INFERNO by eileen myles

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i remember reading some kim gordon interview where she said rock and roll was paying to watch someone else be free. poetry is the same thing but no one pays and it’s more personal and pure because, frankly, no one gives a fuck.

except. except.

this messy, score-settling, no-longer-pure-but-still-pure memoir has some heft to it. both the heft of trying for decades worth of personal history and also like it was meant to be done right. unrushed. yet it also has myles’ great openness, as if it really were just her notebook and its feverish post-event, post-break-up, post-reading heart pouring. which belies a carefully sloppy sequencing, rough stitches to let the air and light in. in fact one of the things i love most about her writing is how successfully she risks an unfinished surface.

a few large themes orient the work: the business and politics and capital of the ‘poetry field,’ what self-abuse seems necessary there; the ecstasies and agonies of sex, not relationships so much as the melancholic self-contemplations of the serious gigolo; the poem as valueless and therefore essential home and grave of it all.

on this last, she gives, near work’s end, several guiding definitions:

“What I started to understand was that the poem was made out of time — past, present and future. It lives in the present, it breathes there and that’s how you let anyone in. I think people can feel this accessing of time in poetry very readily. As soon as the poem ceases to be about anything, when it even stops saving things, stops being such a damn collector, it becomes an invite to the only refuge which is the impossible moment of being alive. I lost her after a while, and of course she was never mine, I borrowed her and she borrowed me from our lives” (268).

and

“The room was the poem, the day I was in. Oh Christ. What writes my poem is a second ring, inner or outer. Poetry is just the performance of it. These little things, whether I write them or not. That’s the score. The thing of great value is you. Where you are, glowing and fading, while you live” (270).

…also beautiful warnings throughout, like:

“Because rich people need poor friends (but not too poor!) to maintain their connection to the struggle that spawned them even if they never struggled. Poor people tend to know what’s going on plus they are often good-looking, at least when they are young and even later they are the cool interesting people the rich person once slept with, so the poor person always feathers the nest of the rich. If something bad happens to the poor person, the rich person would help. Everyone knows that. An artist’s responsibility for a very long time is to get collected, socially” (33).

and

“I was naturally going to a reading, I had some hot pink flyers in my bag of where I was going and they liked how I looked when I came in and by the time I left everyone was roaring and they really liked my outfit and the dinner people were coming and they were mostly art world and I was his and her young punk, a genius and for that I was fed and felt seen and went out a little loaded into the bright cold. We were carrying the message, day and night for about ten years. That’s about as long as you get” (259).

pick it up (and watch a slick vid) at the publisher’s site.

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