An interview with Eileen Myles


So in 1977, already having started writing and performing her poetry around New York City, Myles began to be more suggestive in her poetry.

"It was the combination of amphetamines and the woman," Myles said. "I was young, I wanted to make a connection into the poetry world and my sense was this is so male-driven, so heterosexual. It’s not really true, but my thinking was that I wanted to get my reputation down as a poet first before I was a lesbian. I thought that was going to ruin everything. But it was a combination of speed and Rose."

Rose lives in Florida now, but her name isn’t really Rose. Myles said she’s read the book. "I’m sure she remembers things entirely differently, but was definitely the tormented coming out experience that most of us have had."

After coming out, Myles began to meet more out women in poetry and literary presses. She began to have more sex, and began to write about more sex.

"I mean for it to be a handbook; I mean for it to be an adventure story; I mean for it to be inspirational — all those things," Myles said of the book. "I’ll go on and keep writing books but there was just a moment I thought — each time, I try to sell a book, it’s a challenge. Like ‘who the f–k are you? Why should we buy this book and publish it?’ I kind of wanted to say ‘Well here’s who I am.’ I literally want to say ‘This is the poet Eileen Myles.’ Not that I’m such a grand, but to say f–k you, in a way. This is what a poet’s life looks like, this is what a female’s life looks like. I just wanted to show the world I was moving through, that there were lots of people like me."

Some of the more well-known people like Myles were Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith, both of whom are mentioned in Inferno. But the difference between Myles and Smith, for instance, is that Patti’s own memoir moved from her being a poet in the small New York writer’s circle to becoming a rock star.

"I’ve talked with a lot of female writer friends. A lot of started off alone with romantic ideas and a little manual typewriter, my generation, no community, isolated," Myles said. "Patti went from there to rockstardom, so there’s a gap — there’s no meeting the other poets, it’s a really weird story."

During the late 70s and 80s, Myles felt more of a kinship to male poets than she did to her lesbian contemporaries. But as the director of the Poetry Project at St. Marks Church, she felt resistance when it came to be included outside of the "lesbian poet" community.

"I was the first lesbian — the first queer — that ever ran it and I got a lot of s–t, because I kept having too many women read, too many lesbians, too many people of color. I was really pushing those boundaries. There’s still this way men hold a lot of power."

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