is, in order to become something different and make something new. Part of what affects our work is class relation and I think that has to be challenged. To be working class meant that the threat of poverty was huge, and what if you could not get back up? Whereas my more middle class friends who secretly had some money coming from their families or knew that they had someone to fall back on were less threatened.

KV: Something breaks open when you destabilize what you know. In your book Inferno, I remember there is that one section titled “Poetry is Making Money” and in it you say, “I never knew that before!” but then later down in that section you say there is no money in poetry. Can you talk about that dichotomy?

EM: I’m talking about the currency. We do create an alternate currency. For a long time because I was a poet (and a good one) it meant that I had a currency whether I had money or not. It opened doors, it gave me houses in the country, it gave me older friends, it gave me dinner. We were in a network and our currency was our work and our influences and books would travel around through all of us. All sorts of things were exchanged — even money, everybody borrowed money from everybody. It was a sort of barter economy. Everybody sold books and gave each other books and stole from each other. There was just a way in which money wasn’t everything. It was just amazing to think that because I made something I had something. I remember being told by Ted Berrigan, I think because of his own frustration with making a living as a poet, that nobody would make a living as a poet. And I intended to prove him wrong and have proved it wrong. Part of it too is spinning such a word as poetry, or whatever word it is that you’re dealing with, widely, to mean artist. At different points it would mean doing art writing, writing novels, doing performance art, doing activism. To see how all those things are indeed poetry and that what you learn as a poet is applied in all these different situations. Every decade I had to figure out what extension of poetry is the culture currently open to and how I could fit in.

Part of it too is spinning such a word as poetry, or whatever word it is that you’re dealing with, widely, to mean artist.

KV: You know there’ve been rumors that poetry is dead outside of the literary community… [Laughs]

EM: That’s like saying there were no lesbians in the 15th century! People have all these big ideas. In the same way like saying that lesbians are invisible — I’m not invisible! That’s just a way of saying that what you don’t want to be there is not there. It’s creating a hypnotic. If anything, this rumor is just a testament to how poetry is completely threatening to the media, to the academy. It’s really powerful because it’s this unstoppable form of democracy. Nobody is writing these articles in poetry magazines. It’s The New York Times, it’s Atlantic, it’s all these mainstream places. As we know everybody wrote poetry in college, or when they were sad. There are all these ways that poetry is associated with failure and sorrow and youth and then those people become journalists and capitalists and make a living and become functionaries in the literary scene. The only way that they can validate their own existence is to break these unceasing articles about how poetry is dead and how nobody reads poetry anymore. We all waste our fucking time reading those stupid articles and screaming “No, it is not dead!” Just ignore those bitches.

KV: It’s completely not true and yes, super threatening to the academy.

EM: Absolutely! It’s about their own failure to stick with a very ripe persuasion.

KV: I have a small anecdote. My mom grew up on rhyme poetry, that’s the only kinds of poetry she knew.

EM: That’s Russia!

KV: Right! So when I was beginning to study poetry I went back and looked at what she was reading and truly it was all rhyme. When I started writing my own stuff she asked me to send it to her and when I did she said, “How is this poetry? There’s no rhyme!” and it was so crazy because it felt like the totalitarianism of her life is in how she understands language.

EM: Is it Ukrainian or Russian that she speaks?

KV: Both, and I speak both.

EM: Russian is a rhythmic language, you know this. There is such a capacity for rhyme. Romance languages also have so much more in them than English. English is percussive and it’s emphatic.

KV: It’s been a really interesting experience of reconciling these languages, both the lyricism of those languages and also the politics which are inherent to how people speak rhythmically. I’ve been in this country for 10 years and English was my third language, and for my Mom, me breaking up sentences and breaking up the rhyme is threatening to whatever politics she still inherently carries even if she does not necessarily know that she does. I want to ask you a little bit more about the currency of poetry not necessarily being money. Was there a moment where you accepted that as a truth, but also realized that you needed to start getting paid for the things that are published, the readings, etc?

That’s like saying there were no lesbians in the 15th century! People have all these big ideas. In the same way like saying that lesbians are invisible — I’m not invisible! That’s just a way of saying that what you don’t want to be there is not there. It’s creating a hypnotic.

EM: Well, there are two things. One, as you age the need for comfort is visceral. It used to be very easy to live cheaply. Thrifting is a whole different thing now because everyone is thrifting and it’s commodified. It was also not an era of bedbugs. We all found furniture on the street and clothes on the street and thrifting was very good.

