Eileen Myles: “For Now (Why I Write)”

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Author, Eileen Myles. Photo by Shae Detar.

A person who wants to be a poet should consider Eileen Myles—who is a professional poet. Eileen Myles is able to reflect a world that welcomes them. They speak about their desire to be alone and be part of a community. They say the rhythms of your home and birthplace are the rhythms of your writing voice. The “Eileen syntax” creates sentences unlike anyone else’s.

Excerpt from “For Now (Why I Write)” by Eileen Myles.

I think last year I got the beautiful bound versions
Yale published of Patti Smith and Knausgaard giv-
ing this talk and I sat in a chair in my apartment and
I took a look at each of them and at least as far as the
beginnings both of them sounded like themselves
and I thought well I certainly can do that.
When I received the invitation to give this talk,
I think it was the summer before last or maybe that
spring I was given a date and a fee and I kind of
put it at the back of my mind as something nice that
would happen the following September or October
and then in August I got in touch with Michael
because I hadn’t heard anything but it turns out
that’s because I had the wrong year. And I figure I
can start with that.
And I’ll return to it now and again. 2018’s talk
would have been different and 2019 has been a cha-
otic and exceptionally beautiful year, right, crowded
with incident (horrible) and time itself had a kind
of optic quality (full of great and awful things to
see and the year has been busy getting copied—that
way being memorable) and these are the things I’m
always feeding into my purpose which is to write
and maybe to get this part over with right away—
because I need an alibi.
I have a very definite feeling that I am simply
living and how would that be possible if you also had
a kind of ambition and fewer and fewer concrete
plans as you moved out of childhood wanting to
discharge it.
Alibi of course implies a kind of “elsewhere” and
as you translate it into many languages it remains
alibi, what’s the word for alibi in Czech. It’s alibi.
I have been arming myself with philosophies
for years that support the notion that the point is to
be here, to be present which I think is the truly hard
part, and yet I keep coming back to it, it’s undeni-
ably true and writing it turns out is the easiest way
to copy that feeling. I have been doing it for years.
I would like to be here, I think I’m here, and the
more I write, and the more you read it the more it’s
simply a fact.
So that’s pretty much done and now I’m living
The second detail pertaining to the invite I
received to give this talk is that I have been living
in an apartment in New York for forty-two years so
that’s where most of my life has occurred. My liv-
ing, my thinking, my copying. It’s one of those East
Village rent stabilized apartments and my building
had just been sold in 2017 for the umpteenth time
and pretty soon after my lease was up I guess prob-
ably in June and the new landlady totally took her
time getting the new lease to me, actually all of us,
which of course spelt danger and finally I got an
email from her, my landlady, Elaine Moosey, saying
she wanted to meet each one of us to hand us our
leases and I thought that’s sweet and a few weeks
later she’s standing right there in my apartment.
She’s a conservative looking woman I bet about ten
years younger than me and as soon as she got inside
here, apartment 3C, she goes I’ll give you 75,000 to
leave. That’s a visitor right. I chuckled and rejected
her offer and she went on to say that she knows that
as well as living here in the small very inexpen-
sive apartment I also have a house in Marfa Texas.

Which is not illegal, but a fact. And that she Elaine
Moosey knows it.
I’m being watched. That was the feeling I got.
Then she asked me what I do and I said I’m a writer
I didn’t say poet which was interesting I generally do
say that because it is far more perverse people gener-
ally don’t know what a poet does but in the moment
with my landlady I also grabbed a fat book of poetry
out of a brown box sitting there right next to the
tub and I flashed it even thinking maybe it would
be nice to give her one (also wondering if there was
anything incriminating in it) and she looked right
through the two of us, my book and I, and then she
said smiling wouldn’t you rather write in Texas.
It’s always very unpredictable where you will
receive counseling in your life. There’s a philosophy
that everything is a gift. If everything were coffee
that might be true. The implication is that Elaine
Moosey my landlady is a gift. Me getting the year
wrong was a gift. And certainly I’m talking to you
the poets and writers and thinkers who are getting a
nice check today. Nobody knows what it is Donald
and Sandy have actually done by giving you this
gift. You’ll know right away of course but in some
other way you won’t know for years.

Excerpted from For Now (Why I Write) © 2021 Eileen Myles. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.