On a Tuesday morning in Oxford I sat opposite Eileen Myles in a café known for being quiet enough for an interview, for its killer pear crumble cake, and for being the least hip café in a street full of hip cafés. It wasn’t, after all, as quiet or as empty as I’d hoped, but this seemed not to matter to Myles, who drew from the sounds of the room observations about, among other things, the process of writing, the political urgency of art, and how one might best capture, in poetry or prose, the ambient nature of the world. We talked for nearly an hour. There was barely a break in the conversation.
The night before, Myles had given a reading from their poetry—their selected poems, I Must Be Living Twice, was released in the UK last year—and from their recently re-issued 1994 novel Chelsea Girls. It was the sort of thing we don’t often (or ever) see in Oxford: a 67-year-old woman describing the intellectual and sexual life of their younger self, talking about relationships with much younger women, about tampons, about their dad’s sex life, about the difference between being fucked by, say, one finger, three fingers, a dick. After the talk, I found myself sitting opposite Myles at an elegant dinner in an Oxford college, our view of one another partially obscured by an elaborate candelabra.
And yet Myles seemed just as cool and comfortable in all those places—in front of a large (by Oxford’s standards) audience, being lovingly gazed at by, it seemed, every queer young person in this city; at an unbearably beautiful formal dinner; and, the next morning, drinking a cup of coffee in a lovably unhip café. Myles’ way of existing, their presence in the world, is difficult to pin down or describe. The labels they have accumulated—punk, radical, anarchist, dyke, badass, an icon, a New York institution—seem hopelessly inadequate when faced with the real thing. Myles is ferociously intelligent. Myles is fierce and kind in equal measure. Myles is famous, increasingly so, increasingly among young people, but casual and easy to talk to. Myles is intimidating, but incredibly warm—warm enough to pose for a selfie with a star-struck nerdy graduate student who reads and loves their work unabashedly, and equally willing to sit down with that same nerdy student, to spend some of their increasingly rare free time discussing art, politics, queerness. These are the things that we—young, clever, bookish people, aspiring poets and writers—discuss constantly with each other, but not often with our hierarchical superiors. If life in Oxford prepares you for and accustoms you to hierarchies, an hour with Myles blows that whole system up.
Encounters—even, or especially, small or brief encounters—are the stuff of Myles’s poetry. “I love the guy in the Laundromat,” begins “The Sad Part Is”, “the way he hands things to me, / smiling”. Small encounters, but full of love; Myles’s favourite words are ones that the rest of us—who are less brave, less open—rarely dare to use: heart, lonely, love. I feel lucky to have had an encounter with Myles, a poet and person I admire, who has been the architect of their own existence in a way the rest of us can only hope, or aspire, to be. In a poem called “My Box”, Myles writes: “I want to lift / your fear / like a bonnet / and kiss / your living / face. Here / this is / mine. / Don’t / misunderstand / me.” I tried, in that hour over coffee, to come a little closer to understanding Myles.
Kristin Grogan: One of the things that I wanted to pick up on after yesterday’s talk is the question of the relationship between art and politics, which feels particularly pertinent at this moment. What has that relationship has looked like across your career? How have art and politics intersected, and what does it look like at this particular moment as well?
Eileen Myles: Well I think when I was younger, I had less of an apprehension of my life as political, and so it felt like something I had to reach across to, and that I didn’t experience necessarily as mine. And then when certain really practical things—like dental care—came up, as somebody in my thirties, I realized that part of what was going on with class, and good and bad teeth, was that certain people had access to care, and to certain parts of beauty, and other people did not. And so I just started to understand who governments care for, and who, you know, is safe in the world in a certain way and safe in a certain country. And then I think, too, when I came out in the seventies, and understood how—these are the things that we’re really seeing right now—when I went on a demonstration and came back and watched the media report diminish the numbers, how our experience wasn’t as important. I didn’t quite get it until I experienced it in the first person: that we weren’t there, finally, that it was in the interests of the media and the government to say that we were not there.
KG: And you’re still not there.
