Snowflake / different streets
by Eileen Myles
Wave Books, Forthcoming April 2012
232 pages / $20 Pre-order from Wave Books
Eileen Myles’ poetry actively, consciously pursues the tangential thought. In her new dual collection of poems, Snowflake and Different Streets, the text glides into the tangent like she has no sense of return, like she’s just floating.
There is confidence behind the lack of linearity and I follow it happily because the text seems to already know that the tangential thought might just be the more exciting thought or as Eileen Myles might say, “the peach of it.”
The “the L.A./Driving poems” have the eagerness of speech and it doesn’t come as a surprise that these poems are transcriptions–road poems during long twilight commutes between Los Angeles and San Diego. The series weaves and the landscape changes with an almost brilliant speed and the work reacts by slowing down, by being moved but not moving. It’s unusual to read her resisting this sort of speed, wanting to linger a little longer. In #8 Car Camera, she writes:
I want to be as open as I am
what’s moving be the thing
that holds it all
I think that dot is me
Reading “the L.A./Driving poems” is not unlike the experience of seeing her perform—her eyes incredibly committed to the page and her free hand up in the air, making quick wrist turns along with line breaks. She isn’t speaking to anyone in particular but it is a conversation to be sure. It is her incredibly precise voice that activates her work. She doesn’t invest in language as representation, she isn’t trying to convey meaning so much as she just wants to cut straight to the stuff of being. At times, her poetry is so slim I lose my breath a little.
Snowflake and Different Streets is designed so that one side of the book presents one collection and then flipping the book, the reader is presented with a second collection. The form invites contrast, or at least comparison, but the degrees of difference feel slight—more like a sway rather than a change of course. Different Streets is noted as newer poems on the title page but even this is later amended in the notes as not completely true. There’s a lot of pleasure to be found in giving up on the burden of form or reading into the separation of the two collections–the feeling of flipping the book backwards and forwards, opening up a page to find the text running backwards. If there is a notable contrast to be found, it might be in the two identically titled Snowflake poems in each collection. There’s a kind of exuberance in the first Snowflake, a thrilling realization that every moment is remarkably individual because experience is remarkably specific to any/every individual:
in my position
There’s no man
there’s a raccoon
on the tail
of the plane
no oneseeing that now
The second Snowflake poem reads much more like photograph, arresting and lacking a desire for explanation. It’s a moment, it’s a slice and there is pleasure in that too.
I don’t have much hesitation about this being my favorite collection of Eileen Myles’ work. There’s a low mumble of sweetness threading the collection—an eagerness to see the secret radiance in everyday things. It feels youthful and tenuous and it makes me a little nervous. The work is in constant negotiation between Myles’ spontaneous delight and the threat of that delight burning off. It is that fragile optimism that makes her work so heartbreaking at times. There is so much space for the general state of awe to break, for the tangent to lead into a blank space but even when the work dips quite low it seems more like she is drawing a curtain rather than making some irrevocable descent. As for cynicism, which is so beautifully absent from this collection–I imagine Myles holding out a hand, pushing it off the page.
Saehee Cho holds an MFA in Writing from The California Institute of The Arts. Her work has been featured in Sidebrow, decomP, BAP, PANK and Ex Nihilo. She lives in Los Angeles.