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Eileen Myles

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Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles
Born 1949
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Occupation writer, poet, performer
Genre poetry

Eileen Myles (born 1949) is an American poet and writer who has produced more than twenty volumes of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, libretti, plays, and performance pieces over the last three decades.[1] Myles is described as "one of the savviest and most restless intellects in contemporary literature."[2] In 2012 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete Afterglow (a memoir), which gives both a real and fantastic account of a dog's life.[3]


  • Writing 1
    • Poetry 1.1
    • Nonfiction 1.2
    • Fiction 1.3
    • Performance 1.4
  • Life and career 2
    • Early life and education 2.1
    • Artistic director of St. Mark's 2.2
    • Political career 2.3
    • Teaching 2.4
  • Critical reception 3
  • Fellowships, grants, awards 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7



By her own account Myles moved from Boston to New York in 1974 "to be a poet."[4] She quickly became part of a group of younger poets surrounding St. Mark’s Poetry Project. Myles's first book, The Irony of the Leash, was run off by Jim Brodey on the mimeograph machine in the office of St. Mark's Poetry Project in 1978. Immediacy remains a hallmark of Myles's aesthetic.

In 1977 and 1979 Myles's published issues of dodgems, a literary magazine. The title referred to the bumper cars of Revere Beach, MA, and served as a metonym for the collision of aesthetic differences that characterized the poetry scene of that time. dodgems featured poems by John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Charles Bernstein, a letter from Lily Tomlin, and an angry note from a neighbor. Both issues of dodgems were exhibited in vitrines in the New York Public Library's 1998 show, "A Secret Location in the Lower East Side - Small Press Publishing: 1966-1980."

Myles's third collection, A Fresh Young Voice From the Plains, earned her first major review by Jane Bosveld in Ms. (magazine).

Not Me (Semiotext(e) 1991) is Myles's most popular collection of poetry.

Maxfield Parrish/early and new poems (Black Sparrow 1995) is a collection of both new and selected poems that explore the surreality of sex.

In 1995 Myles co-edited The New Fuck You/adventures in lesbian reading with Liz Kotz, which in its multi-genre approach and postmodern focus on reading, rather than identity, offered something different from the heap of gay and lesbian poetry anthologies coming out in the 1990s.

School of Fish (Black Sparrow 1997) is the first work wherein Myles's dog, Rosie, appears like a second camera in the poem's field of vision.

Myles published Skies (Black Sparrow 2000) with the single restraint that each poem published had to include the sky in some way. The book is framed by a transcript of a panel at The Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown (Massachusetts) with Helen Miranda Wilson, Frances Richard, John Kelly, Molly Benjamin, and Jack Pierson, who each spoke about their own relation with the sky.

On My Way (Fauxpress 2001) concludes with an essay about speech and class, "The End of New England."[5]

Snowflake/different streets (2012 Wave Books) uses the technique of dos-à-dos binding to combine two distinct collections of poetry in the same physical book. In Snowflake the poems work through the insularity of a technologically charged landscape, with different streets marking a relational entry, and reentry, into the common world.[6]


Though Myles's primary intention was to be a poet, she was also moved by the New Journalism of the sixties and seventies and the art writing tradition by poets of the New York School. In the eighties Myles began to publish personal journalism, book reviews, and art reviews. Her early columns appeared in the Poetry Project Newsletter, where she published her essay "I Hate Mimeo," which called for an end to the same publishing format in which her essay appeared. In the nineties she had a monthly column in Paper Magazine.

She was a notable figure on the poetry and queer art scene that developed in the eighties and nineties Lower East Side, and her early book and theater reviews appeared in New York Native, Outweek, and Out (magazine). Later Myles would publish essays, article, and in the Village Voice, The Nation, Artforum, Parkett, and Art in America.

