Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Eileen Myles' "Snowflake/different streets"







You can't help but be somewhat rattled by poet Eileen Myles' audacity to write such short lines --often consisting of just two or three words-- in a column that scrolls down page after page, and sometimes, even another page after that.  Why not combine a few more words on the same line and make the poem a bit shorter?  It'll save space and trees.  Her refusal to be economical is obnoxious.  And in a gendered sense, almost completely necessary.  She's so admirably greedy when it comes to taking up space.  The length of her poems show that to us; they push against the daintiness of the singular lines.  It's unforgivable excess, indispensable lesbian melodrama.  Thank you, Eileen.

I'm always exasperated when I read a new book by Myles, one of the three greatest living poets.   Her new dual volume Snowflake/different streets reminds me that great art should make you feel suspicious; like you feel they're getting one past you.  It's not just the fact that Myles can seem like she's cheating with her palpable absence of words.  (What's her advice to her students?  If you write three words a day, you'll have a full-length book in two months.)  What's equally bothersome is the words themselves: they're a lot of the time monosyllabic.

Perhaps we should see Myles' ars poeticas as confessions. Here's a wonderfully rude poem called "#11 The Lines" in its entirety:

We're both here
in the dark and I can't
feel you

I don't know what
you're saying

just stay in your
lines

I'm surprised that Myles didn't divy up the final line into two: "li-" followed by "nes."  Or maybe I'm not surprised.  She's not that nice.  She's not aiming for gravitas.  She's not simply being cranky.  She's not above getting bored with us.  Myles and her readers might both be "here," "in" the poem, but by the end, she's nothing more than a nasty imperative, and we're left holding her words, those burdensome lines.  She's aware of how much they weigh.  She can't/won't carry them any further; that's why she drops them; the lines lie there, flat and attenuated; that's why she seems to takes off and doesn't look back.

The narrowness of her work in these two volumes is something that challenges the conventions of autobiographical poetry.  She doesn't make the mundane beautiful; she makes the mundane even more mundane--that's where so much of the excitement lies.  She's going to share no matter what, even if it's her boredom with herself.  In the poem, "My Monster" she begins with a fun observation that feels simply made to push her toward writing:

dry cleaners
never
have to
worry
about their
sign

the worse
it gets
the cleaner
people think
their
clothes
will be

Myles is too amazing of a poet to even attempt to ride on her own wittiness--she knows that  when you say something so cool, there's no other thing to really do except be tired.  Why continue trying to outdo yourself?  How many smart things can someone say in a day?  Or a month?  Or even a whole goddamned year?  Who can keep things going, and who wants to?   Myles makes the inevitability of intellectual fatigue cool.

The poem happily descends into this sort of peculiarity:

just when
I had
nothing
to say
I heard
his blah blah
blah
and I thought
well I'll
say something
else

I want
to be
in it

you might

think
I'm ignoring
you but
that's what's happening

And look at this great opening from the poem  "Transportation':

I bought a bigger
pinker dick
for you
but then I
didn't
call.  It seemed necessary
you're tall
& I miss you all
the time.

As if the sight gag of the "bigger" --Myles is the queen of the mock qualifiers-- isn't enough, the line breaks amp up the comedy even more.  Within thirteen words, six and almost one half lines, she gives a gift to her beloved, takes it back, and ditches her completely.  That isn't even the best part of it.

Here's the rub: the placement of "you're tall" in a line all by itself.  It's something that is implicit in the preceding lines---another useless qualification, but the sudden need to state feels dumb and by extension loving.  Myles might disappear from the relationship, but she still sees her.  Myles can't help herself: the jarring line breaks express a double take of sorts, and isn't that what we all want from our lovers?  As well as our poems?  To make us belief that something of our essence, no matter how insignificant, can still catch someone off guard, even when the whole stupid thing is over?

If you look at this amazing dual collection as more or less a series of ars poeticas strung together with funny anecdotes about girlfriends, and places, and miscellaneous wit,  it all begins to make even more sense.  As she says in the poem "your name," "Aren't/we lucky to have/captured each/other in this/hideous neon light."  It should be obvious that she doesn't phrase it as a question.  She doesn't even need to hear our yes.

You can receive information about  Eileen Myles' Snowflake/different streets at Wave Books.


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