header-image

An Interview with Eileen Myles

[POET]

“The animal part of the writer is the most important part.”

Eileen Myles’s thoughts on AI-generated poetry:
Mostly soulless
Really obscene
Like the worst workshop poems of all time 
Hideous
We have to know it and meet it
A piece of shit

header-image

An Interview with Eileen Myles

[POET]

“The animal part of the writer is the most important part.”

Eileen Myles’s thoughts on AI-generated poetry:
Mostly soulless
Really obscene
Like the worst workshop poems of all time 
Hideous
We have to know it and meet it
A piece of shit

An Interview with Eileen Myles

James Yeh
Facebook icon Share via Facebook Twitter icon Share via Twitter

Eileen Myles’s writing is nimble yet incisive, insouciant yet wise. The author of no fewer than twenty-three books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, Myles makes the act of writing seem both impossibly cool and effortlessly deep. Monumental and natural and the smallest, simplest, most meaningful thing. Both pathetic and of course not at all so. They fill the act of writing and being a writer with possibility and agency. For years now, at the end of every semester, I have sent students at Columbia University and elsewhere off into the world with Myles’s valedictory words: “I hope there’s mystery and poetry in your life—not even poems, but patterns. I hope you can see them. Often these patterns will wake you up, and you will know that you are alive, again and again.” Generally, this is followed by claps and, at times, tears.

Myles’s role as sage advice giver—as a commencer into what we might call, taking their cue, “a ‘Working Life’”—feels apt. (As they wrote to me recently: “Let me be the one to convince nonfiction students that poetry is nonfiction just like everything else.”) I first met Eileen in 2012 or 2013 at the former Center for Fiction space in Midtown Manhattan. I remember they were warm and unexpectedly practical: we quickly got to talking about our dogs, and Eileen suggested I find a good dog sitter, if I didn’t know one already—as a writer, you need to be able to travel and do residencies, and so you need someone you can trust to care for your animal companion. I must have been twenty-nine or thirty at the time, still very much finding my way, but I felt there was something unusually gracious about Eileen’s gesture of treating the greenhorn as a fellow traveler, despite his age and what must have been obvious inexperience. I found it ennobling.

Some years later, in 2018, I commissioned Eileen to write an essay, in praise of Houston’s second-largest airport, for this magazine. When I suggested some light edits—more or less a copyedit—they responded with a bit of memorable pushback as well as some explanation: “I’m pretty much a what you see is what you get kind of writer. But I fixed phone to iPhone and allowed most of the para breaks and different punctuations and capitalizations. I don’t like question marks a la Gertrude Stein but if that’s a deal breaker insert them but I really think they ruin the flow of the work inserting a score that I don’t mean.”

Naturally, we chose to keep the flow.

This interview was drawn from multiple sources: a phone conversation, a live event for students at Columbia University’s School of the Arts in New York, and a dinner at a nearby restaurant-bar afterward. At the restaurant-bar, kept the recorder on for the first half of the meal and then turned it off, because leaving it on seemed somehow invasive, or maybe too professional, but then I ended up jotting down so much of what Eileen said anyway. So it is when spending any stretch of time with someone as effortlessly quotable as Eileen, where you might hear such tossed-off observations as “I noticed that art is something that doesn’t happen far away” and “Nothing more trans than taking a shit in the men’s room.” At one point I asked whether they considered their recent poem “Put My House” to be a sex poem. “Do I consider it a sex poem?” they repeated out loud, deciding whether to play ball. “I guess. Sure. I don’t think you’re wrong.

“I’ve not written a lot of sex scenes,” they continued, “but I guess I get a lot of bang for my buck.” The sex talk reminded them of a short story they once sent to Mary Gaitskill, when she was guest-editing a fiction issue of VICE magazine, but the other editors weren’t “sure the advertisers would let them run it because it was ‘pussy-on-pussy.’ And I was like, ‘You’re so misogynist.’” And so it flowed.

