Eileen Myles is in love. She is so in love again. And, like that one friend, she can't help but tell everyone. As she writes in one poem from her newest collection, "I knew a man who laughed / at himself / for being this way / stinking of love ... a stinking factory of his love"; while she bursts out in another, "I love you," before stupidly, wildly, uncontrollably declaring "Trumpets!" to end it. Yep, trumpets. Exclamation mark.
It's that overwhelming sense, gushy and throbbing and buoyant, that I am left with at the end of the renowned poet's new double collection of poems, Snowflake / different streets.
A maniacal mixture of agility and grace, Snowflake / different streets is trademark Myles. Known by most as the coolest and most realistically loveable poet on the planet (many refer to her as "the people's poet"), Myles came of age in the New York art world of the '80s, initially as an avant-garde punk-poet who hung around the likes of Patti Smith and other art-world badasses. Since then, she's published over 20 books (including fiction, non-fiction, plays and even a libretto, in addition to poetry), ran for president in 1992 as the first openly female and lesbian write-in candidate and shared the stage with Sonic Youth. She currently appears on the newest Japanther record, "Rock'n'Roll Ice Cream," reading from Snowflake / different streets.
In the spring of 2011, Myles came to Missoula as the university's visiting Hugo writer and professor, and, if you'll take my word for it, completely electrified the university and greater Missoula art scene. Her work is sharp, cool and contemporary, with the offhand polemic and tangential space-out. Yet I've never seen her (I mean heard her, read her?) so in love before, so celebratory before. And there's something about that love, "the galvanizing ... animating / kind" as Myles puts it in the poem "about mary," that makes Snowflake / different streets all the sharper, all the cooler, all the more contemporary.
The lines are skinny and ardent, the pathos is perambulatory and the ethos is simultaneously political and quotidian, not to mention hilarious. As always, Myles is indeed more than willing to make a fool of herself, to put herself on the spot to prove a point ("I subscribe / to the grandpa / bunny bunny school / of theory / I mean genesis"), which makes the poetry feel open, generous, shedding and attentive:
Just became night
in response to the enormous
the fish with the human
is so subtle
I can jam tiny details
in its jaw
& it holds them
it's a strong day
A good deal of the poems in Snowflake / different streets are celebratory and planetary in this aimlessly strolling, perpetually talking, suddenly revelatory sort of way. The images come fast and flagrant, striking and off-kilter like warped photosaperture wide, shutter speed quickand are jammed up against onomatopoeic verbs, snaps of overheard conversation and bits of inner monologue. They are breathing poems: notational, abbreviated and pithy. They feel like veritable scores to a pulsing life. They also make me think of Myles as a walking-man's poetor walking-woman's poet, as she would have itbecause it seems she's always on the move. Motion can be the center of her poems, or it can be centering, as in "perfect night," a love poem Myles ostensibly wrote during her semester-long guest professorship at UM:
We won't leave
here or anywhere
road is long
Her sort of winsomely experiential aesthetic does lead to a few moments in the book of blasé and seemingly inconsequential poetrythe rare overdose of blah-blah-nessbut it's a conceptual risk Myles is willing to take for the tonal intimacy and the conversational repartee with experience that she is looking and listening for, and it pays off. Because in the end, these poems do breathe. More than anything, they feel perpetual and necessary. (Also, if you've never heard her read, her thin, streetwise Boston accent is the stuff of contemporary poetic lorego to her website, eileenmyles.com, to take a listen.)
Perhaps the best explanation for my initial sense that Snowflake / different streets ends on such a high, fluted note is that it's actually two books in one. The format is what's called a tte-bche, which in French means "head-to-toe," with the two collections meeting in the middle upside-down from one another. It's very cool, like something you would find in a Renaissance thrift store, and of course Myles, along with her equally hip publisher Wave Books, were the ones to put it to splendid, thrifty use.
The first collection, Snowflake: new poems, is the less celebratory of the two and seems troubled in a way that different streets: newer poems definitely isn't. The chief tension here lies in a speaker eddying between personal turbulence in the midst of a break-up and overwhelming technological presence in the vast vectors of Southern California, a spot that feels uncannily familiar.
The second collection, different streets, the "newer poems," is definitively the more (I hesitate to say positive, but, well,) positive of the two. It feels like a homecoming for Myles, a return (after all, the poet did return to New York, as well as station herself in ever-optimistic Missoula) and a reawakening to the possibilities of love, the body as "a thinking / place" and interpersonal connection:
night in "Different
Streets" which I didn't
bother to write I made
the point that the two places
are connected and it's great
where you are too
and boom boom rumble
all the places are connected
thus the endless
Swooning and swaying, Eileen Myles's Snowflake / different streets sets out to connect all the capricious contemporary peoples and places it encounters, and, boom boom rumble, it succeeds.
Love is its catalyst and love is its glue, connecting everyone within it and everyone without. Thus the endless beauty. Thus an endlessly beautiful book.