Born 9 December 1949, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Daughter of Terrence M. and Genevieve Preston Hannibal
Eileen Myles' writing cuts straight to the heart; her work focuses on friendship, writing, community, lesbianism, politics, the way that all of those things make up daily life. Myles is a poet and prose writer, and has also published a number of plays. Her writing is direct and sometimes sassy, tough yet at times emotionally tender; the context is urban, the community is wide; the net, as it were, is cast broadly. She makes no bones about being a poet, a lesbian, and an activist both through and around her writing. Myles' writing challenges the reader to go along for a ride that's often fast and furious, and can also be heartbreakingly funny.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1949, Myles' upbringing in nearby Arlington was a solidly working-class one. Her father was a mail carrier, and her mother was a secretary. In her collection of primarily autobiographical short stories, Chelsea Girls (1994), Myles includes as subject matter her alcoholic father and her own experience of substance abuse. After receiving a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts in 1971, Myles spent time traveling, then made her way to New York, where she briefly attended graduate school at Queens College ("I went to graduate school for about 10 seconds," she notes in a January 1999 interview). It was Myles' attendance at a writing workshop offered by the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church that was to have a far larger impact on her writing life, however. Myles was to establish a long relationship with, and become an important part of, a community of writers centered around the Poetry Project, a community including, at various times, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notely, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, James Schuyler, and Frank O'Hara. In 1979 Myles worked as assistant to James Schuyler, and he became a mentor and a friend. From 1984 to 1986, Myles served as the artistic director of the Poetry Project.
Myles' first public reading of her poetry was in 1974 at the New York City punk club CBGB's; three years later, at a reading at St. Mark's Church, she "came out" as a poet, reading love poems that where later collected in her book Sappho's Boat (1982). Myles has published numerous books of poetry and prose in the 1980s and 1990s, and several of her plays have had New York productions.
Myles' commitment to politics and activism is clear in her writing and in her living. She was a write-in candidate in the 1992 presidential election, and actually took her "one-woman campaign show" on the road as "Eileen Myles for President (and Other Things)". She has been arrested at women's rights protests.
In a review of Chelsea Girls in the New York Times Book Review (9 September 1994), Jeannine Delombard wrote, "Examining how adults, fueled by intoxication and disillusionment, regress to infantile helplessness, and how children, exposed to such scenes of grandiose self-destruction, mature beyond their years, 'Chelsea Girls' reads, at its best, like the product of a collaboration between Ernest Hemingway and Lynda Barry."
Myles' poems also tell rich stories. Visually, the poems are aligned in markedly vertical spaces, many of them so thin as to seem spare, stretched, and somehow severe. Yet Myles' language luxuriates—it opens out in casual, expansive gestures, using "common" vocabulary, the material of everyday life. From the poem "Everything's House" in the collection Not Me (1991): "I have / never been / so bothered / by a human / being before. / Let me screw / the cap on / the seltzer. / I could / have gone / out on / you tonight. / I imagined / you furious. / But I / was so / angry / I didn't / feel a / thing. Just / the breeze / on my / chin. The / bike bouncing / on the / pavement."
In a 1999 interview by Daniel Kane about Myles' poetics and approaches to teaching poetry, Myles said, "In a way I often write as if you already know what I'm talking about. I don't spell it out. I jump on that bandwagon with you and keep going." She also notes that "a poem is a series of conditions, and you're trying to strike some charm that will bring it all together." In addition to Schuyler and O'Hara, Myles notes that other writers whose work has provided her with particular inspiration include Gertrude Stein, Violette Leduc, and Christopher Isherwood.
Myles has taught writing at New York University School of Continuing Education, Parsons School of Design, Baruch College, St. Mark's Poetry Project, and New School for Social Research. Myles is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the New York State Creative Artist's Public Services grant (1980), Fund for Poetry grant (1988 and 1990), and a National Endowment for the Arts Inter-Arts grant (1989). Her most recent collection of poetry, School of Fish (1997), won a Lambda Book award for poetry. Her work has been anthologized in such collections as Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1988) and The Best American Poetry, 1988 (1989).
The Irony of the Leash (1978). A Fresh Young Voice from the Plains (1981). Bread and Water (1987). 1969 (1989). Maxfield Parrish: Early & New Poems (1995).
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (1 Nov. 1992).
Poets Chat (Jan. 1999) available online at: http://www.writentet.org/poetschat/poetschat_em0799.html#interview