"I think between marketing as a butch, marketing as not being in my twenties and writing in a quasi-experimental way put me on a certain shelf," Myles said. "Which didn’t hinder me from being known or having a career, but it made it very much a lesbian career, in certain ways. And yet, at that time too, I think there was specifically a lesbian poetry scene that Adrienne Rich was part of, June Jordan and a whole specific world that I’ve never really been a part of because I think I write very differently. I’m more interested in work by guys like John Ashbery and the world of mostly queer men. That was part of it, too. It wasn’t about closeting, it was more about aesthetics."
Which is likely why Inferno and Myles’ other recent work has become of interest to readers 20 to 30 years younger than the writer. It’s partly because of other writers like Michelle Tea, who invited Myles on her Sister Spit tour a few years ago. Inferno is dedicated to Tea.
"I meant the book, in so many ways, to be a book about coming into your writing — being a female, being queer and being a poet female or whatever," Myles said. "So Michelle — we met when she was in her twenties and I was in my forties and that was our relationship. I knew I was an important writer for her. What was kind of uncanny was that when I met Michelle, it was the first time I had an experience of having a wide lesbian readership because Michelle was reading me, and her friends were reading me, and they’d heard of me and I was their older lesbian writer, not Adrienne Rich. So it was this moment I felt I’d connected to my audience and they happened to be 20 years younger than me. Michelle and I were connecting each other to things."
Myles continues to be a literary rebel in every sense of the word, including publishing her work with small presses, like Inferno publisher OR Books, which is exclusively publishing the novel on their website — meaning you won’t find it in bookstores or on Amazon.com. I wondered if Myles thought her success in the publishing world ever felt limited because she is a lesbian, therefore a "lesbian" poet.
"Then and now, I think it kind of segues you into a certain world. In the writing world, if you say ‘lesbian,’ they’re like ‘Over there!’" Myles said. "When I first went online and went to a chat room — this is like AOL in the 90s — and seeing there was a writer’s chat room, I remember going to it and being struck by how incredibly heterosexual it was. I said "Any queers here?" and I remember all the voices coming forward and going ‘Wrong room.’"
"I think it’s really true in publishing. I started publishing fiction in my forties, and already, there was probably an opportunity like this," she uses her fingers to indicate a pinch of very small space, "for young lesbians but, already, I wasn’t a young lesbian. So I published my first novel with independent press, and I’ve published my fiction with independent presses ever since."
And we’re better off for it, because Eileen Myles has always done things her own way, and lived to tell the tale in work like Inferno.
Inferno is available at ORbooks.com.