A Conversation with Eileen Myles about, well, “About Mary”


In honor of our new website, Tin House magazine will be conducting short interviews with writers on their work found in the current print edition. We are excited that our inaugural interview is with the writer Eileen Myles, whose poem, “About Mary,” appears in our winter issue, #46, on stands now. Run, don’t walk, to your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy! Our Associate Poetry Editor, Matthew Dickman, manned the helm on this one.

Matthew Dickman: How did “About Mary” come about?

Eileen Myles: Sadness. I can’t even slightly remember the misunderstanding but it was a bad one. Also I had just read Frankenstein for the first time so my mute pain felt like his so I merged into a wad with his sadness and some thoughts about the wonders of the act of translation, about going through someone else’s organs to see how they make the world. Maybe not yet being able to talk to someone you are having a fight with feels like being Frankenstein translating a poem and weirdly feeling that joy and power. I think Frankenstein would be glad to write a poem. It was about Mary Shelley. Of course that she might feel like a monster made by a man, writing a poem.

MD: Conversational poems, like a great conversation, can go on and on. How did you know/feel the poem was finished?

EM: I am a sucker for a strong feeling that takes its shape in a good line. There wasn’t much to say after “I shall cry till the end of my life.

MD: Was music involved?

EM: Not a bit. Though I wrote it in a New York apartment so I’m sure I was listening to a lot of things.

MD: What are your thoughts about a “speaker” in your poem/s.

EM: Well she’s only me-ish. I feel like I do readings for her. When I first wrote poems I felt like I was writing vertical comic strips. Just the words inside the balloon. It actually feels more to me like a drawing than a speaker.

MD: How has your work changed since publishing The Irony of The Leash?

EM: I probably chop them up more, make more little jumps. I’m more often feeling in the dark now like Jody Foster in Silence of the Lambs when she was in the basement whereas at the Irony of the Leash moment I was very excited to have come to some kind of clarity for a moment. Now it’s a little more spectral and feely.

MD: The poet Breyten Breytenbach talks about the “thingness” in poetry. How important are the “things” of the physical world to your poetry?

EM: Uttlerly. Sometimes I feel like poems are just a kind of wallpaper. Like a reverse wallpaper. The things impress themselves on me. But you know like when you use final cut pro and there’s a stripe for sound and a stripe for pictures it’s stirring that kind of representation of things. But it feels more vital than that but that’s what’s going on. Having seen anything about film, I never forget.

MD: What other kinds of art inform your poetry?

EM: All art. Any art. I am dying to go see the Paul Thek show at the whitney because I know it will blow the top of my head off and I’ll write poems for days. Is travel art. It informs my poetry the most perhaps. A big plane. That’s my favorite studio.

MD: What is the importance of poetry?

EM: We use language in all its ways. I think the world abandons language a lot, especially since English now has the job of moving around all the money of the world – or at least it used to. We are making perverse use of a business language but we are its beginning and end.

MD: Are you reading other poets that excite/engage you right now?

EM: Sure. Mary Jo Bang is a fucking genius I think. I’m kind of troubled, fascinated by Kevin Teare.

MD: Would you say “About Mary” is a love poem?

EM: Absolutely. A hurt one I think. Hurt and hurting.

Be sure to check out Eileen’s latest book, Inferno, which was recently released from OR books. Go here: http://www.orbooks.com/.