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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Eileen Myles The Inferno (a poet’s novel) (2010)

* (note: the vast majority of these texts predate Eileen’s they/them pronouns.)
—-

‘The woman turning, that’s the revolution. The room is gigantic, the woman is here.’ — Eileen Myles

‘Zingingly funny and melancholy, Inferno follows a young girl from Boston in her descent into the maelstrom of New York Bohemia, circa 1968. Myles beautifully chronicles a lost Eden: ‘The place I found was carved out from sadness and sex and to write a poem there you merely needed to gather.’’ — John Ashbery

‘Eileen Myles debates her own self identity in a gruffly beautiful, sure voice of reason. Is she a ‘hunk’? A ‘dyke’? A ‘female’? I’ll tell you what she is––damn smart! Inferno burns with humor, lust and a healthy dose of neurotic happiness.’ — John Waters

‘What is a poem worth? Not much in America. What is a life worth? Inferno isn’t another ‘life of the poet,’ it’s a fugue state where life and poem are one: shameful and glorious. People sometimes say, ‘I came from nothing,’ but that’s not quite right. Myles shows us a ‘place’ a poet might come from, did come from––working class, Catholic, female, queer. This narrative journey somehow takes place in a moment, every moment, the impossible present moment of poetry.’ –- Rae Armantrout

 

Media


EM reads from ‘Inferno’


Eileen Myles reads from “Inferno; a poet’s novel” at Danny’s in Chicago


Inferno: Poetry with Eileen Myles


Eileen Myles reads from the opening pages of Inferno

 

Interview

 

The Rumpus: Can you speak about what makes something poetry to you?

Myles: It’s an action, an arrangement. Remember, not everyone wants to be a poet. I think it starts in part with claiming that identity and then expanding the definition (or shrinking it) in relation to the historic form. If I take a photograph is it a poem? How about a play? I think of a poem as an important formula – how one learns to see. If you translate a poem you quickly understand that within that person’s poem THESE senses are amended like this, and THESE ones barely come into play. I think a poem is an endlessly transferrable vision. A signature of sorts.

Rumpus: As a writer who’s mostly concentrated on poetry, is it difficult for you to make the transition to fiction and nonfiction? What is that process like for you? Does writing in each genre feel different to you?

Myles: Well, sure, it took time. I had to wait for fiction writers who showed me the way. Violette LeDuc and Robert Walser, for example. I think you have a desire but don’t know how to realize it and some writers will do the work of opening the door for you. I don’t mean imitation, but possibility. Nonfiction was more economic for me and also related to high school, where essays were what we were invited to do and I enjoyed writing something funny so I could make people laugh when I stood up to read mine. So I could be asked by my fellow students to read mine aloud. All the genres feel related but you do each for a different purpose.

Rumpus: I saw on your website that your have a novel, The Inferno, coming out soon. Will you tell us a bit about it?

Myles: Yes, it’s a joke in a way, and a continuation on my other fictions, Chelsea Girls and Cool for You. Chelsea Girls is like a series of short autobiographical films, Cool for You is an examination of what it’s like to be female inside various institutions. One of them was the institution of “writing” and it was the one narrative my friends said, ugh, take that out. I didn’t get it right. When my agent shows my novels to editors they go, but who is she?!

Like if I had fallen down a well as a little child my story would be interesting now. So I thought, ha-ha, I’ll write a novel about being a poet and when they say who is she, the answer will be – she’s the poet Eileen Myles. But oddly they all seem to know me now. They go yay, Eileen Myles. No, sorry, not this book. But I do have a wonderful publisher and I’m about to sign a contract. I think it’ll be out in the fall.

Rumpus: I also saw you were working on a memoir about your dog Rosie (1990-2006) and you dedicated Iceland to her. People often downplay the relationship between humans and animals, and the validity of that as a deep experience especially in the literary world. Will you tell us a little about your thoughts on animals and your memoir for Rosie?

Myles: Animals are our beloved intimates and our fellow travelers. A day at a time I’m deciding not to eat the mammals which feels good. I’m writing something that began when Rosie was dying and plans to expand into her lives that preceded this one and even maybe explore where Rosie’s going. It’s a somewhat sci fi fantasy memoir about a very beloved dog who I hope will always be around.

Rumpus: As a writer who’s mostly concentrated on poetry, is it difficult for you to make the transition to fiction and nonfiction? What is that process like for you? Does writing in each genre feel different to you?

