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Snowflake/Different Streets

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Eileen Myles
  • Date Published: April 2012
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-933517-58-2
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224pp
  • Price: $20.00
  • Review by: Patrick James Dunagan

Eileen Myles hides the trout. She’s at it again. This new double collection of poems from Wave Books in Seattle has everything readers of Myles adore in her work. All the wit, charm, honesty, sexiness, and surprises are here for another go-round. Yes, Myles has gotten older:

Every woman your
age
cute. Every woman
my age
wounded &
glisten. (“the weather”)

And she’s no longer chasing the fish with the alcoholic drinking ways of her youth, but these days she’s talking much less about that change and her humorous and distinctly crafted lines have never been stronger:

    and if you
don’t watch
me like a
hawk I won’t
be scared
I want to be
loved like
a sunbeam (“my box”)

Myles is forthright in her self-identifications, associating herself with the flood of light as easily as a sweep of water, endlessly elaborating upon how she would be loved alongside how she loves, closing the poem with a clear warning not to be taken for granted:

or the ocean
you know the
way I drive
I want to lift
your fear
like a bonnet
and kiss
your living
face. Here
this is
mine. Don’t
misunderstand
me.

The shifts of perspective Myles hits from one line to the next have always drawn me to her work. One moment she’s in a private soliloquy, the next she’s intimately addressing a lover or friend, and then she’s adopting a public address complete with Whitmanic overtones. Reading her poems remains a zappy ride of highly conscious self-exploration mixed with grotesque day-to-day:

I’ll tell you what
makes me sad
sun on grass
a beautiful
day
farting in my
car
or watching
a palm
tree do
its galloping
sigh (“more oil”)

Myles never comes off as anything but down-to-earth. She’s still thoroughly the Boston working-class kid that discovered poetry then went to New York City, and with a bit of luck and many hours of disciplined (along with many not-so-much) work found herself to be a writer of international renown and popularity. Being a university professor and crisscrossing the country on public reading engagements never seems to faze her; her attitude is self-possessing and uncanny as ever: “a man’s beauty / remains the only thing / you are absolutely / not allowed to / discuss” (“#12 Man’s Beauty”).

Myles just gets things: other people, friends, lovers, animals, cars, trees, the sky; everything has its groove for her, which she digs into, enjoys, and shares. Whatever doesn’t speak to or otherwise attract her she ignores; just moves on with her own agenda, taking things as they come and stating them plainly in her work:

I don’t have
a working voice
I just have
a voice that
comes out the
way it
wants apart
from me. I think
of voices
I admire & try
to use
& you
know how
your friends
shirts are.
Sometimes
it does look
good. These
jeans are
dead. They’re
getting re-
placed. (“the nervous entertainment”)

Myles trusts in her nerve. It knows what works and hasn’t failed her yet. There’s little likelihood it ever will. Take Myles with you on a prowl of city streets, and you’ll be in good hands. Even in the darkest, most dangerous neighborhoods Myles cracks a wry smile, smirks, her eyes lighting up, and a poem unfolds. Roll with her awhile. Wherever she’s headed, she’s got your back and good times are sure to be had, even if things get bleak for a bit now and then. These are poems built out of life. Myles stylizes herself by way of indeterminacy: “I’ve become / not a woman or a man,” refusing to have the poem offer up any limiting of her ability to respond and adapt:

the ripples I’ve become
I’m influence
the way language changes
and rocks heal & burn (“hi”)

Looking forward to new poems by Eileen Myles is one of the true pleasures of my reading life. Her work defines an approach towards understanding and dealing with turbulent times for an entire generation. She remains one living definition of cool.

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Review Posted on June 01, 2012 Last modified on June 01, 2012
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