One way or another I always found money to go to the dentist because I did not want to look like a poor person. I did not come from poverty, but I came from a class that fears poverty. Then it became increasingly expensive to go to the dentist and I realized that aging politicized me more in terms of money and healthcare. Also, I realized that a lot of people I’d come up with were making poetry not be their primary goal NOW because they were afraid. For me it was never like I said, “I’m going to make money.” It was that I just began to make money. Because I do believe that if you’re good and you stay on long enough, you start to get rewarded. That might sound kind of elitist but I think it’s about not quitting. The break off point is in the early to mid 30’s. A lot of people think “Okay, now I need to get a PhD or I need to work at an art organization, or move out of the city.” If you did not do that, you started to become unique. One of the things about not stopping is that you become more visible.

KV: That’s something that I think a lot about because even in the model that we advocate for, it is not like you wake up one day at 22 or whatever young age you are and just ask random people to support your Kickstarter. There needs to be a period of real hard work to become visible so that people can see you.

Good breakfast. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Myles

EM: You have to have something to show. Also, I was aware that whenever I was exposed to any other world besides the poetry world, I would be sort of affected by the economy of it. Like the art world. When I worked at the poetry project we had an art auction and the art world with its furs and its economy came in. I was like “whoa…” and was drawn to it. These guys have money. What would I get if I worked there…or even did theatre? When I started to move away from the poetry world and into the art world or the performance world and started to write plays, I encountered ethics that we did not have in the poetry world. They were actually really helpful. People would tell me that the reason I needed to show people my play and get people to work on it or act in it was because people needed my work. The whole world of theater is just so different. They’re unabashed. The poetry world does not so much have a projection of failure, but it just isn't so Americana. We’re not teams! Poets don’t work in teams! Theatre is team and the art world is a system. When I brushed against those worlds I did start to see how they had a less puritan relationship to money and support and even just having a sense of “Oh yeah, you NEED my work!” I knew I needed my work, but I did not know others did. Getting out of the poetry world and being a poet outside of the poetry world started to create something new and I experienced the “other” as needing my work. That was a new engine. Every time I traveled, every time there was a distance from the discrete poetry world, I learned something new. I drank and drugged a lot when I was younger and I stopped at a certain point and the sudden problem of money-making looked grim. When I was drinking and I was young people just told me about jobs I could take. It was like I was getting dressed by the culture all the time. And suddenly when I stopped drinking it just stopped happening and it was really scary. I was cleaning apartments and releasing helium balloons at Diana Ross concerts in Central Park. Just doing really crazy jobs. Then the job as the director of the Poetry Project came up and I was like, “This is probably the only job I’m qualified for!” I had been there for 10 years and knew the community and the institution. I got the job and the first most interesting thing was that every poet thought they were the only poet. Everybody was always coming and asking for a reading and asking for things. The poets were really afflicted culturally by their ideas of who they were and who needed them. I started to be in the position of needing to make arguments for the purpose of making money for poetry and why you needed it. I was becoming unashamed to ask for money for poetry. As always, jobs, relationships, and societies usually for me always end up in a fight. I’d been at St. Marks Church for 10 years — unrelentingly. That was a graduate program, that was my poetry education, my community, my lovers, my economy. So when I had a falling out and left that job, I moved over to the art and performance world. And now I had those skills. Now I knew how to ask for money. I realized I knew people in the art world and they would support my play. So I wrote letters to famous artists asking for money and I realized that I had to get a non-profit. Allen Ginsberg had a foundation and I asked if they could be my umbrella organization and people were happy to write checks to Allen’s foundation because that meant that I was somebody. Everything taught me something. The main thing was being willing to move in and out of my comfort zone (i.e. the poetry world and its prejudices, joys, and economies).

KV: It seems like you were able to take the skills you learned at Poetry Project and apply them to your own career. It’s interesting because when you’re working for an organization and doing the work of asking for money, not just for yourself as an individual artist, but for a whole community, you begin to learn how every artist actually is an organization within their own self.

EM: Yes! And I always felt that I was and it was sort of a private joke. Then I thought, “No, I actually am!”

KV: In many ways artists and poets are non-profits. And also entrepreneurs and LLCs and all the things.

Poetry is completely threatening to the media, to the academy. It’s really powerful because it’s this unstoppable form of democracy.

EM: Yes, exactly. I’ll never forget when there started to be home shopping networks and VH1 and Lucy Sexton — who was in a performance duo called DANCENOISE in the 80’s and 90’s— who was trying to figure out who else she could be and move into it. For her to be a kind of merch hostess on VH1 was really funny because everybody around her seemed just sort of crippled in figuring out how to stand there and sell stuff, but for Lucy as a performance artist, that’s all she’d ever been doing: making props and throwing things around and being funny and talking on the hoof and asking for things. She realized that we all have these skills. An interesting organization that I recently worked with is Creative Capital and they’re brilliant because their whole structure of funding artists is teaching us that we’re businesses and how to function like one. And you’re like “Ugh, I have to go to a retreat,” but actually, it has been really amazing.

