Reading during all this has been difficult for me-- I have classes to prep and it's very hard to concentrate. So mainly books that can be easily read in short, interrupted bouts-- and for obvious reasons I suppose I've been drawn to smart, incisive, tough-girl prose. Ellen Willis's Out of the Vinyl Deeps last week. This week it's Eileen Myles' amazing Inferno. Billed as a poet's novel, the book maps onto Dante The first part deals with the "descent" into the fiery pit of poet-dom and the second coincides roughly with the Purgatorio--where the poet pays her dues. It deals with her career. All of which makes it sound like this book is lugubrious as hell, but it's not. Very funny, very witty-- with bursts of gorgeous language (It's no accident that it's blurbed by both John Ashberry and John Waters). Along with poetry, the novel treats coming out as a lesbian and the intimate connection between sexual experience and the self. In an age where adolescent and young adult sexuality is so often seen as a problem-- pathologized or censored-- it's refreshing to read something that hearkens back to something I remember so well. The way we find ourselves through sex-- relationships and romance, too-- but largely through sex, I think. I also love the way she writes about writing-- also something I remember as an aspiring writer: "We who write poetry and think about it all the time-- who walk the streets that other humans walk, past pizza stands and trees, are citizens meanwhile of a secret country with its own currency that gets exchanged anecdotally, even whispered in the loud thrumming silence of the day, in the galleries the Marxist auditoriums jammed bookstores...the stinking bars where poets meet and read in." And later: "the poet's life is just so much crenellated waste, nights and days whipping swiftly or laboriously past the cinematic window" (66). Talking about coffee, drugs, cigarettes, drinks-- the table she works on, her little portable typewriter-- a life many of us (whether we wrote poetry or wanted to or not) will recognize from our undergrad days. "There's no mystery," she writes, "why poetry is so elaborately practiced by the young. The material of poems is energy itself, not even language. Words come later."
Published by OR Books, an alternative print-on-demand press-- (http://www.orbooks.com) specializing in books with a political edge, Inferno is a great read.
Capable of drowning out the inevitable blaring tv set, now ubiquitous in doctor's waiting rooms. And most importantly for my purposes, capable of distracting the worried waiting spouse from her own anxiety for a few precious moments.