Myles: Well, sure, it took time. I had to wait for fiction writers who showed me the way. Violette LeDuc and Robert Walser, for example. I think you have a desire but don’t know how to realize it and some writers will do the work of opening the door for you. I don’t mean imitation, but possibility. Nonfiction was more economic for me and also related to high school, where essays were what we were invited to do and I enjoyed writing something funny so I could make people laugh when I stood up to read mine. So I could be asked by my fellow students to read mine aloud. All the genres feel related but you do each for a different purpose.

 

Elsewhere

Buy ‘Inferno (a poet’s novel)’
Elieen Myles Official Website
Eileen Myles Fan Site
Eileen Myles’ books
Eileen Myles on Gram Parsons @ The New Yorker
Eileen Myles interviewed @ 3:AM Magazine
‘Barf Desire’
Eileen Myles interviews Daniel Day Lewis
Audio: Eileen Myles on NPR’s Bookworm
Audio: Eileen Myles’ readings @ PennSound

 

The book

Eileen Myles Inferno: A Poet’s Novel
OR Books

‘Coming of age in New York in the 70s is a raunchy spectacle. It’s the New York of Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol and Kathy Acker. It’s also the New York of a million kids who came anonymously onto the scene and stayed that way. This story peeks in and out from the margins, never becoming memoir but always a vivid poem written in clear rich prose — very often about fame and desire but told from a quiet place where the equivalent of drops of water from an icicle hanging from an East Village firescape can be listened to for hours as the young poet’s story unravels from a variety of literary and sexual positions.

‘Eileen Myles follows Dante’s epic in one distinct way. The first section of the Inferno describes the entry of the poet girl into the outer rings of New York and here the question is whether she is telling her body or her poem.

‘“Heaven”, the novel’s midsection tells the reader how to write a poem while pulling a bait and switch and telling us how to become a lesbian as well. Myles exposition of “lesbianity” includes six pages of female genitalia that rival anything Henry Miller ever produced — though the inspiration for the section is the efforts of generations of feminist photographers as well as the 8th book of the Aeneid in which Virgil describes the stories behind the all drawings on the hero’s shield. Heaven is about sex remembered – in a poem.

‘The third and final part of the book — “Drops” – is a fictional proposal to a funding organization called The Ferdinand Foundation in which the author obliges the foundation’s request to supply them with her career narrative, but gives her “real one” the one that a writer never gives to funders. Travel disasters, bad readings of wonderful poems, tour stories and deaths – “Drops” is Myles’ Purgatorio which litanizes the actual career of the poet and leaves us in that present of the writing and the life.’ — Soft Skull

 

Trailer

 

Excerpt

My English professor’s ass was so beautiful. It was perfect and full as she stood at the board writing some important word. Reality or perhaps illusion. She opened the door. With each movement of her arms and her hand delicately but forcefully inscribing the letters intended for our eyes her ass shook ever so slightly. I had never learned from a woman with a body before. Something slow, horrible and glowing was happening inside me. I stood on the foothills to heaven. She opened the door.

There were a bunch of us in Eva Nelson’s world literature class who had gone to catholic school. Nobody was that different, 18 year old kids who had grown up going to the Blessing of the Fleet, hooting and drinking beer, who went to Sacred Heart, who played against Our Lady. Hardly anyone in the class was really that different. Everyone it seemed to me lived in a roughly catholic world. But those of us who knew nothing else—we were especially visible. When we had a thought, an exciting thought we’d go: Sst. Sst. Like a batch of little snakes. We meant “Sister.” Sister, pay attention to me. Call me now.

Eva Nelson had been teaching Pirandello. What we really are considering here: and now she faced us with her wonderful breasts. I know that a woman when she is teaching school begins to acquire a wardrobe that is slightly different from her daily self. How she exposes herself to the world. For instance later in the semester I went to a party at her house in Cambridge and she sat on her couch in her husband’s shirt. He was a handsome and distant young man named Gary, he was the Nelson and she wore his shirt and you really couldn’t see her breasts at all but she had a collection of little jerseys, tan and peach, pale gold and one was really white I think. Generally she dressed in sun tones–nothing cool, nothing blue. Nothing like the airy parts of the sky, but the hot and distant tones of the sun and her breasts were in front of me, I was looking at her face and I knew I was alive.