KV: Creative Capital is an organization we really respect. As compared to theirs, our mission is very specific. Theirs is more of general professional development for artists, but ours is very specific to crowdfunding and online tools. They’re wonderful. I’ve heard many great things about them from other people as well. So what you learned from Poetry Project was that people need to pay for poetry. Journalists for example, get paid per word. What is the value of words socioeconomically?

EM: It’s very interesting because as a poet you largely get paid to read words as opposed to sell words. I wrote a piece for the Poetry Foundation about money. What I found is that you have to get good at judging the context because people will ask you to do things for free. You have to ask, “How am I rewarded by this situation?” I read for free sometimes, but it’s because I am aware that I am making a donation. I don’t read for free because you don’t think I have value. It’s never free, unless it’s a memorial. It’s all about using language to create community literally, which I think you do early, early, early on in your career, but increasingly you have value and do things outside of the poetry community. The poetry community is also a multiple in that there are so many communities. What I think we all learn is that you make a living as a poet based on your capacity to cross through those communities. When they say, “She’s a writers’ writer or she’s a poets’ poet!” that just means that a lot of people think you’re a good poet as opposed to this camp or that camp and that’s desirable.

As you age the need for comfort is visceral…it became increasingly expensive to go to the dentist and I realized that aging politicized me more in terms of money and healthcare.

KV: I think the aspect of choosing to donate your time versus constantly being asked to is very important. When I first moved to New York I often found myself in positions where I was like, “Should I be doing this for free?” I went to The New School and Parsons is under the auspice there and there are a lot of fashion kids and of course the fashion world is a whole other allergy-inducing place. There were kids who had their designs taken by famous brands and they were given no credit, nothing. These famous designers taking the work of youth and putting it in their collections and neither crediting them nor paying them. This is something that is running rampant across the arts. Donating your time and actually getting something out of the experience is one thing, but being taken advantage of is another. I think that’s where younger people need to see the difference.

EM: Right. There are lots of invisible economies in the poetry and art world. That’s one: Youth. You’re rich because you’re young. So you can work for free and you have no associations and you’re working for an association. Bad things happen. I once heard of a writing professor stealing a line from an undergraduate poet. I’m sure that does happen. There’s that and there’s also secret family wealth. The person who is seeming to not be needing to make any money and they’re broke and kind of cool with it, but that’s because they actually secretly getting money, or have money, or will have money. The other thing is the academy. We are asked to do so many things like go to AWP. For free? That’s because the assumption is that you are an academic and your school is flying you and putting you up. Every time you do a conference you get a bump on your CV and every time you get six bumps you get a step-raise. A lot of the presumption in the writing world about doing things for free is because you are installed in another world where you are a part of this rewards system. I did not even really understand that until I was an academic for five years and saw how it worked. They're not doing shit for free, this is like a company gig. Then again, when AWP asks you to come and be on a panel it’s always very interesting which friends of mine will do it and which won’t.

KV: There are lots of conversations happening about the academy now in regards to how art schools are profit-making institutions that are sort of putting kids through school and giving them these interesting majors and then those kids get out and have no idea what to do with those degrees.

EM: Depending on what the school is. Art schools, in a way that writing schools aren’t, are finishing schools. They introduce you to the gallery system and your professor was a famous artist or whatever, and gallery people are coming into your studio. They install you in the art world before you even get out of school. People have their first show before they get out of school sometimes.

I knew I needed my work, but I did not know others did. Getting out of the poetry world and being a poet outside of the poetry world started to create something new and I experienced the “other” as needing my work. That was a new engine.

KV: I have not seen that be the case at Parsons to be honest. But even with me who is in the work of helping artists make a living post art school, at the end of the day it really comes down to hard work. Are you going to really do this? Or are you going to fall off? My other question is about auxiliary jobs. You’ve talked a lot about having many random jobs throughout your life. The question that I often get from artists when I work with them is, "how do I find a balance?" Our days are only 24 hours long and most young artists do have to at some point rely on these auxiliary jobs, so how do you find a balance between what is giving you money and your art work?

