Behind this book review of Eileen Myles’s INFERNO there’s a theory.
But I really think the rock star poet Eileen Myles deserves something more raw than this – something even more pure than p a n e l a – in response to her new novel, which often dilated my eyes and made me feel like I had a friend.
Reading INFERNO was bodily, it jerked my mouth around and made me jot down words in the margins.
This way, they could snug close to Eileen’s prose
Fanning through the pages with my thumb – after reading it – I couldn’t help but stare at my scratchy notes and silently understand how much the INFERNO experience stimulated me, a high point in my life as a reader.
The idea of replicating that experience in a strained and articulate review made me ball up in the corner and scream.
I simply couldn’t.
Right away I knew I had to try something different if I wanted to do this novel justice. I had to suck in a lot of air and take a chance if I wanted to fluently communicate just how sweet it was to hold this book object in my hands.
I miss it already.
But first, a little background on Eileen Myles, from the top of a stranger’s head.
Born 1949 in Boston, Mass. with a Catholic upbringing that sometimes shows itself in her conversations with Mary the creator but is generally discarded in favor of things like Greek mythology and atheism, she got grown and moved to NYC, aka The Dirty City, to become a poet. She let nothing stand in her way. She was and still is willing to do whatever it takes to m a k e t h a t poem. She IS poetry. I don’t say this lightly. She somehow thrives in poverty. She’s fully integrated in the NY art scene. She’s a hunky lesbian. She loves dogs. She has written and directed plays, some of which poke fun at religion. She has a pair of eyeglasses that look a lot like mine. She knows her breasts are small. She often works on amphetamines and coffee. She has thought about the day when people will discover most of her brain is missing. She hangs out in bars. She doesn’t like Kathy Acker. She did smoke a lot of cigarettes but she may not anymore. St. Mark’s Church cultivated the poet in her. She’s a performer. She frequently goes to the edge for words, images, and ideas. She’s wry and very real.
Note: the emboldened sentences that follow are ripped straight out of INFERNO. If you want a smoother impression of this book, skip my choppy marginalia and only read Eileen’s excerpts.
Something slow, horrible and glowing was happening inside me. I stood on the foothills to heaven. She opened the door.
- Eva Nelson’s bouncy ass at the chalkboard.
- Does Eileen believe in fate, in manifest destiny?
- Eileen likes herself. No self-esteem issues.
- Focus on life’s beauty, don’t be so depressive, give everything a chance.
- Door – will this be a chorus?
- Rita accidentally became a prostitute.
- Can see this smile. Made me tug my lips. Visceral.
- Money issues.
- Subway slugs.
- Gender & drawing. Similar to Tony Duvert.
- Dissolute foreshadowing.
- Marge Piercy
- Bored w/ politics.
- Eileen is suddenly, just like that, a poet.
- Straight girls gone wild still play the straight girl game.
- Timeline seems skewed. From when is Eileen writing this?
Happily alone in the six inches between my eyes and the pages of a book – I had largely been cut out for this life.
- This is the life of the reader/poet.
- Apparently, not everyone can decide for themselves whether a book is good or bad.
- Still straight.
- Eileen works in bars.
- How money affects your relationship with the city.
- NYC supported her, the poet.
- Our past lives and breathes outside us. I’ve felt this.
- Why this instinctual hatred towards Eileen?
- Neat way to write about history.
I understood community. Going to the place and standing around. Aiming for connection to bodies, language and the future. I could be an artist. I had the tools. It wasn’t politics. Not that I knew. It was nothing. It was boredom, turned electric. Music from cars. It was watching. Watching the scene.
- This is what community means.
You had to close the book if you wanted it to stop.
- Nice description of a fucking addicting book.
- Eileen works the system to get money to go to school.
- I eat up circular storytelling.
- Vague=wave in French.
There’s no mystery why poetry is so elaborately practiced by the young. The material of poems is energy itself, not even language. Words come later.
- Poetry=illiterate energy.
- Café Bustelo.
- James, the man.
- James, the dog.
- WHEN YOU QUIT: a poem, one of Eileen’s. Sounds interesting. Eileen’s a hardcore poet/writer.
- A real poet can’t have a fucking job.
- Oud=totally percussive guitar.
- Patti Smith wanted attention. Isn’t that what Eileen wants?
