Busy writing this week so I thought I would post a brief excerpt from my forthcoming review of Eileen Myles' new autobiographical novel Inferno. The review will be in the Women's Review of Books in the fall.
"Best known as a poet, Myles was affiliated first with New York School figures surrounding St. Mark’s Church (Ted Berrigan, Bill Zavatsky, and, especially lovingly rendered here, Alice Notley), and later with a new generation of queer punk performance artists including Sister Spit, with whom she toured in the post-Riot Grrl era. Myles’ ability to remain cool to succeeding generations of queer and vanguard artists is what led Bust to call her “the rock star of modern poetry.” Patti Smith moved to Detroit and Alice Notley to Paris, but Eileen Myles, although she chaired the Creative Writing Program at University of California-San Diego for five years, won the Shelley Prize, toured Iceland and Ireland and criss-crossed the United States numerous times, lives in the same East Village apartment that’s been her home base for thirty years. Myles is the author of nearly twenty books, but her downtown cred is still impeccable—so pure that despite her iconic status among outlaw writers and performers, she has never published a book with a mainstream press or been reviewed in the New York Times. A lot of poets I know would say that that pretty much guarantees that her work will be immortal...
This book contains some of the most memorable erotic writing I’ve ever read—words that evoke not just what is sexy, but what is specifically lesbian about two women together:
Another mouth. Like lips between her legs and the taste of it. Piss and fruit. I pressed my face against its bone and it moved. She was letting me. All this was happening. I smelled the future right there, a present and a past. All that went through her, known through the soft sweet flesh of her lips and clit. It was like my face felt loved temporarily. It wasn’t even long this feeling of total rightness. I was telling her clit a story. If there is a warm disassociation this was it: placing my head one night on her warm puss and lapped. I felt plunged into a tropical movie in which light was bathing my head and her pussy, her cunt, her crotch was a warm smile and for a moment I lived in her sun.
In this description of effortless ease, Myles effortfully manipulates time, not only through telling us that present, past and future collide, but also through the distorted verb tenses: “If there is a warm disassociation this was it”—are we in the moment of the encounter with the protagonist (“is”) or remembering it with the novelist (“was”)? Are we “placing” a head on a woman in the present or being told what it was like back then, when she “lapped”? This dizzying, disorienting syntax not only describes but enacts the narrator’s vertiginous pleasure."