22nd Aug 2011
Inferno by Eileen Myles
Eileen Myle’s Inferno is an intriguing book. Despite being subtitled A Poet’s Novel, it’s actually an autobiographical account in luminous prose-poetry, dedicated to Michelle Tea and beloved by queer icons including Alison Bechdel and John Waters.
Now, I must confess that this is the first book by Eileen that I’ve read. But I knew her name, and not only because she’s name-checked in Le Tigre’s Hot Topic (alongside the likes of Joan Jett, Gertrude Stein and Aretha Franklin).
Other accolades include being labelled a “rock star of modern poetry” by Bust, winning the 2010 Shelley Memorial Award, and penning around twenty published books, including essay, poetry and short story collections.
A coming-of-age tale that loosely chronicles the interplay between Eileen’s writing, sexuality and identity, Inferno takes us from a teen Eileen’s fantasies about her English teacher in a Massachusetts classroom, to touring with luminaries like Kathy Acker and Nan Goldin, to a near-death experience at a volcano in Hawaii.
Although the writing is occasionally clunky, labyrinthine and lazy, there is beauty and bravery aplenty in Inferno, as it charts a golden era of creativity, bohemia and broken hearts.
Inferno seduces with its purity and sincerity, and Myles has a flare for vivid imagery, with a subway train carriage being described as “the dirtiest most decorated cartoon monster drooling red lips, delirious screaming bright blue baby names in cloud writing.”
The fluid prose winds its way from the sexual to the philosophical and back again, with fiercely acute and casually delivered observations at every twist and turn; love, life and death via alienation, identity, and the anxiety, rites and rituals involved in being a writer.
It won’t be a book for everyone, but it’s a fascinating insight into an author I’ll definitely be investigating further. Published in 2010 by OR Books, you can buy it in paperback for £7, or get the Kindle edition for £7.15.
Recommended for: Poets, romantics and writers with a habit of falling in love with the wrong women.
Other recommended reading: For an overlapping lyrical autobiography of love, lust, performance and poetry in New York, read Patti Smith’s mesmerising memoir, Just Kids. For more from Eileen Myles, try her novel, Cool For You.