The Forgotten Inferno: Tinderbox and the Up Stairs Lounge Fire”

“It was 45 years ago this month that a man bought a can of Ronsonol lighter fluid at a Walgreens on Canal Street, walked to the Up Stairs Lounge, emptied its contents on the stairs and struck a match. Within minutes, the bar was engulfed in flames and choking smoke. Ceiling tiles and fabric melted and stuck like napalm to the skins of the people inside. With the entrance blocked and the windows barred, an emergency exit hidden and a fire escape with no stairs, patrons were trapped.

“Though the blaze was controlled in 17 minutes, firefighters found the room a crematorium with 28 bodies inside — ‘stacked like pancakes,’ in the words of The States-Item the next morning. Four more people died from injuries in the days afterward. (Had bartender Buddy Rasmussen not led 15 to 20 people out the hidden emergency exit, the death toll would have been higher.) The bodies were burned so badly that positive identification was impossible; New Orleans Police Department officers relied on scraps of identification. One of them, Maj. Henry Morris, cautioned, ‘We don’t even know if these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this is a queer bar.’

“‘The fire came quickly and it was snuffed out quickly,’ wrote Lanny Thomas in The States-Item. ‘But the holocaust is one of the worst this city has seen.’ The Times-Picayune’s headline compared the scene to ‘DANTE’S INFERNO, HITLER’S INCINERATORS.'” [. . .]    –Kevin Allman, The Advocate, June 11, 2018.

Inferno: A Poet’s Novel by Eileen Myles (2010)

Eileen-Myles-Reading-Inferno“I was completely stupefied by Inferno in the best of ways. In fact, I think I must feel kind of like Dante felt after seeing the face of God. My descriptive capacity just fails, gives way completely. But I can tell you that Eileen Myles made me understand something I didn’t before. And really, what more can you ask of a novel, or a poet’s novel, or a poem, or a memoir, or whatever the hell this shimmering document is? Just read it.” — Alison Bechdel

“From its beginning — ‘My English professor’s ass was so beautiful.’ — to its end — ‘You can actually learn to have grace. And that’s heaven.’ — poet, essayist and performer Eileen Myles’ chronicle transmits an energy and vividness that will not soon leave its readers. Her story of a young female writer, discovering both her sexuality and her own creative drive in the meditative and raucous environment that was New York City in its punk and indie heyday, is engrossing, poignant, and funny. This is a voice from the underground that redefines the meaning of the word.” — OR Books

Read an excerpt here, or listen to Myles read an excerpt here.