In 2007 Myles received an Warhol/Creative Capital grant,[7] which funded her first collection of nonfiction, The Importance of Being Iceland/travel essays in art (Semiotext(e) 2007). The title essay from this collection, "Iceland," is part travel essay, part personal essay, and an inquiry into the nature of how landscape and writing affect each other.


Myles's first collection of stories, Chelsea Girls (Black Sparrow 1994) features "Bread and Water," the oldest story in the collection, and an account of life in the East Village in the late seventies and early eighties. Raymond Foye called it "The quintessential memoir of the Lower East Side." Myles imagined the story as a literal recording of life, and so began her characteristic practice of dropping conventional punctuation and capitalization. In "Chelsea Girls," the title story, Myles chronicles her time as the assistant to poet James Schuyler in the Chelsea Hotel. Their intergenerational exchange has been the subject of scholarship by Dianne Chisholm and Jose Munoz.[1]

Myles's second full-length work, Cool for You/a nonfiction novel (Soft Skull Press 2000) catalogs abject institutional spaces of an "insider" (in opposition to the male artist as an "outsider").[8] Among these spaces are school, family, and various bad jobs. The extreme insider of the book is Myles’s maternal grandmother Nellie Riordan Myles, who spent the last seventeen years of her life in a state mental hospital in Massachusetts. Also included in Cool for You’s inventory is an imaginary one — a chapter that describes the solar system from the perspective of a ten-year-old version of Myles herself. This was Myles's first foray into fantasy writing. Cool for You received widespread recognition and was reviewed in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Nation.

Inferno (a poet's novel) (OR Books 2010) fictionalizes the life of a poet very similar to Myles. Inferno mirrors the structure of Dante's Divine Comedy. It was awarded a 2011 Lambda Award for Lesbian Fiction.

On September 29, 2015, HarperCollins reissued Myles's out-of-print novel, Chelsea Girls.[9]


In 1979 Myles founded the Lost Texans Collective with Elinor Nauen and Barbara McKay. That year the group produced Joan of Arc a spiritual entertainment and would produce Patriarchy, a play in 1980.

Later solo performances include “Leaving New York (1989), Life (1991), and Summer in Russia (1996), which were performed at P.S. 122, Judson Church.

Myles's later plays, Feeling Blue parts 1, 2, and 3; Modern Art; and Our Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, written for Alina Troyano were all produced at WOW Cafe and P.S. 122.

Since the early eighties Myles has toured and read her own work extensively. In late 1988 she traveled with poet and memoirist Jim Carroll on a tour sponsored by Lila Acheson Wallace. In the nineties Myles toured Germany with Kathy Acker, Lynne Tillman, Richard Hell, and Chris Kraus. Since 1997 Myles has frequently toured with LGBT performance group Sister Spit.

Life and career

Early life and education

Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1949.[10] She attended Catholic schools in Arlington, Massachusetts, and graduated from UMass Boston in 1971.

Myles moved to New York City in 1974 with the intention of becoming a poet. In New York she participated in writing workshops held at St. Mark's Poetry Project, studying with Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Paul Violi and Bill Zavatsky. St. Mark's Poetry Project promoted the idea of the "working artist," a pragmatic notion that Myles found appealing given her working-class background. St. Mark's gave Myles a template for creating art in the context of an urban community. It was here that Myles first heard the story of Larry Rivers's eulogy for poet Frank O'Hara. In it Rivers offered a disturbing and detailed account of O'Hara's deathbed scene. For Myles this was a gesture of true artistry; Rivers sacrificed taste and risked the discomfort of others in order to honor O'Hara's monumental presence, even while dying. As John Ashbery puts it, Myles's work makes one "uncomfortable and awake . . . chanting softly and beautifully the harsh if humorous realities that combine to make whatever life a poet can piece together today."[11]

Artistic director of St. Mark's

In 1984 Myles was hired as the artistic director of St. Mark's Poetry Project, which gave her the opportunity to rethink the institution that influenced her early work. Though up against the cuts to the NEA art budget during the Reagan years, Myles's energies were focused on broadening the aesthetic and cultural range of the St. Mark's Poetry Project. Myles’s time at the Project represented a generational shift away from the church’s base, which until then been run by the second generation members of the New York School. Program Coordinators were Patricia Spears Jones, and Jessica Hagedorn. Myles invited Alice Notley and Dennis Cooper to teach. Charles Bernstein ran the lecture series, Chris Kraus, Marc Nasdor and Richard Elovich coordinated performance, Tim Dlugos and James Ruggia edited the Newsletter.