EM: Yeah. And you know, when Prump (I call him Prump), when he finally responded to millions of women marching all over the world, I thought that’s just another aspect of erasure, to make a quip. So, like, it took me a while to understand that my life and my work and my existence were inherently political, and my awareness of it was something I could use and be with. And I think maybe in the oughts was when I first saw this within third-wave feminism (which I probably identify with more than second wave), because when I came into a certain political consciousness it was with women who were twenty years younger than me. There was a kind of rock n’ roll—Kathleen Hanna, LTTR—feminism. I saw that where I find my community is not in a bar, it’s not at a demonstration, in some ways it’s at a Cathy Opie opening, you know, we find ourselves through art; it’s an amazing organizing tool that people still haven’t really used.
KG: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about somebody like George Oppen, who, during the Depression, decided that art wasn’t the most important thing, that he would opt out for a while and join the Communist Party and do practical work. At the moment we’re seeing sort of the opposite, we’re thinking about what do artists do; what is the direct impact, if any, of art? Do you fall on any side of that divide; does art become more urgent for you at certain moments?
EM: Yeah, I think absolutely more urgent. It’s like putting our organizing utensils to work politically. I remember years ago with the beginning of cable networks, they employed video DJs, not DJs, MCs or stuff, and people I knew who were performance artists would audition for various jobs, and they were being asked to manipulate text, and these objects, and space, and it was nothing for them. It was what we did, and to realize how anybody who had a career as a DIY artist knew how to do so many things. We had so many skills, they just hadn’t been loaded up into the culture. And so when I think about what we can do now, it’s like wait a second, we should be organizing an underground railroad for women in America who want to have abortions in other states. We have the capacity to, say, go to D.C., with our privilege and our money, so we should use that very privilege to organize systems. I think that part of it is that art doesn’t cease to be important in a time of politics, but exactly what it means to be an artist now is much more complicated than it was in the twentieth century, in the nineteenth century. I mean we really knew how to do things, to man the means of distribution. Now it’s trying to give those gifts to other people in other ways.
KG: You were talking a lot about distribution last night. I’d never thought of Allen Ginsberg as being the first person, or poet to send out a press release, but I wonder if there’s a gender dynamic there: the more self-promoting people I know are men.
EM: Well, take Kathy Acker—Kathy Acker pissed people off. It was pre-Internet, and she got a hold, like I did, of the mailing list of the Poetry Project, and when she was first doing these little pamphlets of the Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula, she sent those out to everybody on the mailing list, and I know various friends of mine who were not disposed to like her work were like “I don’t want this shit!” Kathy didn’t care. And I felt the same way: it was just sort of like that idea that my art was worth it and was important and that I had to get it out there. It meant that you would just get friends to sit down with you and mail it out. I mean like, just before the Internet broke, you would mail out four thousand postcards for a performance at P.S. 122. It was really nuts; but it was all about getting everybody’s mailing list, which is both a fundraising tool and a distribution tool, you know, but labour, too. I mean a lot of people knew that manipulating the media, and getting attention, and a level of fame, could do more in two minutes than two days of sitting there like a grunt. But, you know, you use what you’ve got. I’m working class, I know how to do things—my dad was a mailman, so I used what I know. And I didn’t have confidence about my capacity to become instantly famous like in the way that, say, Rene Ricard did.
KG: This moment now, when Chelsea Girls has been re-released and I Must Be Living Twice is out, how does that feel?
EM: It’s great. You know, in a funny way though, I don’t know if arrogant is the right word, but it’s sort of like it comes as no surprise. It’s what I’ve been tapping my foot for. Because when I wrote Chelsea Girls, I thought: this is like On the Road for girls. I remember when I was trying to get that book published and I couldn’t get an agent, and the one mainstream publisher—who was a dyke, and who published Sarah Schulman and various other people—she goes, “I would want to work with you and do this book, but I would want to work very closely with you, because it’s your first book.” What she meant in a way was that all my books of poetry up until that moment didn’t matter, didn’t exist. There was just this kind of class condescension within publishing. And so the message I got in the nineties when I was trying to publish Chelsea Girls—I remember people saying, “the stories don’t end, you know, where’s the arc?” They sort of disintegrate at the end, and, well, that is the legitimate ending. Plus I thought, well, this is the more visual, cinematic ending, to just kind of deteriorate.
KG: Some of them stand out as incredibly cinematic—the one about the boyfriend with whom the Eileen character went to Woodstock, and then the ending of that story there is this disintegration into death, and that felt really cinematic, and it sticks. Also that final, title story.
