An interview with Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles is a poet and a novelist whose work manages to be both political and sexy, creating the kind of bridge between activism and art that predates the work of contemporary queer writers who are still attempting to perfect the form. Since her first book of poetry published in 1978, Myles has continued to write poetry about being a woman, a writer, a lesbian, a New Yorker, a lover, and an artist, among other things.

At the beginning of her career, her peers were Patti Smith and the Beats. She worked to establish herself as a poet, when being young and broke in New York City would eventually become a scene for several artists. But when Myles came out, she wasn’t only a woman poet, she was a gay woman poet, and that forced her into a small category of women she didn’t quite fit in with.

It’s Myles’ nature to rebel against these categories, which has given way to her prolific career as both a poet and a novelist, and one reason she has grown to be an icon for queer women growing up in the 90s and today. Michelle Tea often cites Myles’ Chelsea Girls as one of her biggest inspirations as a writer, and she’s cited in the Le Tigre song "Hot Topic" as a person — a woman — of great influence.

Myles’ Inferno: A Poet’s Novel is her twelfth book. And while it’s called a "novel," it follows her own life very closely, with some names changed to protect the not-so-innocent. (It is a Myles’ novel, after all.)

 

Inferno opens with the description of a sexy teacher, one that had Eileen very interested in her studies. She was asked by her professor to read Dante’s famous poem, "Inferno," and she obliged. This sets the tone for novel.

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