During her tenure at St. Mark's Poetry Project, Myles performed "An American Poem" for the first time at P.S. 122. In this poem, Myles fictionalizes her identity and claims to be a "Kennedy", catapulting her into a position to comfortably address politics in her work. Since then "An American Poem" has been filmed and shown in film festivals all over the world, screening in New York and other major cities. "An American Poem" has been translated into German, Russian, and Italian anthologies of American writing. The trajectory of "An American Poem" is documented in Myles's novel Inferno.

Political career

In 1991-1992 Myles conducted a “openly female” write-in campaign for President of the United States.[12] She campaigned in 28 states, in Europe, and on MTV and other media outlets. An accurate count of how many votes she received has never been completed.


In 2002 Myles was a Professor of Writing at the University of California, San Diego. She directed the writing program for five years, and founded its MFA program before she left. UC, San Diego funded the research and travel grant that enabled the creation of Inferno (a poet's novel), as well as Hell, an opera composed by Michael Webster, for which Myles wrote the libretto. Since leaving UCSD in 2007 she has been a Visiting Writer at Bard College, Jack Kerouac School (Naropa), Washington University (St. Louis), University of Montana (Missoula), and recently in Columbia’s School of the Arts and NYU.

Critical reception

Myles has been named “the rock star of modern poetry” by BUST Magazine and “a cult figure to a generation of post-punk female writer-performers,” by Holland Cotter of the New York Times.[13] However, in a recent review of Snowflakes/different streets in LA Review of Books, Brian Teare complicates these readings of Myles's persona in relation to her body of writing:

Though the book contains plenty of autobiographical detail concerning Myles’ life as a writer and lesbian, such details remain themselves, no longer coalescing into myth. Instead, the book’s saturated with this desire to gesture toward “it,” to somehow get fragmentary words to capture some essential aspect of “the thing,” and Myles’ genius lies in making the grand gesture that includes the trivial detail and the sublime at once, their juxtaposition underscoring how we are small and made large by connection, paradoxically isolate and dependent.[14]

Inferno represents her attempt at sketching alternative sorts of existence in common. She does so not through simple prescription, but rather by modeling the act of assembly itself. … “I was addition and subtraction,” she writes in one scene set in a New York apartment, “sunlight, bumpy white walls, millions of windows, Cafe Bustelo, … (The list goes on.) There wasn’t a person in a room, in other words. There was a complex of person and room together: the sun shining down plus the walls plus a coffee can plus feet plus more.”[15]

Fellowships, grants, awards

  • New York State Creative Artist's Public Services Grant, (poetry) 1980
  • The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Performance/Inter-Arts Grant, (Modern Art) 1989
  • Fellow, Djerassi Foundation, 1994
  • Rex Foundation Grant, (The Grateful Dead) 1994
  • New York State Council on the Arts Theater Commission, with performer Carmelita Tropicana for Our Sor Juana, 1994
  • Ludwig Voegelstein Award, 1995
  • Franklin Furnace Performance Fund, 1995
  • The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA/CEC) ArtsLink Grant, 1995
  • The Fund for Poetry, 1988, 1990, 1996
  • Fellow, The Blue Mountain Arts Center, NY, 1997
  • Lambda Book Award, 1995, 1998
  • Bucknell Art Museum Residency, for Hide & Seek, 1998
  • New York Foundation for the Arts, Poetry, 1999
  • Foundation for Contemporary Performance Touring Grant, 2001
  • Muir College Enrichment Grant, for Hell, 2004
  • Research and Travel Grant, University of California, San Diego, 2004
  • University of California Humanities Center Grant, for Hell, 2004
  • The University of California's Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA),for Hell, 2004
  • Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital, Arts Writers Grant, 2007
  • Fellow, The MacDowell Colony, 1991, 1996, 2009
  • Shelley Award, Poetry Society of America, 2010
  • Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Fellow, 2011
  • Lambda Book Award for Lesbian Fiction, (Inferno) 2011
  • Guggenheim Fellowship, Afterglow, (memoir), 2012
  • The Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing, 2015