On television in my favorite shows I already begun to see how things could be slightly different–or utterly different like a man could flip his daily quarter towards a newsstand and it would land just cause it jounced against all the other shiny coins and it landed on its edge. And all that day the man could hear the thoughts of people in the street, his wife and his secretary, even his dog. It was crazy and the next morning he threw his coin again. Hey said the regular Joe who sold him the paper every day. Some guy did that yesterday and I’ve been—hey you’re that guy. The two guys faces really human faces got big and the music you never noticed till now, the music stopped playing. Hey you’re that guy. Yeah it’s me.

There was something really covered about childhood. I think it was the nuns. With their pint of ice cream hats with the black thick flowing cloth that grazed the surface of the schoolyard and the oiled wood floors of my school, the nuns enclosed the world with sanity and god. The rules flowed up and down the calendar and around the clock and in the day the sky, the world was rules–known by god the nuns said.

Eva Nelson had fantastic breasts that jounced in her explanation of modernity, of no way out, of vagueness, of the burden of insecurity and the possibility of something else—that this could be a dream, all of it. If the flip of a coin could release a torrent of multi vocal glee—well maybe it was a dream. We didn’t know, we couldn’t, this was our condition.

The next book we will read she said, pulling the shade on existentialism for the moment, is a much older text. It’s part of the tradition, but is a very modern book, quite political. She had this cute glint when she was being smart which was always. She wasn’t big smart, she didn’t clobber you with words. She just kind of befriended us like wolves but she believed that wolves were good and could be taught too. But she was from New York, was Jewish and had been born intelligent. She was blonde. Are Jews blonde. I didn’t know. I would learn so much more. Sometimes her jersey was nearly green but that was as dark as it got.

Dante really had no other way to talk about his time except in a poem. The Inferno is a heavily coded poem. It’s not about censorship but something else. It was an age of not even satire but allegory. His beliefs were fixed in the structure of his poem like the windows of a church. Her eyes twinkled. Oh my god.

And I’ll give you a clue. She paused while she spoke so that each phrase could catch up in our thought. It wasn’t like she thought we were dumb. I could feel her eyes meeting mine. You’re not dumb Eileen. She knew me. And this was the best moment of all. Before any of the incidents that would change my life irrevocably I felt she already knew me. I sat in her class on Columbus Ave. in the Salada Tea Building in Boston on a Tuesday afternoon and I was seen– before words before anything. She would pause and let the words catch up. We had time.

I want each of you to write an Inferno. The class groaned. It’s just his time. This is yours. She smiled.

It was ours now. I would show her my hell.

(more)
—-

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Yep, I agree across the board. ** Armando, Hi. I’m good. Well, other than having certain plans destroyed by the new Europe -> USA travel ban/quarantine thing. I think if you can forget that the ‘PIaIL’ film has anything to do with Didion’s novel, it’s not an uninteresting film. Hope all is as well as can be in your world. You managed to write an interesting poem that has line-end rhymes in it. Not an easy task, sir. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. Sorry about the non-working trailer. Orson Welles is so fun when he’s being lazy and smirky. Ah, so it’s over. Your film school stint/test. Oh, well, now you know. And freedom’s possibilities always rock the hardest, to sound very West Coast American there for a moment. The US response to the virus thing is only and entirely about Trump’s personal pride issues and nothing else. Bitch needs to die yesterday. ** Milk, Hi, Milk! Ha ha, nice comparison. I’m glad you’re a fan too. I hope you’re good. What’s up? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hey. Me too re: one more role but I think she’s pretty much outta there/here. Right, isn’t ‘3 Women’ incredible? Plus Shelley and Sissy at their absolute peaks. ** Steve Erickson, The government here is supposed to make a big outbreak announcement today, and we are all suspecting France will be locked down a la Italy. Still no product hoarding going on, but that’ll probably change. What a fucking mess. And you guys with the world’s sickest piece of narcissistic shit idiot in charge. Good God. I hope your doc has great news. New review! Everyone, Mr. Erickson has reviewed Eliza Hittman’s film NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS here. ** Dom Lyne, Hi, Dom. Well, of course that all makes total sense. About why your readings and public artistic life got hampered. Thrilling that you’re breaking through that spate so passionately. Great, I’ll go check out the readings page on your site ASAP. Thanks a lot! I’ve always had long periods where I was in a relationship and then equally long periods when I wasn’t and didn’t want to be. I think I’ve finally figured out I’m not built for that kind of set up, and that I’m not good at it. That wanting a regular, traditional relationship was kind of knee-jerk but the reality was unnatural for me. Don’t know. Never say never, of course. You or me. Yes, it would be cool to see you somewhere soon. Take care, bud. ** Right. I’m spotlighting Eileen Myles’ novel today, and if you haven’t read it, it’s something to be read, so says I. See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. “Pleasure
    as a means,
    and then a
    means again
    with no ends
    in sight. I am
    absolutely in opposition
    to all kinds of
    goals.”