- After CBGB Eileen felt like she was almost famous. She knew she would be.
- Eileen knew she was going to be a lesbian.
- What is it about sports, why so often dismissed as dumb?
- Beat poetry literally collapsed, one day.
- THE APPLES OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH: read this poem.
- Self-promotion, selling your own shit, living for yourself, is there any other way?
- Lots of namedropping – this is more enjoyable for readers who know the movement of Rock Poets, poetry of the 70s.
- Cigarettes, lung cancer. Barbara Holland, defender of small vices, also dies of lung cancer. Irony.
- Poetry was synonymous with poverty.
- Reading/performance is as critical as poem itself.
- St. Marks was the center of poetry.
I was proud to be this desperate on New Year’s Day. To know to do this. Whoever we were, we were friends – even with the famous performers, we were a string. Inside they were like a country singing and streaking and everyone knew them some and the line wrapped tightly a little bit longer outside around the building, the grey extended figure of us, bundling up smoking and drinking coffee under the tall metal fence covered with posters where I stood – along with a long-haired guy who was completely depressed that we didn’t get in. Patti Smith is on. The news rippled through the crowd. The inside had come so why stay here. We left and got a bowl of soup.
- Take away the romanticism, and this is like any other craze, any other passing fad.
- Deliberately boring: good way to describe RICHARD YATES.
- Interesting self-mockery, the poet’s “O”.
- What makes some fakery successful?
- Back to the accidental prostitute, Rita. This is the meat of the storyline. This is what I want to read more about.
When your time is uncommodified, amateur, kid, punk, unobserved, over, before, days marked useless, private, unshipped, so to speak life stays in the swarm of free-range sex shifting into art, back to sex, art again. This is our belief.
- Summary of a generation. Their religion.
- Ecceity=Chris’s neologism.
- Bill Knott wrote:
The way the world is not
Astonished at you
It doesn’t blink a leaf
Leads me to grop
that beauty is natural, unremarkable
- Cool poem, cool mental image of it wheatpasted to the wall and then painted over but sill visible.
- The One Hit Wonder. If only everyone could get theirs.
- Novel readings should be as intense as poetry readings in St. Mark’s Church.
- Eileen won’t compromise her body for her poetry. She still has some sort of moral compass. Actually, she never seems to have lost it.
- Hell as a desirable place? This is what makes Eileen what… punk?
- Eileen likes NYC because it’s hell. Fair enough.
- Even the cities that try to please people don’t succeed. It’s all about geography.
- Bob Dylan used to live on MacDougal Street.
- Back in the days when graffiti was still novel.
I just thought of love as travel. In your twenties you just kind of chug along, dredging up feelings as you go. It seemed like people then had a lot of feelings and you could get all bundled up like Eli had and brood with them for a while, or you could recoil entirely like I was doing (for professional reasons) and consider your behavior just art, grist for the mill.
- Different takes on love. Different ways to handle emotions.
- Eileen was born to be a writer.
- In the end, I read because I know Eileen will at some point succeed. Why am I such a sucker for winners?
I still thought I was better than girls who had boyfriends. Letting it be that some guy lead you around. He would pay sometimes, but mostly you’d just be his. If you didn’t know what you were doing, you could think I’m a girlfriend.
- Superiority complex, looking down.
- Eileen thinks fashion is invisibility. Yes, it’s the grey mob of people who wait in line to watch a passing craze.
- Eileen knows she’s ahead of the other people in the crowd even though she’s in the crowd.
- Bruce Springsteen
- Door – the chorus. Is the door the closet?
- What a moment in what is now history. Everyone grew up when Kennedy was shot.
- Another shocking abrupt death.
- Eileen has no man, no job.
- Well, for a little while Eileen has a man, a job, being a whore.
- Eileen’s writing now, from the present, looking back.
- NYC was hateful to her when she wasn’t directly involved w/ the art world.
- Rita=peer pressure.
- First kiss.
- Seems like her budding sexuality was a result of peer pressure.
- Is this what I was waiting for? Does this feel like enough? No. But I don’t think it should feel like enough.
I struggle with my Tab, trying to open it.
- Why don’t we have those little indentations in our cans like Japan?
- Eileen is writing poetry for work now. She has succeeded.
- Randomly underlined words.
- Catholicism isn’t cool. Greek gods are cool.