  • The Irony of the Leash. Jim Brodey Books, 1978.
  • Polar Ode (with Anne Waldman). New York: Dead Duke Books, 1979.
  • A Fresh Young Voice from the Plains. New York: Power Mad Press, 1981.
  • Sappho's Boat. Los Angeles: Little Caesar, 1982.
  • Bread and Water (stories). New York: Hanuman Books, 1986.
  • 1969 (fiction). New York: Hanuman Books, 1989.
  • Not Me. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.
  • Chelsea Girls (fiction). Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1994.
  • Maxfield Parrish: Early and New Poems. Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow, 1995.
  • The New Fuck You: adventures in lesbian reading (co-edited with Liz Kotz). New York: Semiotext(e), MIT Press, 1995.
  • School of Fish, Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1997.
  • Cool for You (novel). New York: Soft Skull Press, 2000.
  • Skies: Poems. Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 2001.
  • on my way. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Faux Press, 2001.
  • Tow (with drawings by artist Larry C. Collins). New York: Lospeccio Press, 2005.
  • Sorry, Tree (poems). Seattle: Wave Books, 2007.
  • The Importance of Being Iceland (art writing). New York: Semiotext(e), MIT Press, 2009.
  • Inferno (a poet's novel). New York: OR Books, 2010.
  • Snowflake/different streets. Seattle: Wave Books, 2012.
  • I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014. New York: Ecco Press, 2015.


  1. ^ a b "Eileen Myles". Eileen Myles. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  2. ^ "Eileen Myles- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  3. ^ "Current Fellows - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Tool a Magazine Online Journal of Poetry, Musings, and Ephemera, Lori Quillen (1999-08-08). "Eileen Myles review". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  6. ^ "491 Magazine". 491 Magazine. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  7. ^ "Seattle Arts & Lectures \ Season \ Poetry Series". 2012-11-15. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  8. ^ "Index Magazine". Index Magazine. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  9. ^ "After 19 Books and a Presidential Bid, Eileen Myles Gets Her Due". Vulture. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  10. ^ "Eileen Myles". The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2013-08-23. 
  11. ^ "Visiting Artist Lecture Series Presents Eileen Myles". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  12. ^ "1992 Write-in Campaign for President: Eileen Myles". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  13. ^ "The Rumpus Interview With Poetry Rock Star Eileen Myles". The 2009-12-02. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  14. ^ Eileen Myles (2012-08-24). "Los Angeles Review of Books - Everything Moves Close: New Poems By Eileen Myles". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  15. ^ Epplin, Craig (2012-07-17). "Assemblage Required – The New Inquiry". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 

External links

  • Eileen Myles Homepage
  • Eileen Myles blog
  • Works by or about Eileen Myles in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • "The Rumpus Interview with Poetry Rock Star Eileen Myles", December 2, 2009
  • "An Icelandic Personal Culture: An Interview with Eileen Myles", 3:AM Magazine January 2, 2009
  • Eileen Myles on YouTube
  • , OR Books, 2010Inferno
  • Eileen
  • Eileen Myles's Author Page at Wave Books
  • Eileen Myles' entry on PennSound
  • Eileen Myles' Twitter account
  • The New York Times Review of Myles' Chelsea Girls and I Must Be Living Twice
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