All the Things Eileen Myles Says That Make Me Dog-Ear Pages

I’m reading Inferno by Eileen Myles right now. The book cover calls it “a poet’s novel.” To me this means two things: one, that its structure is not organized in a traditional way (scenes often flash back and forth between the past and present) and two, that it is full of gorgeous sentences. Rather than attempt to review her book–an autobiographical novel chronicling protagonist Eileen’s move from Boston to New York, her early flailings, and the poetry scene in the 60s and 70s–I thought it best to let the poet speak. I gathered various musings of hers from the book. There were many more to choose from because every sentence is perfectly crafted and designed for a return read:

On growing up: “If you did something special then time would stop and you could dream. The thing I had hated about growing up was that everyone wanted you to wake up and pay attention.”

On New York: “When you come to the city people are afraid for you. Everyone is, I mean. They’re impressed, but they’re also afraid.”

On mansplaining poets: “I wrote constantly and I was learning all the time, and I was always meeting people who were poets, mainly men, and they would tell me what to read and I would go huh and decide myself what I actually liked.”

On success: “In a way, poetry really does require failure, because failure produces space. That nobody else wants. Poets as a group hate success.”

On writing: “Writing was someplace you sent your box tops in. You send your little poem to Poetry. Poetry sends it back. Sometimes if I picked a smaller magazine I’d get a note saying I sounded lonely. Maybe we could write, the editor suggested. I thought I was writing!”

On New York in the summer: “Year later I learned to love it. Cause you’d go down into the subway and you’d think you were in hell. For some reason I liked that. Though it took years. I think you just need more experience to understand hell as something possibly good.”

On the New York everyone thinks of: “They showed me the New York that illustrated the myth of why living here was heaven on earth…The people I had read about, seen in magazines simply walked to the door, onto the sidewalk, stood right here. Stepped in there and got a drink. In these stone corridors, life began. The myth was true.”

Courtesy OR Books.
Photo courtesy of OR Books.

There’s something special about picking up a book and reading about the author’s love of someone you love (in this case, she talks of her experiences seeing Patti Smith perform in the early days) and then later finding that another author you loves the author you’re currently reading (Michelle Tea writes a reverent piece about one of Eileen’s other books, Chelsea Girls, for the LA Review of Books). Everything feels cyclical and all right. Like maybe you’re tapping into the world where you want to belong and you look around and realize you might be closer to it than you thought.

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