—James Yeh

I. “MAYBE THIS IS ACTUALLY WHAT I NEED”

THE BELIEVER: Hi, Eileen. How are you doing?

EILEEN MYLES: I’m good. I came here [Marfa, Texas] in January and I sublet my place in New York City for a year. Next month I’m going to travel a bit, but most of the year I’m here and I’m working on this book.[1]

BLVR: That sounds amazing.

EM: Having what you want can be complicated. If I’m very orderly every day, I have a great day. And today I was orderly. The day before yesterday I was orderly. Yesterday I had some new art and I wanted to hang it and I needed help and somehow that ended up being complicated. Anyway, the less I do the better it goes.

BLVR: Is that because you need to be able to focus?

EM: It seems to me something has to become an obsession. I can keep something alive with little bits every day. The more everything I do has something to do with it, the better. It’s like a circus tent over your life. It’s like if you go to MacDowell, you’re there working. Ideas seem more visceral even.

BLVR: Do you feel like these conditions have been required for your work? Have they always been available to you?

EM: No—no. When I was younger, other people’s houses could sometimes give me this support. For two or three months, years ago, someone gave me their house and it was incredible. I learned to drive because it was not in the city. I always think of those residencies in a place apart as like having a good childhood for a moment. The shape of them is really good for writing. Because you just go in, you charge in, you get intense, and then it’s over. And it is different like when I’m here and I’m home, when it’s not so time-bound.

But still I feel like having time and space to write is a new job in a way. I’ve never had this much time. And I fuck it up. Someone will ask me to do a blurb, and I’m like, “Nyeh, you can send it to me.” And even though I don’t have to read that book, I somehow want to. It becomes perverse. So that’s funny. Because I have a reading list that has much more to do with what my next book is about. But then, you know, who knows? It could be that what the world wants, or what is being published now, is highly relevant to what I’m working on.

BLVR: Well, people always say, “Curiosity killed the cat.”

EM: Yeah! But tell me what you mean.

BLVR: You’re like, Oh, maybe this is actually what I need. And you’re curious.

EM: Yes, exactly.

BLVR: It’s like the openness—

EM: —is full of danger.

BLVR: Yeah, the openness can be very productive, but the flip side is it could be so narrow. You mentioned the influence of other writings. What about the influence of the personal on your work? I was reading your poem “The Mirror Is My Mother.” Your line about moving a mirror and seeing a wall instead is so stunning. I’m presuming it’s drawn from personal experience.

EM: I think I wrote that in 1989. The thing that’s very funny about you picking up that line is that I’ve been using it in the book I’m working on. The line is a good way of saying something that I think about all the time. It is that thing when something is rendered static, and it’s a repeated shock. I think my uncle had died, and Cookie Mueller [writer and actress who starred in many of filmmaker John Waters’s early films] had died. In that poem, it was both those things. My mother was well and alive and had a couple decades to go. And I’d seen Cookie dead. She had an amazing funeral at St. Mark’s Church, where she was laid out in a casket and everybody would come up and stand or look at her. She had this incredible war paint on. I mean, she was very thin. It was the most amazing funeral I’ve ever been to. I don’t think they ever allow fire in the church, and yet somebody had trimmed the whole perimeter of the interior of the church with small white candles that were flickering. So there was this incredible effect. The playlist was incredible. And then eventually people got up and started to talk, talk, talking and saying things. But mostly it was the visual effect and the music. And just the fact of her body sitting there in front of us was so astonishing.

It’s weird, like, a few weeks ago, the man across the street died. We didn’t really have much communication. But he was often out on his lawn, and I’m in and out all the time. And so we just kind of grunted at each other. And every now and then I think he would suddenly see me as female and he’d just kind of perk up—I mean, he was a single guy, with grandchildren and children and all that—and then I would get this sort of weird vibe from him. But finally we had no interest in each other at all. And he died in this really weird way—he was a guy who had a lot of different jobs, and one of his jobs was to take the mail from Marfa down to a town called Candelaria. There are things that are not even towns, but they’re called colonias. They’re just little bitty places where somebody has to bring your mail, and somebody has to pick it up. And so Gilbert was that guy. And when you get to those places, there’s very little internet connection or phone coverage. So apparently, when he was down there doing a delivery, he had a heart attack. So I think it took a while for someone to get to him. And then, wherever the hospital was was really far. And so on, and so on. And so Gilbert died.