- Village Voice.
- Drops=apples that drop on their own, that aren’t picked. They’re usually unwanted.
- How old is Eileen?
- Eileen is already published.
- Drops metaphor.
- Only upper class produces artists.
Middle class youth can certainly get acquainted with the conceptual structure of art in college but really how can he or she experience it as true, or usable. That requires a deeper transformation – a kind of economic drag. For a long while the aspiring American artist had to put on the clothes of the worker, the overalls and sweatshirts, clothes for working outside, construction boots – the female artist must perform in a g-string or a waitressing uniform snapping gum with a nametag over her breast.
- Eileen understands very well a certain kind of artist, those who must first become poor.
- Ritual suicide. Mishima.
- Getting, at times, metaphysical.
- Marge Piercy impresses her more the second time around. Aged wine.
- Eileen Myles calls herself a poet.
- Now I remember Marge Piercy! From the first part of INFERNO. Recalling her is like sounding the tonic.
- Eileen isn’t picking things off trees, they’re just falling and she’s picking them up, some.
- Pronunciation of Houston in Manhattan (How-ston) bothers me.
- Didn’t know MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE also influenced end of NAKED GUN.
- Eileen looks beat up like an addict.
- Eileen feels her writing is helpful, beneficial to more than herself, when it is part of something larger, like say a liturgy.
- Valerie Solanas’s SCUM MANIFESTO.
- Lots of names I don’t know. Too many at this point. These people must be cool.
- Eileen confesses to something here. Writing as therapy. In defense of art.
- This is a poet’s novel and a thespian’s novel.
- Politicians don’t like art, don’t like sex. But as people they like both. Then who doesn’t like art or sex? Their constituents?
- Manufactured ignorance.
- Feminists weren’t always hip. Used to be more like nuns.
- Eileen isn’t shy. She calls herself not only a poet, but a really good poet.
- It’s possible to feel Eileen’s frenzy when writing this graph. How many drafts did INFERNO run through?
- In second part of INFERNO, Eileen uses a lot of straight lines, both to underscore and strike out text. Why?
- Idiosyncratic reading list, Eileen’s. Definitely not from someone’s canon. But now she made it a canon.
- Aha! Now I understand why she read Anton Van Donck.
- Bowery=farm in Dutch.
- There was a beach behind the World Trade Center?
- Can’t say much else about death and the inevitable.
- Sounds like the guttural words of experience.
I wasn’t rich; yet I now made most of my money from art. It was going pretty well. I guess.
- Eileen at 40.
- The struggle is beautiful. This is a good approach to things.
- Did Eileen Myles just misspell Colombian, Columbian?
- Eileen adopts dog, keeps it from becoming fighting dog. She’s sensitive.
- The dog makes Eileen a parent. She’s in love.
- Sarah=woman in Hebrew.
- Eileen gets rejected by artist colonies. She doesn’t know how to spend her time. But struggle is beautiful, right?
Plus Eden didn’t give a shit what I thought.
- Much like Eileen won’t give a shit what I think in my review.
- Eileen has these moments of effortless writing. The stars are aligned.
- Eileen rejects the middle road.
- Rummaging through nature, Rose, the dog, changes to Pasquati. Eileen becomes no one. I like this image.
- Delueze & Manuel De Landa
- Eileen is a runner. A lot of writers are runners. I’m a runner.
- The act of writing involves more than writing.
- Writing doesn’t always feel good. Good of Eileen to acknowledge this.
- Piss on Goethe’s grass.
- Frank O’Hara
- Semiotext(e) publishes Tony Duvert.
- Pro-tip: give the media what they want and move forward.
- Little disconnected. Getting it all out. Wild Woman.
Like a spilt glass of milk, my life. A white pool shimmering on the floor. My corrupt womanhood: a waste. I feel the same way about being a writer. Staying up all night burning my brain cells, for years, swallowing tons of cheap speed, also for years, eating poorly, pretty much drinking myself to death. And then not. Contracting whatever STD came to me in the seventies, eighties, nineties, smoking cigarettes, a couple a pack a day for at least twenty years, being poor and not ever really going to the doctor (only the dentist: flash teeth), wasting my time doing so little work, being truly dysfunctional, and on top of that, especially my point, being a dyke, in terms of the whole giant society, just a fogged human glass turned on its side.
