Inferno

Eileen Myles

Sometimes I’m surprised when it’s hard to write about books I really like, not being able to pinpoint what it is that I appreciate about them. It seems it should be easy when you’ve enjoyed something. Inferno is subtitled “a poet’s novel,” but also is kind of a memoir; it defies that straightforward categorization that makes it easy to synopsize. Other people have described it as “messy” or “slippery,” and, despite having qualities of a coming-of-age story, it zigzags through time and avoids the strictly linear framework — or even that postmodern, multilinear progression where the story steadily moves back and forth between eras, still in a forward-like movement — that you might expect. When I look back on what I’ve been reading over the last year, I see many examples of writing that plays with the idea of what it claims to be. It may be that I just enjoy literature that messes with everything.

Regardless of the zigzagging, Myles captures a sense of passage in her careers as a poet and a lesbian (they are both described with that term), while sharing entertaining stories of her early years in NYC. I suppose a big thing I appreciate is the lack of overt labeling of the meaning of these events. There isn’t an overlay of forced significance about why things happened or why they led to other things that happened, that interpretive narrative common in more personally-focused writing these days. As a poet’s novel, it can be like reading poetry, in the sense that long stretches went by without knowing if I was really “getting” anything, and then one passage would strike…

The place I found was carved out of sadness and sex and to write a poem there you merely needed to gather. There would be days in which feelings were so externalized that you just behaved like a painter a kid with deep pockets, bringing the lavender home. The poem was a grid — that swayed and moving through it you just picked up things and hung them on the grid all the while singing your broken heart out. Humming. It was a deep deep grey. In that place (and poetry most of all is a mastery of places, not the world but the weather of the states that form in your life and what you read and how things were taken and what came back) each of these series of occurrences creates a season. The seasons grow huge (till they die) and in each you create a new sense of what a poem is in relation to the space of your mind, heart, that kind of substance.