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March 9, 2011

Book Notes - Eileen Myles ("Inferno")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Eileen Myles' novel Inferno is largely autobiographical and always mesmerizing. Reading as much as poetry as memoir, the book captivates with its depictions of the poetry world, relationships, and the authors' interactions with both. I have long been a fan of Myles' brilliant poetry and essays, and Inferno offers a rare glimpse into her past.

The Believer wrote of the book:

"Desire isn’t cool. It's angsty, sweaty, physically uncomfortable. In Eileen Myles's Inferno (A Poet's Novel), the sincerity of the narrator's yearning—for women, for poetry—might tilt into sentimentality were it not for the casual disarray of the prose: a cool envelope for a burning missive. Earnestness is offset by wit, lyricism by dry commentary, and always there is the marvelous dishevelment of Myles’s sentences, as commas are willfully dropped, clauses fused, and one tense shades obliquely into another."

In her own words, here is Eileen Myles' Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Inferno:

My inferno comes in three parts and to my mind the first part ("Inferno") which describes the poet in college and sometimes earlier in flashbacks discovers that she is a writer and the ensuing years in New York trying to make her mark as a female writer and trying to assert her own sexuality over the way the world views her as a young female commodity.

I use the name "Eileen" and "the poet" interchangeably throughout.

The poet comes home from school (commuting to college in Boston) and throws herself on the couch listening over and over again to "I Want You" by Bob Dylan on the hi-fi

In New York "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads plays in the background while Eileen and her friend from a workshop, Richard collaborate on a poem in the late afternoon while smoking a joint.

The poet wanders into Robert Wilson's famous opera at the met (from Einstein at the Beach) and this: "Train 1" by Philip Glass is playing just before this scene.

The poet is sitting on the porch with young mothers who she babysits for (early sixties) while these play on someone's transistor radio:

Unchain My Heart," Ray Charles
"Town without Pity," Gene Pitney

The poet goes looking in Provincetown for Brian Rattigan, her friend from college and the first poet she ever met who is working in a restaurant during the summer. This song is pouring out of all the stores: the Zombies' "Time of the Season."

The through line of the section is a sexual encounter. During it the two young women are accompanying two Italian handbag salesmen through a series of hideous discos in midtown hotels and these songs play in the background, tortuously:

"You Sexy Thing," Hot Chocolate
"Do It (Till You're Satisfied)," BT Express

While the couples have breakfast this song is fills the silence:

"That's the Way (I Like It)," KC & the Sunshine Sand

The second section of the book is "Purgatory" which is the poet's career and it takes the form of a grant proposal. Her theater projects are described:

At the top of "Modern Art," a feminist fantasia with violence Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet plays

"#5 (Go Bang)" by Dinosaur L is playing in the Pyramid all the young dancers the cast of Modern Art are picking each other up and throwing each other around and jumping on the stage.

"Pull Up to the Bumper" by Grace Jones plays at the end of this section when the props for the play wind up on the street.

Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" plays sarcastically during an angry rant about being a female writer that appropriates a version of this song's hook.

The poet has gone to Hawaii as a side trip from a reading gig to see a live volcano and she winds up lost, wandering around at night over hissing lava pits and this song plays to underline the comedy when it's not entirely scarey:

"Spill the Wine" by Eric Burdon and War

In the third section "Heaven" we encounter the poet both describing how she wrote some of her poems and also how she became a lesbian.

"How Deep is Your Love" by the Bee Gees plays in the loft of Rose her romantic obsession before their first disastrous sexual encounter.

"God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols is playing at a party when the poet is drunkenly dancing alone in the aftermath of her first big reading.

The poet goes to a women's bar The Duchess and this is playing as she's getting a drink and the dancefloor is crowded:

"Fly Robin Fly," Silver Convention

"O Superman" by Laurie Anderson is on the turntable at a house party in Los Angeles on the poet's first reading tour during which she burns the mattress of the bed she's sleeping on once she passed out except for the drink she brought to bed, a White Russian which she luckily spilled.

The poet and her buddy Eli are drinking Jack Daniels and he's turning her on to country music, putting disc after disc on the turntable:

"It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)" Merle Haggard

The Eileen character and her poet friend Jana are speeding at a loft party and this is playing: "Disco Inferno" by the Trammps.

"Give Me a Reason" by Tracy Chapman is playing during the scene at the lesbian sex auction at Paddles.

The poet discovers after a disastrous breakup that it's easy to bed women she just met by having the right conversation. She demonstrates this at a party with this song blasting I'm only happy when it rains Garbage and later we see them having sex in a truck.

"Crucify You" by the Depreciation Guild would play over the credits after the speech at the end of the book

Eileen Myles and Inferno links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
video trailer for the book
excerpt from the book (at the author's website)
excerpt from the book (at Vertebrae)

3:AM Magazine review
Band of Thebes review
The Believer review
Bobby Byrd review
Book Punch Reviews review
Bookforum review
Books on the Radio review
Bookslut review
The Hipster Hotel review
Lambda Literary review
The Open End review
Terror People review

AfterEllen interview with the authors
Art in America profile of the author
BOMBLOG interview with the author
Bookforum interview with the author
PennSound readings by the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
Velvet Park interview with the author
We Who Are About To Die interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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