- Life summary in brief. Beautiful violent words.
- Still optimistic at 40. What now? How old? Does age matter? Think of Benjamin Button.
- I shake my head at this. It’s not modesty she’s after, it’s much harder than that, and it’s not apologetic.
- A long time ago I read Musil’s tome on Miami Beach and vaguely remember Mossbrugger. Eileen comprehend books better than me. No, wait! I also remember the romantic piano duo.
- AN AMERICAN POEM by Eileen Myles. Her jangle is I am a Kennedy. Germany loves her.
- I h a v e heard of Lynne Tillman.
- Andy Warhol got shot? Wow. Valerie Solanos, author of S.C.U.M. MANIFESTO (Society For Cutting Up Men) shot him 3 times in the chest, but this didn’t kill him. Fucking A.
- Artists need to surprise themselves.
- Good way to put it: blowing your wad.
- Yet another shocking abrupt death. Almost seems understated.
- This is why Eileen kills people off so calmly.
- Rose, the dog.
- Rose, the woman.
- Killer egg metaphor.
- Eileen rehearsed poems often. She’s a performer.
- Another killing.
- Eileen doesn’t like Kathy Acker.
- Poetry is never understood.
- Did Allen Ginsberg really email Bill Clinton asking for an award before he died?
- USA can’t tolerate criticism of itself.
- Eileen likes SEABISCUIT.
- Eileen reads this segment in the OR Books trailer. I knew this sounded familiar.
I love this book, the editor writes. We all love your book but we can’t get it past the marketing people. Cause who are you – I mean, really. I’m . . . . uh the poet Eileen Myles. Why not. If a fucking horse can tell his sorry why can’t I.
- Eileen’s story is at least as noteworthy as SEABISCUIT.
- This is a novel, not memoir.
- So much attitude comes through her words. You get the feeling this is authentic because, well, it is, whatever that means.
- I really need to have access to her beautiful workspaces.
Despite all the writing, or maybe because of it I didn’t know myself. My situation. The dog was still the poet I wanted to be.
- This resonates, this thing means something to me.
- Those distant trees. Literature isn’t boring, Eileen.
- Eat that fruit, please. You should know what fruit grows in your yard.
- Eileen likes to name names, never tires, but all these names are only names. None of these characters have flesh, blood, breath.
- I’ve seen this with Honeyed Cat. I took photos of her and her shaved spayed belly in the sunlight. I wasn’t sad.
- I’ve watched Honeyed Cat do this. I’d clean her box and she’d void herself.
- Scatalogical Wisdom.
- Earth can be so unearthly. Barchan dunes.
- I thought about HAWAII FIVE-O today. The guy’s name with the hair, can’t remember, but I know he was in DR. NO.
If I never do this before I die, do I care.
- Litmus test.
- Sudden death, just god & Eileen in this story.
- I like it when she engraves these word-images.
- Eileen’s afraid of dying, she’s not ready to die. Will she ever be ready?
- Next section is appropriately called HEAVEN, as if this near-death experience, this brush with fluid fire, made earth heaven.
- Eileen thinks of herself not as beautiful but as a hunk.
- Strange how being called a megalomaniac hurt Eileen. It has always seemed like something she liked about herself, her megalomania.
- Eileen is concerned with having a life. Peer-pressure. She never was strong, she never said she was strong.
- From where does a book reviewer get their right? They never have any right. Fuck me.
- She likes waiting outside in the cold, she likes feeling kinda shitty.
Nam yo ho renge kyo, nam yo ho renge kyo, faster and faster. It had been all over Cambridge, before I left. It followed me here, oh no.
- A chant, “It’s everything.”
- Funny how Eileen bothers to explain a little bit about THE LANCET but says nothing about all these fucking names. Every name is barely dimensional whereas she’s bursting off the you-know-what.
- People into new age shit have a fake luminosity that can’t produce it’s own heat.
- Some people just aren’t meant to work. This isn’t the same as freedom.
- Really!? A non-negligible sum of nuns become lesbians? That’s porn.
I would say by the time I lived in New York my poems were no longer abstract. I mean by the time I knew poets. I wasn’t writing about a symbolic world in which everything was all mental and preachy. I could tell when a poem had a little weight, it was real.