But what’s weird is just that he’s not there. What’s across the street from me is Gilbert’s house, and all his stuff. And he had grandchildren, so there’s like posters from the kids who play sports in town and his Christmas decorations are still up—everything but Gilbert. And it’s exactly that sensation. The morning he died, I remember: I sat on my couch, and I was drinking tea, and reading, and I remember looking out and seeing this sort of red-and-green tinsel-covered lawn-ornament candy cane. I thought, Huh, Gilbert’s candy cane is still up.

Well, there’s no end to this subject. But everything is like that. Suddenly everything looks different.

BLVR: Along the lines of change, you’ve talked about how the writing you are most into doesn’t stay still—it’s not rigid. Is there also a thing that stays still, though? An element of non-change that is necessary for you?

EM: I feel like there’s a something that does all the writing. There’s a way in which my poems and my art journalism and my novels all sound the same. And I wouldn’t say it’s me exactly, but it’s a familiar pastiche of all the classes I travel from and through. And I use it. That’s my instrument. So, in a way, that’s why I think the genres don’t matter so much to me, because they’re different jobs of the same nature.

BLVR: Robert Walser, whom I know you also like, has talked about this. How all his pieces of writing are like the bits of a “long, plotless, realistic story.” I feel like you’ve talked about the jigsaw of moods.

EM: I know, and he also says he’s like a cobbler.[2] He puts it all together.

BLVR: Do you identify with the idea of that role as a writer? Of yourself as the cobbler?

EM: Oh yeah. I like that. Jerry-rigged, all these things. Kind of 3D, pastiche.

BLVR: When you are pulling from all these different things, do you have certain credos or rules? For example, I feel like the writer Alejandro Zambra does a lot of playing with identities and real people in his work. And I once wrote a story about an ex and asked Alejandro, who is a friend, when I should show it to her. His expression became quite grave and he was just like, “That’s dangerous.”

EM: Right. I mean, it’s hard, because the book I’m working on now will obviously include stuff about people that I’ve been involved with. And I had this idea that it was going to be limited in some aesthetic way, that I was going to manage it. But the stuff just comes out the way it wants. And I have people that I thought, Oh god, they’re gonna… And yet, if the writing is really hot and juicy and good, it’s like, How could you not use it? I feel like I might push the envelope more on these issues than I ever have before.

The book is called “All My Loves.” And I really did think it was about the domestic habits of relationships. But then when I decided the book is going to be really big, like a thousand pages, I thought it could expand to many definitions of love. So that gave me a lot more breathing space. But I’m nowhere near the place where I have to decide anything.

BLVR: That’s a place you like, am I right?

EM: Yeah, it’s the editing place, right? Like I wrote a novel in the ’90s about a relationship. And that breakup was so bad that when I started to read from the novel, it was just as bad as the breakup. So I put it aside for almost thirty years. So I’m going to dump big parts of that into the book. It’s funny because the book described the relationship, but it also described a social world that was more hers than mine. But I subsequently inherited many of those friends. And so now the social world is much more taboo than the relationship. They’re friends and people I have work relationships with. And I know the families now. I do care what they think and feel.

II. “BAD COPIES OF THE WORLD”

BLVR: There’s a line in The Importance of Being Iceland where you write: “In general, I think writers are not smart. They are something else and each writer can fill in a word here, but smart is not what that word is.” And later, in an essay on avant-garde poetry, you write, “Andy Warhol sounded dumb. And that was good.” Is there something to be said in defense of the not-smart or sounding dumb?