EM: But to people who think ‘literary’, it was not a commodity—it was not an appropriate commodity, both because of the content and the form. It was, like, kind of avant-garde dyke shit.
KG: And it’s been referred to as a novel, a collection of stories—how do you market something that is so many things?
KG: In the title poem of ‘The Irony of the Leash’, you talk about how the cinema made you an artist. Is that still the case—is the cinema still making you an artist? What importance has that had over your career?
EM: Absolutely, because I feel like I grew up watching television. I grew up being really excited about going to the movies on Saturday afternoons. I have such an incredible memory of hanging out with my gang of girlfriends, and walking down the street—I guess we were like sort of in junior high and starting to smoke—and it was cold, and we would go into a doorway of an office building and we were having our cigarettes in there, and there was a staircase and you went up the staircase, and then we were at a hall. And we walk down the hall, and then there was a mysterious unmarked door, and we opened it and we were at the balcony of the movie theatre, and we were like oh my God, and so for a little while we had this trapdoor into total riches. It felt like Aladdin, it was just this gigantic space. I think that’s a dream that a lot of people have, you know, you’re in the back room of your apartment and you realize your place is really big. Or in New York it’s like you realize there’s a kind of a hallway where all apartments are connected to all other apartments. But I think that film, just the arcades of film, are the way I’ve organized my mind. So poetry came second, or kind of neck and neck. I mean I discovered poetry when I was a child; it always seemed like it was funny; it has this incantatory power.
KG: Exactly—children are given poetry from a young age, in nursery rhymes, and so on; it’s instilled in us.
EM: Yeah. But the struggle really was to figure out how to write prose and how to write stories. I realized that to act as if it were a movie was the way to go forward, and I could tell a story if I was picturing it. And that was the trick, I figured out.
KG: Were there any films, or any directors, that stay in your mind, or that were the moment for you?
EM: Well I think Truffaut, because Truffaut was doing an ongoing biography of a boy. The 400 Blows, and then it was Bed and Board, it was like he followed a male character, Antoine Doinel, through his life. I think in various ways, both in poetry and fiction, I’ve always been intrigued by that, and when I was thinking of the chapters in Chelsea Girls as little stories I also thought of them as movies, and I thought: Why isn’t there a female Antoine Doinel? And so I thought: I’ll use my own name.
KG: And so now you’re making Chelsea Girls into a film. What does that process look like? How do you select from this incredible, cinematic cornucopia? What goes into it, what is left out?
EM: Well I think it’s totally like the thing in the office building that opens into the movie theatre: you have to find trapdoors between stories that are like, “oh, from here I can get into…”. I realize a really useful chapter is the book party, because everybody’s there. So it was like, the book party had to be a moment in the film. And the thing that I always knew when I wrote the first story in the book, “Bath, Maine”, I always thought: this is such a movie. I shouldn’t say so much—but, well, I use that story.
KG: When is it coming out?
EM: Oh, I don’t know, because I’m just writing the screenplay now.
KG: Do you think you’ll have more to do with the rest of the process?
EM: I don’t know. It’s Amazon that’s producing it, so I’m going to work closely with Jill [Soloway], and her thing is to have women who wrote the book write it as if they were going to direct it, so it’s not off the table that I would direct it, but it’s probably not likely. It does make me think about directing my next film. I wanted to say, too, about film and writing and how I became an artist, I didn’t have access to experimental poetry and writing when I was a kid, but I did have access to art films. I grew up near Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I saw those really important, weird movies. Because I think for my generation there was like Mad Magazine, Twilight Zone, and then there were, like, art films. And music, and rock ‘n’ roll, too. And those media were all kind of like the gateway into the art world for so many of us. So it’s interesting to think about what the Internet provides now, for a generation. It’s sort of like you have access to everything.
KG: Do you think that there’s a problem, then, in sifting, in finding the right thing?
EM: Yeah. And in getting in deep, I suppose, rather than staying on the surface of everything.
KG: There’s a scene in Chelsea Girls where you talk about how the fear of not being understood was the greatest fear that you had. Is that still the case, or was that ever the case? And do you feel understood now?