- She grew out of the abstract, grew into being real.
- On process, has to do with feeling, but not exclusively feeling.
- Dog people didn’t trust her even though she had a dog.
- No one knows what a poet means.
- Minds are impressionable. Reading greatly impresses minds.
- Poetry is easy. Poetry is read at the beach and in bed, before sleep.
- Another poem gets rejected. O beautiful struggles.
- This is why Eileen doesn’t seem to have any friends, because girlfriends became sex things, and then they went elsewhere.
- What about writing a story about a person slowly deciding to be straight? A person gay who knows they are straight? Isn’t that just what people are, sexuality, whether it be straight or gay or a-sexed, yes, yes it is, and why is this interesting or worth thinking about? Well, because (cause) society has made it thought-worthy. I’m blabbering. Why is anything interesting enough to write about? We have to write about something.
- Poetry & religion intermixed for Eileen.
- Eileen lives in East Village for the rest of her life.
- Leena is married to poetry like a priest is married to the church.
- She’s such a groupie.
- It’s a talent, not being able to take things seriously. It makes room for creativity.
- Might as well be dead. That’s what I like about fucking facebook, it keeps you alive once you’ve left a place and it’s people for good.
- This book is about poetry, not relationships. Everything outside of poetry is secondary and I feel this.
It was better than going to her grave, and my pure intention protected me because I was practically naked.
- Beautiful. I will always remember Eileen standing practically naked in front of Carson McCuller’s door.
- There’s an indescribable beauty in old things. Long live old things. This is what I think as I hear 2 girls laugh, getting ready for Halloween 2010, the 2 Fridas. One day I will cry. Close the book. Reflect. Then read more. I love this fucking book. Drinking Pisco Sour. Peru.
- What can I do but laugh quietly through my nostrils.
- Will we hear from callipygian Eva Nelson again?
- Photography over painting. Photography put a machine between the artist and the creation. It’s a big difference.
- Pantoum, villanelles, sonnets, define these please. Make me resourceful.
- She loves Ted Berrigan and she loves his book.
I sat on the cliff for a while, simply stunned by big nature. I can’t entirely comprehend that fire can flow. It’s a totally 19th century moment – the volcano like an engraving, and I am so still.
- DODGEMS: Eileen’s journal.
- Purity of the heart is to desire one thing, so says Kierkegaard.
- Definition of eerie: ability to make other people talk like you.
- Death, god and Eileen.
- Poets used speed.
- The speed of light, is there anything faster than the speed of light? Because no one knows. No one knows. I am the sky what do you know. My conscious brain is so fucking strange, so fucking godless. Train whistle, train whistle, train whistle, train whistle, there must be a point.
- 2 writers I’ve never heard of, Turco & AJ Liebling.
- John Ashbury blurbed this book.
- Leena’s Boston voice comes out in her writing. What does this mean? I don’t know what a Boston voice sounds like, not really. Or do I? Yes, I think I probably have a pretty good idea and I’m just talking bullshit, trying to act more ignorant than I really am for kicks.
- Everyone was punk. They were against everything.
- Midwestern pot smokers.
- She lived off unemployment checks for a little while. Again, she’s working the system.
- I feel like she has turned into a dyke at least once before this, maybe even many times before this.
And this morning out the window was Mary. You know, the mother of Christ. I had a cemetery out my window and there was nothing but trees, but suddenly it’s October and I’m falling for Rose. I’m in love with a woman, I explained looking into the eyes of a statue of the creator’s mother, or the creator herself. It was all so stark and I was losing weight like crazy, I felt like I was dying, but I began talking to Mary and I told her about my love.
- I’m reading this in October. Eileen prays to Mary. Nice.
- Sappho has something to do with cutting words out. Editing. Less is more.
- Monad, what’s that philosophy? A fancy word that I know means something philosophical, like a unit.
- Picturing characters in novels, imagining them with so much detail that some people in the real world remind you of them, the way they looked in your head, this is beautiful and special.
- Dykes aren’t females.
- Small press is where it’s at.
- Knowing the origin of wars makes you more aware of things.
- Eileen’s LADIES MUSEUM (Rag On Press) accused of being sexist & racist, but was it any good?
- First intimate experience with “the singular place on a girl”. This story has no timeline, it tells itself like a memory, which it is, enfolded.