EM: Oh, well, I guess I felt like the animal part of the writer is the most important part. The same way childhood is the most important part of life. You’re just like recording all the time when you’re a kid—you don’t miss anything. You always ask a question of an adult, and they’re like, “Why would you say that? Who told you to say that? Where did that come from?” The child’s basic knowledge and experience is always challenged by the adult and always dismissed, but the fact is: you did see it and you keep recording. And writing is when you kind of grow up and you put a voice-over onto all those recordings. Like you basically articulate what the kid saw.

And I feel like life is like that—it’s a delayed-reaction experience. I think poetry is a little better than prose for being present. You can often write poetry in the present, about the present, and you’re often in the room when you write. Not that you write only about the room, but you really do kind of take the physical space on in a more literal way than in prose.

But I feel like really there’s this lag, where some part of you is just really dumb and that’s the most valuable part because that part is the animal that’s thinking and feeling and smelling and hearing and just absorbing, you know? And if that doesn’t happen, the work is disembodied.

So I feel like the dumbness of the writer is the most valuable part.

BLVR: Are there ways you have nurtured that animal part?

EM: Part of why we love animals is they give our animal a way to be—you get a dog so you walk your dog so the dog walks you. We’re coexisting with them. What I would give my animal now is different from what I gave my animal in my twenties. There was a certain amount of excess when I was young and I think that’s not bad—that’s good.

Growing up, I made art. I drew and painted and I think I was supposed to go to art school and instead I went to college. And for a while when I first got to New York, it was that thing where you couldn’t go look at the thing, the road you didn’t take. I was like, Ugh, I don’t want to look at art, it makes me depressed.

But I stopped drinking in my thirties, cause I come from a long line of very bad alcoholics, and so my animal did not need another drink at that point in time, and that’s when I realized that art was the greatest thing: to go into an art gallery and just be in the color and sensation and relationship and sculpture and everything—it’s life-changing every time, because it’s basically being in somebody else’s browser. And just to be present with art is to completely reshuffle your cards. I think for writers it’s really good and really important. And of course, every other art form, and every other body of information, completely changes the way you live in the world. And I think that’s a kind of giving to your animal self too.

It’s all workshop in a sense. I think everything you do outside of writing is more important than writing, in a way. And then you bring it to the writing.

BLVR: That reminds me of a line from a “Working Life”: “Making is just taking if you know.” And there’s also a part in For Now where you say, “I didn’t go to art school but I always wanted to do what they do and I know that their practice is complicated and diverse but I contend that somewhere in there is this action of copying. Holding perhaps.” And then you write, “Copying everything (in words) which is a form of loving the world, aiming and choosing, I suppose just the way it is. Life is I do this.” I was wondering if you might be willing to talk more about your notebooks or the process of keeping a journal or, more broadly, this idea of having the recording on.

EM: I think it is weird, actually—even though I’m listening to all that and I’m like, That makes perfect sense.

BLVR: [Laughs] Sorry to make you listen to yourself.

EM: But it is totally bizarre that one’s response to reality is to be the copyist. I was like, Why would you do that? I know there’s this great quote from Deleuze, who says, “Art hurts our animal eyes.” Which is so great. It’s like animals don’t need art. It’s like, what do we need? But that is just the problem. The brain is the problem. And somehow it’s always mirroring or wanting to—I guess it’s control and excitement and excess of feeling. First it was drawing, and I was drawing everything I could look at. And I still do draw a lot. I love drawing. It’s like it’s a way to stop using your phone. It’s really great.

But when writing began, people did actually say, “Don’t do that. It’s going to ruin everything.” You know what I mean? It used to be, if you were a great speaker, you would build a memory house. It’s how they would do those seven-hour speeches in the Roman Senate. They would, like, late at night—it was the most beautiful thing; there’s a book about it called The Art of Memory by Frances Yates—but late at night, you would go to a plaza in Rome someplace, and you would see all these students walking around touching the columns. And then they would walk to the bench, and then touch the bench. What they were doing was writing a giant speech. And so they would think, Well, the important thing is the person needs to be seated in a deep feeling of… The bench would be symbolic of that part of the speech. And they would have this whole walking pattern that contained their talk. They would use actual columns and arches and things. And then when they stood in front of the Senate they would, in their head, walk back through all those spots. They had these amazing mental capacities. And we just messed it up by creating print and writing. They were like, Nobody’s going to remember anything! And it’s true. And now we have computers and once again we’re ruining everything. I feel like there is this latent—like I always think… Well, I think you have another question. Do you want to—

BLVR: I want to hear what you were saying.