EM: No, but I kind of care less than I did. I think I grew up with that fear. I mean I’m female, I’m queer, went to Catholic schools. I think the thing that’s so intense, especially in relation to certain classes, is that you’re like this little body and nobody wants to know what’s inside of you in terms of thinking and feeling and being, in the same way that kids are forced into eating food they don’t like the taste of, wearing clothes they don’t like, forced to do things with their hair. If you think of a child as being any sort of an adult, which is a being with agency, it’s just like childhood is one long violation. And so the thought of being understood was so far from my reality as a child, and nobody in my life said: what are you feeling, Eileen? Nobody. That wasn’t what happened in my family or in my school, and so I think I probably would always get a few drinks in me and want to tell you. And my writing in some ways is certainly a response to all of that.
KG: I want to press a little on the relationship between poetry and prose: how do you decide that something should be treated in one form or another—or is that not the order of things?
EM: It just comes as what it is. I mean it’s really funny, it’s sort of like in response to this thing I’m doing in Switzerland I was like, okay, how do I pull this off [Myles, at the time of our conversation, was about to leave for Switzerland to give a talk on the topic of ‘Snow and Desert’]. At some point I think I was in Marfa and I was writing a poem, and it was just kind of a surprise poem, and it had something to do with like the day and being in my house. I would sort of walk around and then I got seized by another one, and it was just kind of like the day was declaring itself in a certain way. And I thought, well, the snow and the desert could be like this, it could be this imperious list of things, so it quelled my fear for a little while about how I would pull this thing off. And then they asked me for a title, so I just thought, I know it’s a poem, and this is corny but I’ll just say ‘The Ballad of Snow and the Desert’, and I gave them that. And then I was on the train and it was in poem form, and then when I was in my room this morning I started to type it up, and instantly I thought, that title sucks, but if I just called it ‘Ballad’: that’s nice. And then I thought: and what if it’s not poetry? And then I thought: that’s more fun. And so instantly I just kind of broke my own rules and made the poetry into prose. But normally it’s just like a line of poetry really distinguishes itself in a certain way. When someone says, what’s your work schedule like, well, with prose, I mean ideally: I’m going to get to Marfa in the middle of February, and I’ll be there until the end of March, and I’m going to get up in the morning, and drink coffee, and get my dog out, and maybe get some exercise, maybe meditate, and then get to work. I work for a few hours, my attention is really fresh for spurts, but I’ll be really regular, and that’s really exciting. Poetry is not like that at all. Poetry is just like, you know, I get on the train and something happens—not on the station, necessary, but in my head. It’s just kind of a porousness.
KG: That feels similar to the experience of reading both your prose and your poetry—you can read your prose, and perhaps read it best, in bursts; whereas the poetry feels like incidents that we can sit with for the duration of the incident or the thing and then move on to the next one, with however much lag in between.
EM: It’s also the setting of composition, too, to read a novel; you can read it anywhere, but there’s this kind of bourgeois thing about being in your home all cozy and reading a book. And I think writing it can be the other side of that, too; where I sort of start in a space and then quickly leave the space, and am ejected into another space that you occupy at the time of the writing and at the time of the reading. With poetry I feel like you stay here, in some ways. It’s sort of like you lean on it. There’s definitely a poem going on inside of me, but, well, when in doubt, I have the table, I have the pattern of the wallpaper, I have information that I can take in and it’s almost like that gives the work its signature, its authenticity: you can return to the room, to the sound of the voice. The ambient nature of the world is part of the form of poetry, I think. The first time I was around people making film, the thing I found most interesting is that they shoot the scene, and then they get some room sound and they record the tone of the room they were shooting in because, when they’re editing, and they cut things out, they need some silence. And it’s not just any silence: it’s this silence [gestures around the room], which is not silent. So part of the fun of writing the screenplay for Chelsea Girls is that the room tone is my life. So even though I use my life and then I write these stories, and they may distort or change, it’s like they’re mini stories that I wouldn’t tell, and so I get to use those as room tone, I have the background information. It’s a really good joke, in a way, because I feel like a bad book makes a good movie. Psycho was a piece of shit book; The English Patient is a wonderful book but a terrible movie. I think it’s very rare that something is both.
KG: So what about Chelsea Girls?
EM: Well I think the thing that’s great is that who better than the person who wrote it to destroy it? And what it means is tearing it into pieces and rearranging it. I think I’m always operating out of jokes about what it is that I’m doing.
KG: Does that feel cathartic?
