To read Eileen Myles in print is, of course, to read a poet who’s very much alive, whose aliveness seems to jump off the page. And yet to hear Myles reading their poems on vinyl—the static and silence between poems, between lines, their voice quickly swallowed by the studio walls—is a ghostly, lonely experience, like reading a trunk of old letters from the recently deceased. An ethereal dissonance lingers between the intimacy of the material and the distance of its creator.
“The name for it is really great: acousmatic sound,” Myles told me. “The notion of sound taken away from the signifier, which was a new thing when we first started making sound recordings. I think we forget how radical it is to have human speech taken away from the human body.”
We were discussing Aloha/irish trees, a collection of their poems, new and old, released last May by the vinyl-only poetry press Fonograf Editions—a nod, Myles said, to a musical tradition of bootleg recordings. In true iconoclastic fashion, they refused to edit the album, to submit it to the glossy production process that marks most professional recordings. In fact, they had already recorded the poems in a studio at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics before Fonograf approached them; they didn’t know they were cutting an album at all. “It was like having your picture taken when you weren’t posing,” Myles says. Reading their poem “Sorry” on the first track, they trip on the line “let me hold your shoulders back so you look arrogant and beautiful”—restart, trip again, sigh, and mumble, “Fuck, this is so hard.” They finish, but not well. “I think I’m just gonna read that one again.”