EM: Well, I always go off into the little monks. What’s so interesting is when we hear about the whole medieval era it was supposedly all dark and nobody knew anything and there were just monasteries and monks copying the Bible and stuff. And when I was in Florence once, I went to the Laurentian Library. And it was this library that Michelangelo designed and that was where Boccaccio, who wrote The Decameron, had his workshop. And I was like, “His workshop? What do they do in his workshop?” And what it was like was Boccaccio would say, You’re cool. Come and be in my workshop. And you’d come into the workshop and say, What are we going to do? And he’d be like, Here’s The Decameron. Copy it!

All his workshop was was people who sat there and copied it. But still, the monks who worked there did illuminated manuscripts and they made these funny drawings in the margins and the books became more than a copy—and everything is more than a copy. So I think what is so great is, as animals, we make these bad copies of the world. And then that’s literature.

III. “ANYTHING WORTH DOING IS WORTH DOING BADLY”

BLVR: You were talking about the idea of writing ruining everything and all these technological innovations causing a lot of fear. In academia, and outside of it, we hear all this stuff right now about ChatGPT and AI.

EM: I keep forgetting. What is ChatGPT?

BLVR: Well, I guess the compressed definition is it’s an AI program that will talk to you. And you can feed it a prompt, like “Write an essay in the style of James Joyce about Eileen Myles’s work.” And it’ll produce—

EM: —something.

BLVR: Something. Paragraphs’ worth. Some professors I know have expressed dismay, like, “Oh yeah, someone else wrote an essay using ChatGPT.” With regard to AI, I wanted to ask, to paraphrase Frank O’Hara: Is it dirty or does it just seem dirty?

EM: Oh, yeah. I don’t know. There’s some way that we have to go with it, but then there’s some way in which it’s really obscene, I think. I was contacted by these two guys who did an AI book of poems that Little, Brown is publishing.[3] And the gross part, of course, is they got more money for it than anybody I know has ever gotten for a poetry book. I was like, Fuck Little, Brown. How dare they do that? I mean, my books sell enough that I actually make a living, but I never get big advances. My latest poetry book, a “Working Life, weirdly, is the most money I ever got from a book, but it really isn’t that much money. And it’s like one-sixth of what these guys got. And so they basically wanted me to read the book and tell them how I felt about it. And I was just like, Should I even give this person five minutes? Basically, I made them pay a parking ticket. I said, “If you pay my parking ticket, I will meet you at Cafe Mogador.”

BLVR: [Laughs]

EM: These poems, they were mostly like poems, but they were like soulless—you could feel it. They kind of landed like poems. They were like the worst workshop poems of all time. They were like a thousand people had gone to Iowa and all learned to write the same poem. There was something hideous about it. I feel like it’s wrong to be against anything utterly, because it’s something about our time, and somehow we have to know it and meet it. But it also is a piece of shit.

BLVR: Moving away from AI, I wanted to share a few questions that people I know wanted me to ask you. One of my students, a nonfiction writer who recently started writing poetry, says they found themselves experiencing a lot of shame around the act of writing poems. They compared it to when they first started expressing their gender identity, this feeling of apology. They wanted to ask how you learned to hold shame and forgive it while also asserting these vulnerable parts of you.

EM: I just think it’s repetition. It’s like anything. It’s really similar to how you know if a poem is good. You know because you’ve just been there and you’ve been repeating and repeating. For some reason lately I’m freaky on repetition as a value. Because everything that’s good, you’ve done it again and again and again and it becomes your friend and it becomes your turf and it becomes your nest and then it’s just the right place to be and the right way to be.