EM: Oh yeah, yeah. It’s sort of like it’s how I give myself permission: don’t worry, I’m destroying it.
KG: I was talking to a friend recently, and we both agreed that you write the best sex scenes we’ve ever read—
EM: That’s amazing!
KG: —especially the best lesbian sex, and there’s so much bad sex out there, in novels I mean. I was thinking, then, about your reading yesterday, how we went from that brilliant final part of Chelsea Girls, which is so incredibly intimate—moving between that sphere of Mary and James Schuyler, and you delivered that reading in a way that felt, I think, incredibly intimate to everyone involved; then to shift to this more formal social space of book signings and dinners—how does that feel?
EM: I don’t think I feel much after it but I feel something before it. The thing that’s so funny about reading from these books is that the younger poet, the younger person I’m reading from, is always me. It’s sort of like the gap between the person describing being fucked by a woman for the first time is—well, it’s close to forty years ago. It’s really weird. So the distance is kind of shocking, and a little pornographic. The distance is almost more pornographic to me than the fact of what I’m reading, that I’m not that person. And it’s sort of like there’s a weird thing of people are looking at me, and they’re hearing that dissonance, too: it’s like, experience my ageing, experience my living. And that’s the intimate thing, in a way.
KG: It feels like your work relies so much on intimacy, and is such intimate writing, and is so social—it’s such a social mode, full of friends, communities, all sorts of people.
EM: But it’s bearable. And, well, my least favourite thing about the way my work is talked about is when it gets reduced to “oh, it’s this, like, dyke fiction”, or, “a female Bukowski”.
KG: Wow. Nobody wants that.
EM: No! And it just sort of suggests this blah of experience, and I think a lot of people who have imitated my work do that. When I think about how I came to writing fiction, I had to figure out how to edit. Are you a Bruce Chatwin fan, by any chance? The thing is, his work, like, say, Sebald, is a triumph of editing: from this location to that location, like jumps. They’re poetic. My only really close poet friend, who died of AIDS, Tim Dlugos, he died at the age of 40, and the great compliment he gave me, in his high-pitched rising and falling voice, was like: “Eileen, you’d be considered a great prose stylist!” And I feel that in my private mind I am, but my work always gets described in terms of content, and class, and ‘punk’. And my books take ten fucking years to write! And not because my nose is to the grindstone, but because part of it is seeing how things fit together—it’s really the hard part for me in writing longer works of fiction.
KG: How do you feel about those words that are so often used to describe you—‘punk’, ‘radical’, ‘anarchist’?
EM: Or dyke, or working class. I mean they’re not things I would deny, and yet ‘punk’ always describes both class and sexuality. To say ‘punk poet’ means “this other shit that we totally don’t want to identify.” but all of this describes content, and the thing about content is you want to have it be strewn. It’s sort of what I think of as the imperial lesbian or queer manner: to have it be everywhere and nowhere. In Inferno, I performed sort of a bait-and-switch: if you wanted to read about poetry you got stuck with all this dyke stuff, and if you wanted to read about lesbian stuff, you’re like “why do I have to read about all this poetry?” And I just love bait-and-switch. In the nineties there was just kind of this war: is it a lesbian novel if the content is not lesbian? And I happen to like writing queer shit because it’s not there, and it needs to be there. But again, if you put a little drop of violet ink in a fish tank, it’s all violet, and that’s true for everybody else. With other writers, we quickly gravitate to descriptors of style, and mine is so often reduced. I got a really good review of my selected in The New York Review of Books, and it was such a relief, because so much other stuff was just like: I’ve discovered this lesbian! She’s pretty good! Either somebody was totally fetishizing this material (“this is how I found myself”) or: “I had to be brave enough to read through this stuff, I’m a man reading this dyke shit.” I think that’s just the wagers of difference: we write with this two-sided thing, and people think which side they’re going to see.
KG: Did you choose the poems in I Must Be Living Twice?
EM: Oh yeah, yeah.
KG: What were your criteria for that?