    couldn’t relate more:)

  2. Eileen is Super Cool!

    One should always take reasonable precautions. Hand-washing is important but so is being wary of close proximity to other people in enclosed spaces and making sure one sneees and/or coughs into a handkerchief. I’ve done this for years and as a result haven’t had a “common cold” since high school. Above al, DON’T PANIC

  3. My appointment with my eye doctor was troubling – he says that I need surgery for the cataract in my other eye on the 23rd. I think part of the current problem with my sight is that I need a new prescription for my glasses post-surgery and the current one is distorting my vision. I can see much better in the distance without them, so I can tell that the surgery did have some positive effect. But now I need to find a friend to pick me up at the hospital on the 23rd in order for the surgery to proceed.

    New York is approaching lockdown – Lincoln Center and Spectacle sent out press releases in the last few hours saying that they’re closing. That Eliza Hittman film I reviewed will be playing to empty theaters, if any are even open this weekend. Given the amount of time I’ll be spending inside, I wish I could see well enough to read a book.

    Forgive me if this is intrusive, but given what you’ve written here recently about preferring to be a single, did you and Yury split up?

  4. Hey,

    I hope everything’s alright on your end.

    Made some changes:

    WORTHLESS SKIN

    I want to be dismembered,
    After all I’m just a waste.
    Nothing about me to be remembered,
    Not even my flesh’s taste.

    I guess he’d start with my intestines,
    I, the most undignified tasting.

    They are knocking.
    Let them all in.
    Feast with the taste of skin,
    Look as men made out of tin.

    Good day, good luck,

    *HUGS AND LOVE*,

    a.

  5. Today’s post was shared with my friend Lene and it was much appreciated. Have also offered to lend my copy of Chelsea Girls, seems it would be a true meeting of minds.

    On Saturday I was planning to attend the Dundee Anarchist Bookfair but that’s now been cancelled as a coronavirus precaution. Thankfully my usual Tai Chi class is still going ahead, for now at least.

  6. That Eileen Myles excerpt is hilarious.

    Dennis, for the dark film post I’ll send you, should I use the old blogger/blogspot template? I don’t think I’ve made a post for you since the blog migration. Happy to use another template if that’s easier for you.

    Since I haven’t been going to a lot of social/cultural events, I’ve had time to pick up the new Dodie Bellamy book! Yessss.

    Hope you’re feeling/seeing better, Steevee…

    Bill

  7. Hi Dennis – how are things going in Paris? I imagine they’re as awful as here. Everything’s closing, all museums, opera, theatres, etc. Washington Square Park is totally dead – EXCEPT for this new “Jesus died on the cross for your sins” guy – who is very loud. That’s all we need, as if it’s not awful enough there. And he considers homosexuality a big sin. His friend called me The Devil. Well, I’d rather be The Devil compared to them! No use arguing with these guys. They actually want that. I’m staying far away from them. Hoping the City of Light has a little more light than here at the moment, but I kind of doubt it. Stay safe!

  8. Made a few changes:

    WORTHLESS SKIN

    I want to be dismembered,
    After all I’m just a waste.
    Nothing about me to be remembered,
    Not even my flesh’s taste.

    I guess he’d start with my intestines,
    I, the most undignified tasting.

    They are knocking.
    Let them all in.
    Feast with the taste of skin,
    Look as men made out of tin.

    I sent you a teeny tiny extremely quick email. I hope you’re able to see it.

  9. PS: Apologies if I already wrote this (I can’t read the comments on this blog), but I’ve figured out that one of my current problems with my vision is likely that the glasses I’m wearing don’t match the change in my eyeball after surgery and thus they’re pretty much useless now.

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