After dissing the entire book industry as a machine of mediocrity, there’s really only one person we can talk about next. Eileen Myles is so adamantly and happily removed from the Knopfs and the Kakutanis of the world, it’s sometimes hard to believe she’s for real. She’s primarily known as a poet, but you could also call her an art critic, a novelist, a lesbian, a librettist, a post-punk icon, and a walking-talking tribute to New York City.
Eileen’s new book is also her first collection of criticism, and it goes by the unlikely title of The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays on Art. Some of these essays—which explore things like dogs, Allen Ginsberg, Icelandic epic poetry, the time Eileen lived in a homeless person’s box on Madison and 73rd, and flossing—could easily be transcripts of conversations with Eileen. She used to teach us fiction, and she would listen intently and nod along as we complained about some trivial hardship in our writing process, and then she’d sort of grab us by the wrist (verbally) and, disregarding whatever we had just been talking about, race us through a tangent about wildfires, or mnemonic devices in ancient Greek oratory. To Eileen’s surprise as much as ours, it would end up being exactly what we needed to hear.
A good place to start reading Eileen Myles, if you haven’t already, is her novel Cool For You, but it would be almost criminal not to mention the anthology of lesbian writing she edited, called The New Fuck You, which is possibly the greatest title we’ve ever heard.