EM: One of my second or third books of poetry was called Sappho’s Boat. And the cover of the book was originally like this [at this stage EM grabs my notebook and starts doodling, a big S with three more heavily shaded areas]. Part of it was about Gertrude Stein, and part of it was about Sappho, because when I understood that all we have are these remnants of Sappho, then you’re kind of negotiating that, and that travel. And the poem is like this pulsing thing. And then Stein talks about emphasis: it’s not repetition, it’s emphasis, insistence. So the poem I imagined when I was first starting to write was something that moved through all this material and would just take a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I’ve not done a lot of skiing or waterskiing or surfing, but it’s kind of like a wave, and you’re always negotiating the grade, physically and sonically—or you’re riding a bike and you see a bump coming up and you lighten up, and sustain it. And I think there’s all of that going on. So I have this whole book, and I took this curve, and there were four poems that negotiated that kind of moment or idea about poetry, and which one is the best of that? It was that kind of thing—I thought of every collection as a kind of movement, and then the whole book is that, too.
KG: On the subject of Stein—another extraordinarily cinematic writer, who talks about wanting to write like a camera—what importance has Stein had for you?
EM: Lectures in America is one of my absolute most important books. I read it really young, and I’ve lost so many books but I still have that one. The chapter on portraits and reflections and when she explains her theory of repetition, and the relationship between technology and writing, and when she talks about how what she’s doing is movement, and she talks about how each hand movement is a hundred little pictures—well, it’s very interesting to think, we’re digital now, so what does that mean in relationship to now? It’s like an analogue description of coming into being, in a way, but she’s still talking about the movement inside, and liveliness. And I feel that about the room we’re in—the way the poem becomes real is then to take some sound from the room, so the moment of composition is always part of the composition.
KG: Can you talk to me a little bit about your presidential run, back in 1992? How, and why, did you decide to run?
EM: Well, the phrase ‘politically correct’ had just been taken from the left and moved to the right. I mean, politically correct was a lesbian term, it was just like it meant the people in the community who were so controlling about perfume, and meat eating, and smoking in the room. We talked about the ‘PC dykes’. And then suddenly it meant all of us, and was all about race, and all about queerness, and all about class. It was George Bush the senior who came up with that and when he gave that speech that included that—I think the New York Times talked about his speech in Ann Arbor when he used this language, and they said that this was surely the beginning of the 1992 campaign. Now the presidential campaign just never ends. And they said that freedom of speech would be a big issue. A lot of what I was doing for years as a writer was figuring out how to try to survive economically, and so, it would be like, in the 70s it was cool to be a poet, in the 80s it was cool to be a performance artist, and if you said you were a poet people would just look at you as if you said you were a mime—
KG: Whereas now it’s cool to be a poet again?
EM: Yes! Absolutely. So, I would memorise my poems, to be a performance artist, and I would create shows and perform them, so that made the 80s and even part of the 90s work. And then I did art writing, and this whole evolution. But memorizing a text meant that I had to sort of stand there and remember it and recite it, and there was a whole thing about whether I was moving physically and what that movement was like. And I’m not a trained theatre person and I didn’t want to be. So what I started to realize was that I had lots of movement when I was talking, and if I could start to improvise—well, there were a lot of performance artists who were just telling stories. So I started to do that when I was invited to speak at any kind of event. I would think: what would be the subject of this women’s theatre company who invited me to speak at their tenth anniversary performance? I would talk about being raped—but I would tell it like a story. So I was just kind of doing that for a while, and I was in my early forties, so I was starting to feel, like, age. And I remember when I was a kid and Kennedy had been elected and people were like, he’s so young! And I thought, oh, you have to be a certain age to be president. So I thought: if I ran for president, I could improvise political speeches, and I would be a young candidate, and then I researched into how one would do it. In New York you get thirty-three electoral votes so you had to get thirty-three people who were registered voters and citizens to sign an affidavit and get it notarized that if elected they would go to the electoral college for me. So that’s what I had to do to be a write-in candidate in New York. Each state has different regulations, so depending on how organized I was in that state I would run there too.
KG: How many states did you run in?
EM: I actually don’t know, but I think most of them. Some, I think you simply couldn’t do it; some you had to do nothing.
KG: Did you ever get a final vote count?
EM: No, because I think it’s like the thing we saw during Bush-Gore: they don’t really count. So I got some, like, really pathetic vote count that I think was wrong. Who knows, I may have gotten a thousand votes, I may have gotten thousands.
KG: Will you run again?
EM: No! You only need to run once. All you need to do is run once, and you’re running for the rest of your life.
Kristin Grogan  is reading for a DPhil in English at Exeter College.