- How we pine for wholeness, wholesomeness, whole, what a strangely constructed word, does it really mean something?
- O Inferno
- No names here. She wants to keep something private, or only between her and another. And maybe another and another. But probably not any more than that.
- Yes, Eileen, orgasms taste like honey butter for everyone.
- Self-declared sainthood. Self-proclaimed sagacity.
- Eileen named her dog Rose, like her first love.
- Eileen respects Patti Smith and John Ashbury.
The woman who regarded hers as monstrous nonetheless is entirely addicted to hers. I was too. The tiny shelf of skin I slipped my tongue and finger alongside of, it’s like the backside of a rubber duck. And so I knew my sweet toy’s edges in the dark quietly going to sleep with ducky in mind. The hood of it was slick, so she had a small cap between her legs a bullet of pleasure and power. Even after she had one of her outrageous sunset orgasms which she details while still basking in its immense succulent corona slowly with an utterly generous and female smile on her face, a satisfied smile and kind, she urges me to put my finger on her secret fingertip and feel the blood pump as the pleasure is ebbing away.
- Eileen’s like a straight guy with the insider’s scoop.
- When A Window Becomes A Mirror: makes for a good book title.
- Another death. It’s everywhere, god and Eileen. Soon to be only god. Or not soon, but someday.
- To me, mawkish means… I don’t really know. Here, let me look it up… sentimental in a feeble or sickly way. I did know it had something to do with sentimentality.
- Wonder if she still writes with a typewriter. Wonder what kind. Is the machine between the writer and the page influential on the work? How important are instruments? How much do they shape our inner words?
- The page holds the words that live inside us. The page is a vessel that carries our guts.
- Coming back to the beginning. There’s no escaping origin.
- To me, Eileen actually seems very much OF THE TIMES. A product of the times. I think she’d be out of place if she were alive at any other time.
- She qualifies herself as a language poet.
- More death. Ei killing everyone off.
- This is what I want my writing to do, become an entirely familiar person, make the reader say, “I know you exactly!”
- This is funny, it really is, to share ice cream with Eileen by literally cutting the pint in half.
- Vatic=of or characteristic of a prophet; oracular.
- Eileen tries to intuit her sexuality using another person’s poem. A like-minded poet. She’s like any other searching soul.
- Drugs worked against what she used them for, she wrote on speed, caffeine, and alcohol, for what?
- Like I said, OF THE TIMES, punk, Ei is a perfect example of how genes and environment can intermix to your advantage.
- Arthur Dove: look up his paintings.
- Not gay, queer.
- Talking undermines destroys deconstructs wisdom, already scant as it is.
- Eileen can’t be held when dancing.
You would see each person through the other person’s eyes.
- This is what Existentialism is to me.
- Acid orgy.
- Death comes in small sips.
- Poets create many poems, these poems move with them in small increments, they trace an evolution of life and slow death, very different from novels, which are more macro and zoomed out and sweeping.
- Eileen’s killing herself before something else does.
- Eileen has strong desires, not the same as love. Has she ever really loved a girl?
- There’s my answer. She loves to think, she pulls away and thinks, married to the poem, only able to love the poem.
- Love and death. Is INFERNO a poet’s love story?
- Here’s her love, it was sensational, a lot of things she’d kill if she tried to make it hers.
- She’s most productive, it seems, away from the city and isolated and full of nature.
- Of course the bouncy ass was too good to pass up. This is Eileen trying to hit the tonic, to make her prose, like her poems, jangle. I was waiting for Eva Nelson.
- Another death.
- Rose is her love.
Note: tiny explosions are riddling my skin and popping my skull follicles. I love this prickly feeling.
INFERNO, which can be found exclusively at OR Books, is a künstlerroman, which is a fancy word for artist’s novel. I read it drunk and I read it sober and I read it caffeinated and I read it tired but mostly I read it when I wasn’t hungry. In case my marginalia didn’t do it for you, to better describe what this poet’s novel did to me, I’ll have to pilfer words from Renee Gladman’s EVENT FACTORY,
The book held me; I leaned against it. I was waiting to be absorbed. I wanted to feel its mouth on me, its teeth break the surface of my skin – to witness myself grow stronger, dividing, falling through the tunnel of the book, fully inside it, until I vanished from here and existed there only-
MY RATING =