HBO based a character in the popular series Transparent on them and the New York Times calls them ‘one of the essential voices in American poetry’. After 40 years in the margins, Eileen Myles has become a literary star in recent years. And oh yes, Myles is non-binary and uses the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’.
A versatile life
‘We are many’, says Myles (69). The poet loves ‘the collective notion of self’. Hence the choice for the third person plural to speak about themselves: ‘it holds masculine and feminine and everything in between’. A queer poet: obstinate, difficult to define, and writing about politics, sexuality and identity.
Myles has called New York their home since the 1970s. As the ‘last member’ of the New York School, a group of experimental artists in downtown Manhattan, the poet lives and works in the margins. The reissue of their autobiographical novel Chelsea Girls in 2015 caused a resurgence of interest in Myles’ work, resulting in a recent career-spanning anthology, I Must Be Living Twice. How appropriate for someone whose work is characterized by ambiguity.
Like their life, Myles’s work transcends any form of categorization. Myles refuses to choose between fiction and non-fiction, essay and poem, highbrow and nonchalant, him and her, public and private. The best introduction to Eileen Myles is Eileen Myles. And yet their poetry is accessible. The tone of the poems is informal, the style witty and concise. For their twenty books of poetry, fiction and art criticism, Myles has received four Lambda Literary Awards, prizes that honour literary works exploring LGBTQ themes.
In Myles’s most recent poetry collection, Evolution (Grove Press, 2018), you witness the poet’s wanderings through love, identity, poetry, American society and everyday life. The poems in Evolution read as questions about sensuality, corporality and politics. They are challenging, uncomfortable and unsettling. Myles linked Evolution to an Instagram project through which the writer wants to let the reader experience poetry through a different medium than the page.
During their very first visit to Brussels, Myles will read from Evolution. The reading will be followed by a screening of Myles’s short film The Trip (17 min), inspired by the ‘soundtrack’ of Pull My Daisy: an improvised monologue by Jack Kerouac. After the reading and the film, journalist and author Selma Franssen will be in conversation with Myles.