EM: Well, that’s the struggle! It’s different for everybody. For me, I for a long time avoided, with a couple of exceptions, doing work that was mental or bourgeois because I saw that as not enabling my writing. I just did rote work, shit jobs. Being an intern, trying to get into publishing, working for arts organizations is all absorbent work. Working at the Poetry Project was all absorbing. When I was an academic, it was all absorbing! It’s interesting because neither of them stopped me from writing, but they did stop the machinery of my career. Both those experiences made me understand that I had a career and it had a business aspect to it and that if I was doing the business of an institution, I was not doing the business of my writing. It’s always a struggle. At this point I accomplish more stuff when I am working with others, like having assistants.

KV: What really stuck out to me in that section of Inferno where you talked about going to get a job as an apple picker and what you are saying now, is that there are jobs that will facilitate your writing and there are jobs that will make you go insane. There are plenty of jobs that will facilitate your life experience. It is about life, it’s about just learning everyday, and if you’re in a space where you’re not learning then you’re not writing.

EM: Right. Jobs have a time schedule and jobs make you physically tired. Ideally, if you have to work a full-time job you want a job where you get to write at work. Somehow or other you get to do that. In a way, as a poet, there is no job where that isn’t the case. Of course some are better than others.

KV: I did a lot of things since I was very young, but the one thing that shut my brain down was waitressing.

EM: I was a very bad waitress too. I just couldn’t do it.

KV: Now I want to talk to you about the internet. How do you feel about it? It’s a very general question and there are some obvious answers, but what spaces are opening up, from your perspective?

EM: It has changed everything. I can’t talk about the internet without talking about the answering machine. Suddenly in the 80’s you came home to your apartment and there was a machine on the floor and it was blinking and you had messages. You would listen to them and wonder if you could ignore these things. I’m not so much talking about the internet as far as email goes. All relationships are different. If I wanted a recommendation I had to call up a famous poet or write them a letter. Writing them a letter meant that you had to be really on point. You would write it a month before the deadline because it needs to go through the U.S. mail. I had to call John Ashbery. Today it’s easier for me to ask for things, but it’s also easier for people to ask for things from me. I’m very critical of the business aspect of how we use the internet.

I was always a little fascinated by people who had the capacity to do things I would never do. They often told stories that I did not need to learn or hear. It’s about being better at editing early. I did not need every experience.

KV: Talk to me about it.

EM: I had a poetry magazine in my 20's. If I wanted a famous poet’s work, I would write them a letter or I would go to their house and literally get the poems. Then you might wait or might have to write them again. Now if somebody wants me for a certain journal they will ask me in an email and I say, “Yeah” and then they don’t do anything and I don’t do anything and then it comes out and I’m like, “Really? You just sort of gave up?” It feels like the desire has sort of shrunk to the size of the gesture which is tiny. I’ve had people ask for a recommendation and it’s clearly a blind cc. I feel like: “Fuck you! You can’t even ask me individually?” Or it’s a thank you for doing a recommendation and it’s a blind cc. I told the person how I felt and they were actually really upset and thought that I was being horrible and I thought “Nobody has ever said this to you, but they should have!”

KV: When we advise on crowdfunding campaigns we tell artists to always, always send out personal messages to a huge chunk of their community. I have this one friend who is very disenchanted with the internet and I tell her: “I see you. I get it. But you can actually take this tool and make more of it than what it is and be genuine.” Talk to me about your Twitter and Instagram. Why are you on those platforms?

Good dog. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Myles

EM: Because they’re amazing tools for distributing photographs and fragments of lines. The thing I always think about is, you know, there was the open mic. I can’t remember who organized it, but there was this event with all these different poetry organizations of very different types and we each had a team and we were in a sort of competition. One of the competitions was to get up and spontaneously write a poem. There was somebody on our team who was totally equipped to do that and she did not want to, so I got pushed to do it and did do it and I was bad at it. The thing that’s amazing about Twitter is that it is improvising publicly, but nobody can see it and you’re doing it on your terms. So it takes what’s really nice about wall art, which is that you do not have to be on time for the art show. I feel that Twitter has the personal quality. You get to express the grade of the day and respond to issues and personal feelings and geography. I’m thinking of mostly Twitter, but both of them are astonishing. It’s really fun to think that if I am taking a picture, and I am deciding whether to put it on Instagram or not, I am thinking about the effect of the caption and determining if that will lead people to want to look at the picture. I am focused on the outcome. I don’t mean in terms of how many people like it, but what will they get from it? These are exactly the issues you encounter when writing poetry. I always think of John Ashbery’s line about wanting to write a poem as if the person is in the same room as him. It means that you write intimately as if someone can see everything you can see. Sometimes you do tell them what you see. It’s this dance between what is withheld and what is revealed. We have this global tool for doing exactly that.

