eileen myles explains their impassioned new poem for hillary
The poet, novelist, and cultural icon wants Hillary Clinton to know that “You’re my man.”
Eileen Myles would like to read at Hillary Clinton's inauguration. But we're not quite there yet.
With four more critical days to go, the writer has shared a poem that you kind of have to read, 'MOMENTUM 2016.' It's the perfect antidote to the shitshow chorus of cable news, the nonstop internet speculation, and even the papers of record. When Eileen reads it, as you can hear in the accompanying audio clip, there's a matter-of-fact urgency that drives us to listen, and hopefully, to do something. "Anybody who is taking this election placidly is not thinking hard enough," declares Eileen.
Although eight in ten voters are feeling more repulsed than excited this week, this poem, written in one day, may help you recapture the tingling of possibility. As Eileen says, "We are standing in history at this prospect of a female president." What better artist to comment on the ever-present gender story of this election than Myles, who ran for president as a write-in in 1992, and whose poetry, essays, and novels have provided a counterculture response to five decades of American reality. With last year's reissue of the speed-dream novel Chelsea Girls, and their poems appearing in seasons two and three of Transparent, they seem to be only gaining in relevance as they age (like HRC herself).
It's a testament to Hillary's campaign that Myles was approached to write this piece, as part of a mostly-female group of artists that also includes Maya Lin, Carrie Mae Weems, Jenny Holzer, Cat Mazza, and Cruz Ortiz. "Artists for Hillary" has Holzer projecting Jennyisms on the White House, and Weems filming the real voters of Jackson Heights. The message is: a vote for Hillary is a vote for creativity. On a call from the ultimate red state of Texas (on its way to becoming purple), Eileen tells us about the inescapability of political consciousness, Clinton's charisma, and why they prefer the gender-neutral pronoun.
When you were younger, could you have imagined a female president?
I think I was more aware of the fact that there was always a male president. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and it was just a done deal that boys were the ones who were in charge. I was living in the negative vision. I never dreamed of there being a female president. I was just overwhelmed by the fact that there wasn't one.
Have you met Hillary Clinton?
You know, I haven't. I've been around her live. She was in Provincetown last summer when I was there and I heard her speak and I heard her speak for Mother's Day in New York a couple of years ago. And when I saw her live it debunked all of the creepy spin about her not being personable or warm. She was very charismatic and compelling.
What would you say if you met her?
"I think you're incredible. I have complete confidence in your leadership. I'm looking forward to you running our country. And I would like to be the poet reading at your inauguration." That I've wanted for a very long time.
The first poet I ever saw in my life was Robert Frost, reading with Kennedy [at his inauguration]. And it was kind of amazing. At this moment of the changing hands of leadership there was this poet.
What's the role of poetry in politics?
The question almost doesn't make any sense to me. I'm a poet, so that's what I do. It's kind of like saying, "What's the role of delivering milk?" It's sheer connection. Poetry is vastly political. Poetry is as much a multiple as people and languages are. Of course that's a political phenomenon or experience. Even a poet who resists the idea that their work is political, that's their politics. It sort of reminds me of when Le Tigre opened for that boy band, Yo La Tengo [in 2003]. After Le Tigre opened for them, they got up and said, "We love what you do, it's really great, but we don't do gender." The whole room thought, 'Boy, are they deluded.' Because political consciousness and gender consciousness is always there. We don't escape it.
What is the gender story of this election?
Gender is what this election is about. It's dividing down those lines. All the incredible woman hatred and sexism has exploded. Nobody can look at Donald Trump and not think, 'He's that terrible guy that night I was drunk in a bar and he kept buying me drinks and I kept figuring out how to get away from this person.' He just exudes that vibe of "creep." And that a "creep" would be so close to the White House when we have this amazing, competent, vital, smart, female candidate, is incredible.
I'm in Texas right now, and I've been told that Mexican-American men prefer Trump despite the fact that it's completely against their own interests. Because it's so much more important to have a man in charge. That's the thing that nobody wants to admit but it's that simple. Men are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a woman being in charge.
What connection does that have to the hidden acrostic message in the poem: "Hillary You're My Man"?
I'm having fun with it. I don't need to say "wo-man" every time. It's a gesture: you're mine, you speak for me. And enjoying the joke of it.
I noticed that you use the pronoun "they" for yourself.
I do. After years of hearing "she", "she this", "she that", "Miss", "Ma'am", "How are you ladies?" I just feel like, though I was born female, and my destiny will follow to a great extent the female destiny, I always question what I get when I say "I'm a woman." I've had my bio tweaked so many times by people that feminize it. If it was some kind of relational thing, like "She's a mother figure over a generation of younger females," we are not able to have a relation that is cultural. It has to be a "woman thing." There are times I feel like "he." What I really like about "they", despite its initial awkwardness for some people, including myself, is that it's kind of baggy and loose, and there's room for all my selves.
Which issues do you want to see prioritized next year?
I would like to see a government that acknowledges that artists are workers, that we have a Department of Culture. Maybe there should be a Department of Women. There should be deliberate, non-gratuitous acknowledgments of female citizenship. I'd like to see it not just be about our right to choose, but our right to really be in the landscape. I think there should be a Gay and Transgender Civil Rights Bill that protects everybody nationally. I'd like to see the military policy change. Hillary Clinton isn't known to be a pacifist. I'd like to see our policy toward Palestine completely change.
The Department of Women -- I love that. Did you really meet a girl at Marfa Burrito whose name was Victory, and did you know right away that she would appear in a poem?
Yeah, she was from Austin, and she was a child. It's so funny. I had the poem except for the last line, and I couldn't make the last line work. So I took my dog out for a walk, and realized I was hungry, so we went to Marfa Burrito. It might have been the day that Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize was announced. There was a whole lot of funny, strange energy in the air. And there was this guy with this great kid. I just had an impulse and said, "What's your daughter's name?" And he said, "Victory. It's a family name, it's her mother's name and her grandmother's name." I was really thrilled to see a female name passed along the generations, and such an awesome name. And one of the first female candidates for president was Victoria Woodhull. She ran on the "Free Love" ticket. Women have been running before we even had the right to vote, and that's important to know.
And there are other women running against Hillary in this election!
What do you think the country would be like if a poet was president?
Well, the poet would have to have other things besides poetry going on. It would be a tribute to the lack of disconnect between art and politics in America, if we could have such a person. You know, Obama is not the worst poet in the world. But he didn't make much of it. If I were a president, I would want some of my speeches to be poems. Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor of New York, read comic books on the radio. People have different ways of meeting the populus. And I do think it would be incredible to have a poet talk to the American people.
for Hillary Clinton
How perfect the American sky out there
Innocent perhaps of our goings on
Let everyone turn around once one day
Let them pull the lever, write your name
Awesome the keenness of your focus, Hill
Regarding debating, regarding knowing
You inspire me to stay still, to act
You probably had breakfast this morning
Oregon was one of your stops
Understanding the northwest is part of your job
Remembering everyday a woman chooses to keep running
Every day you learn more
Meet more people
You daily become our president
May every inch of this journey
And every moment of your female campaign unabashedly
Nail it like the girl I met at breakfast at Marfa Burrito. Her name? Victory!
Text Rory Satran
Photography Libby Black courtesy Eileen Myles