It’s weird how people come to you, and you can’t be seen until you’re visible. The very fact of repetition makes you comfortable with yourself but then others see this motion and they recognize you and they come up and suddenly you’re in conversation and it’s so remarkable. But that can’t happen until you begin to know yourself and keep doing the same thing.

And also anything worth doing is worth doing badly. You know? It’s sort of like lower your standards and raise your productivity. I mean, there’s talented writers who produce very little and fix it, fix it, fix it. But I personally am the kind of writer that writes a lot. I write a lot of crap, and then a certain amount of it I know is good.

You kind of make your own nest, that’s the thing.

BLVR: Someone else, a writer friend, was curious how you think about sustaining a real life, pragmatically, through your work.

EM: Well, I mean, there’s a lot of ways of being a writer. People love the story of William Carlos Williams, who was a doctor and a poet. And one can take that route, it’s very real. I think in a way, anything you’re interested in that’s not writing is a great thing to follow. Because writing is always like this spillover or sweat of the reality of your life. Your life doesn’t have to be “I am a poet.” Though it was that for me, because I was very indecisive as a young person. And I really wanted to know what I was going to do. It was very important to figure that out. And I kept changing my mind about what I was going to do, even when I was thinking that I wanted to be a writer. And when I suddenly realized that poetry could be what I did, I just had this amazing feeling of liberation, and I decided to follow that path and see where it took me.

There is a Kierkegaard book called Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. And he has this thing in it that’s like a mantra. And I thought, Well, if I just want to be a poet, then I can be a poet. I’ll just only want that. I won’t want anything else. But it didn’t have to be that hard. You know, there’s no reason why anybody should be broke and suffering as a writer, though I was, and lots of my friends are.

It’s just: the more space you make around the writer, the writing, the better it is. Artists waste time in the studio and that seems important. Like it’s dreamtime and so you want dreamtime. Dreamtime is expensive, technically. The easiest way to have a lot of dreamtime is to be poor, because nobody cares how you’re spending your time.

But again, you still have got to pay rent. So I don’t know. There’s no real answer.

I will say, my generation was different too. I feel almost apologetic for how easy it was for us, because rents were cheap. We all lived alone like little monks in our little cheap apartments. And when you can get a job, you get another job.

But now a young writer can be really rewarded. That wasn’t true when I was a young writer. So it’s sort of like, in a weird way, that game has changed.

I once heard a professor say, “Not all of you will become writers.” I thought, Why not? Why can’t everybody become a writer? It doesn’t mean that that has to be your only life. In many cultures, being a poet was just part of being a cultured person. You know, this ambassador would write an occasional poem, this lawyer writes poems.

So I think there’s no one way to do it. I think that’s just the truest thing. You don’t have to suffer. But maybe you do. I don’t know. It really depends on who you are. Into my forties, I was pretty broke. But I liked what I did. So it’s just like you make up your own life. I remember being interviewed for a teaching job. And the person interviewing me said, “Well, what would you do with a student who you really thought should stop writing?”

What a weird question, right? But I also thought, you know, most people stop. Most people stop. It’s just like everything else—you do it for a while and then you do something else. But if you love writing, there’s no reason to ever stop and to not be a writer. And I feel like it’s absolutely true that everybody can be a writer. And then it’s like what kind of career will you have? Do you need to be known? Do you need to be well-known? How well-known do you need to be? Do you need to make all your income from writing? You know, there’s so many questions in response to your question.

IV. “THIS FEELING OF WRONGNESS”

BLVR: I was wondering if you could speak to repetitions of certain images in your work. Dogs, for instance, or rats and mice, or house and home.