KV: People have arguments about how the internet is separating us rather than bringing us closer together. With your Twitter or Instagram there are days where I’m like: “I have no idea what Eileen is looking at right now.” But it makes me want to know and it inherently brings me closer to you or to whomever else I’m reading. It’s just a more nuanced way of thinking about it than if you were actually sitting in the same room looking at the same thing as me. 

EM: The thing that is so interesting is that it does bring you so much closer to people. There are people whom I’ve met and liked and so we began to follow each other on social media, and then I saw which things of mine they liked and have been surprised by what we have in common. It’s cut across a lot of class lines in terms of my ideas about who people are. People surprise me. And I think I surprise them and that’s really rich.

KV: Is there anything you learned over the course of your career that you wish you would have learned sooner?

EM: It’s all about real estate. Buy your building when you could have. Get a bigger space before it changes so radically. It would have been helpful to know that I was young when I was young. I was a young female. I was being treated a certain way because of who I was and because I wasn’t anybody else. I wish I was a little more self conscious about the power I actually had with youth. It’s so weird to understand that oldness is a preemptive device, that people are so in awe of bold, young people. They’re forthright and self-loving in a kind of self-possessed way. You are running on your good health and trading it as if it is an endless resource. You’re making the conditions of your existence more flawed than they need to be. But maybe you have to make a mess – in time.

KV: Some say that politics of care is the most radical space. The more I live the more I see how true that is. The politics of your own care and your own physical body, but also taking care of the bodies of others.

EM: Yeah and I think that people who struck me intuitively as fucked up and a little evil were not worth my time. And when I stopped drinking I got even better at avoiding them. Because I was always a little fascinated by people who had the capacity to do things I would never do. They often told stories that I did not need to learn or hear. It’s about being better at editing early. I did not need every experience.

The good news is that when I realized I am good enough to make decisions I also realized I am also good enough to have people surrounding me who help me.

KV: What are you currently struggling with?

EM: Oh, that’s a good one...Maybe having the ability to distinguish between an opportunity and something which is not good enough. It seems like when you get attention, lots of worlds begin to open up to you and lots of opportunities come your way. I think I’ve gotten better at asking for help with agents, lawyers, and even shrinks. People who can actually look at the things coming my way and help me distinguish what I need to do and don’t need to do. And really determining when I need to take…I don’t know if “vacation” is the word, but just being out of the fray and saying no to things so I can make stuff and be well. My struggle still is with self care, but also with understanding the difference between an opportunity and a poorly thought out proposition. People are always are telling you so much about what they think of you when they offer you something. “We think it would be really great if you read with blah-blah-blah” and they give you a little twinkle. And you’re like, “What does that mean if you’re putting me with that person and you’re delighted by it? How are you delighted?” Rather than second-guessing who they think I am or why this is awesome, it’s just about asking myself if I am drawn. I have less room for ambivalence. My struggle is to pull away from ambivalent situations as quickly as possible. I’ve gotten better in some parts of my life, but I need to get better in my professional life. The good news is that when I realized I am good enough to make decisions I also realized I am good enough to have people surrounding me who can help me. Surround yourself with people who have your best interests and who are not there to drain you and figure out how you’re the hook up. That’s a loaded one too. My struggle is to figure out who I am glad to be a hook up for and who I don’t want to engage. People start to treat you like a utility when you get shit. And I understand that. Everybody went to John Ashbery, everybody went to Allen Ginsberg.

KV: The whole point of us having the forums on The Void Academy website is specifically to have a space for artists to share resources with one another. So what you said about having people around that can help you professionally — that space is meant to centralize those resources and have people help one another. Yes, the work of being an artist mostly comes from you yourself, but you don’t have to be a lone dog. You can ask for help and give help. That’s one of those invisible currencies that you were talking about that’s very important because it connects and uplifts people. People come up together never truly by themselves. Some people want to disavow that…

EM: I know, I know! Exactly.

For more information please visit eileenmyles.com

Related article: The DIY Professional, musician Anna Vogelzang on being a DIY artist and developing a sustainable career in music


Eileen Myles is the author of nineteen books including I Must Be Living Twice: New & Selected Poems, and a 2015 reissue of Chelsea GirlsAfterglow (a dog memoir) will be out from Grove in September 2017. Eileen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Warhol/Creative Capital Arts Writers grant, four Lambda Book Awards, the Shelley Prize from the PSA and a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Art. In 2016 Myles received a grant from Creative Capital and the Clark Prize for excellence in art writing. They live in New York and Marfa, Texas. 


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