By Sarah Richards
Renowned poet and novelist, Eileen Myles, treated Pensacola State College to a trio of culture, creativity, and conversation, beginning with a reading at the Lyceum on Feb. 8.
On Feb. 9, a workshop was held in the library and an informal interview with Jamey Jones, PSC poetry and literature professor, at the Anna Lamar Switzer gallery.
Jones introduced the Massachusetts-born Myles with his characteristic Southern hospitality. Myles came out in a ball cap, looking like a sports fan ready to hit the bleachers rather than the stereotypical poet in a blazer.
Myles’s “directness traverses/ knocks down individual and societal walls, embedded notions of art, life, sex, gender and class–and by doing so offers other possibilities, often eliminating, expanding, and redefining the so-called genres—is that a poem or a story? A novel or a memoir? Article or essay? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.” Jones said.
To break the ice, Myles read several poems, ending with a scathing Trump piece.
The feminist icon prefers to use gender-neutral personal pronouns such as they, them and their in place of he or she.
Their book, “Afterglow”—a balance of anthropomorphism and verisimilitude—told the fictional story of their beloved dog, Rosie. They wrote it as “an homage to this great dog.” A letter from Rosie’s lawyer introduces the audience to their novel, which plays with the absurd.
Through “Afterglow,” Myles gave their dog representation.
A question-and-answer session followed. Daniel Rivera, a PSC alumnus and cat person, loved how they equated their dog/God idea with the question of whether art imitates life or life imitates art, or, in Myles’s case, “how they got the idea from their dog, then how the dog gave their the idea.”
Daylight ushered in the Friday workshop, where Myles lit up the room as they spoke extemporaneously, making eye contact with those who had come to learn and be inspired and write.
They talked about the two kinds of poets—water poets and wine poets—considering themself the former, having traded wine for a water bottle decades ago.
Everyone has their own ideas about what poetry is. “Poetry is kind of this amazing space to hold things,” a container for all the intangibles, “a secular religious practice. It gives you a way of pacing your existence,” they said, comparing it to prayer—“a devotion of reality. My reality.”
The flow began with a transcription exercise, with Myles telling the audience “all forms of appropriation are really great.” They read from a book, in which the audience plucked language they liked (incandescent was a popular one), and from that, wrote their own poems from the words and phrases they scribbled down— like choosing colors at a paint store and mixing them—though they did allow them to create their own titles from the unspoken.
“Any poem torn apart can make 95 other poems,” they said, and several students shared theirs, each of them quite different from the rest, proving Myles’s point.
For Myles, “there are two groups of people who have no problem with poetry: children and prisoners.” On a speaking engagement at Sing Sing—a lifer named Chuck—told them how he had to “find different things in the everyday,” yet the sublime is often found in the mundane.
Myles’s humor about their vocation was omnipresent. “Poetry was very cool in the seventies. If you told someone in the eighties [that you were a poet], they would look at you like you’d told them you were a mime. Historically, every cultured person wrote poems.”
Myles credits their identity with helping to secure jobs, and said, the “joke of my life is that every now and then, there has been an opening for a lesbian poet.”
Myles does not limit themself to the literal world but has found a form of limitlessness in the virtual one, increasing their visibility to fans.
They have an Instagram account, and considers Twitter “like an open mic to the world,” saying that writing in a notebook is like “reverse-tweeting.”
In “Afterglow,” which Jones refers to as a gumbo, they say the “love was the roux.”
The address on the envelope at the beginning of the book was handwritten by a fan from San Francisco named Mud Howard, whose penmanship Myles said was “perfect for a dog.”
He considered it an honor.
Myles is currently writing a screenplay based on “Chelsea Girls,” which is ironic, as it is a gritty, earthy, coming-of-age novel, an in the moment looking towards the future kind of work, even as “Afterglow” is an unearthly and farcical, written in retrospect, as a form of paying their respects.