EM: Well, I mean, you make poems out of the world you live in. I feel like there is a thing where you’re litanizing. You’re just kind of copying. I mean, it really is a devotional thing. You’re just kind of saying what’s there. You’re saying what’s in the world, and it’s kind of a chant. But the thing is, you don’t know where it’s going, and that’s what’s really great. You’re just kind of counting, you’re kind of just saying what the universe is, and then at some point, it kind of goes out of control, and it’s not you anymore. You’re lying in bed and you get a line, you’re like, Ugh. You turn on the light and you write a little line and you turn the light up and back and then you get a line and you’re like, Ugh. And then suddenly it’s a long, crazy poem. And it’s like, why is this? You have no choice. And other times you’re feeling very grand, you have something to say, and it’s like a three-line poem. Because it’s ahead of you, because you’re really talking about getting practiced at the unconscious. I feel like it’s just like divination—tarot, astrology, throwing coins, or writing in a journal every day. It just becomes this thing where that’s where you return, and that’s where your consciousness winds up being. And it knows more than you do. But you know that.

BLVR: In your work sometimes you’ll come to this idea of comfort and discomfort and how that tension can generate work. Could you talk about that, discomfort and its relationship to writing?

EM: I mean, I guess this is a question always of writing: Am I the wrong person doing this?

When I first started writing I was like, Do I have permission to be that? In college, I felt like other people would walk into the workshop and they would read these crappy poems and they seemed to feel great. And I was like, I’m not sure I have the right to be a poet. I felt like somebody needed to say, You, Eileen, are a poet. And nobody had said that. And so I thought, How would I know?

And I wrote stories for the workshop so that I wouldn’t have to read my poems, because I thought they were so wrong. I’d slide them under the professor’s door. And so I feel like I always had this feeling of wrongness, which is part of what I work with. I think it’s like, whatever you’ve got is your studio. It was all these things: being of the wrong class, being of the wrong gender, being of the wrong sexuality.

When I got to college, literature was so exciting. In Catholic school, we didn’t have discussions. I went nuts at the prospect of discourse. It was like: These people make their living talking about books? It seemed like the most incredible thing. But then at a certain point, I realized there were people who wrote the books and they seemed like the really cool ones.

And then I thought, I think I want to transfer to that column. You know? But again, it was like: Who was I to make this choice? And so I think we all go through these periods of apprenticeship, not with anybody in particular necessarily, but with the world, trying to find your way of doing it.

BLVR: I like that. These ideas of permission or of needing to find it.

EM: I always think of a writer who died in the last few years, Lewis Warsh, a poet. He said this great thing on a panel: “Reading was how I discovered that other people were thinking.”

BLVR: It’s like that famous line from James Baldwin: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” Or that great idea from Virginia Woolf: “Books continue each other.” Which, naturally enough, another writer—Lynne Tillman—told me some years ago. I’m curious: Are there certain books that you feel you’re trying to continue?

EM: I mean, I love to read. I could be happy just sitting on my couch reading all day for the rest of my life. Every day it’s sort of like an effort to stop reading and do something because it’s just so addictive. It’s like thrifting: you put on all the shirts in the thrift store and one that used to be somebody else’s looks really great on you and you’re like, OK.

And writing is like that. You’re imitating styles and adapting them and adopting them and some of them become yours. I feel like we’re always picking up reflections of other writers and respooling them and making them more Frankensteins. We’re all made up of little bits and pieces of everything we’ve ever read.

[1] “All My Loves,” a novel cataloging Myles’s previous romantic relationships.

[2] In Eine Art Erzählung (1928–29), Robert Walser writes: “If I am well-­disposed, that’s to say, feeling good, I tailor, cobble, weld, plane, knock, hammer, or nail together lines the content of which people understand at once. If you liked, you could call me a writer who goes to work with a lathe.”

[3] I Am Code: An Artificial Intelligence Speaks, a 2023 book of poetry written by an AI model called code-davinci-002, a predecessor to ChatGPT, that was edited by Brent Katz, Josh Morgenthau, and Simon Rich.

More Reads
Interviews

An Interview with Mona Simpson

Yvonne Conza
Interviews

An Interview with Hernan Diaz

Nick Hilden
Interviews

An Interview with Marcus Thompson II

Alan Chazaro
More