The Body Place Is a Thinking Place

Reviewed By

Eileen Myles has published more than twenty books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, and libretti. However, she is probably first and foremost known as a poet. With Snowflake / different streets, she returns to the form for the first time since the 2007 publication of Sorry, Tree. Published as a flipbook, Snowflake / different streets is actually two separate collections, each with its own set of themes and concerns, but each marked with the characteristic short lines and quotidian subjects that readers have come to expect from Myles.

Snowflake opens with a poem titled “Transitions,” and that seems to largely get at what this collection is about—a time of change, uncertainty, unease, and restlessness. The poems find the speaker alone with her thoughts, often traveling from one place to another, whether by car or plane, so even the landscape is in a state of change. Even with the movement, there is a sense of suspension, as she concludes “Transitions”:

I hold the
line I hold
the day
I watch the snowflake

The speaker seems to be stuck between the past and whatever is to come next. In the title poem, the speaker has more agency, moving her ex-lover’s items into storage and changing the locks. However, it’s not just a revenge narrative; the speaker reflects on her loneliness and isolation, finding the inability to relate to anyone: “There’s no female / in my position // There’s no man.” She finds herself to be the only witness to events around her:

there’s a raccoon
on the tail
of the plane
and there’s
no one

seeing that now
but me

and there’s no one close

Myles is much more introverted here than in her previous book of poems. In this collection, she’s not simply lamenting a lost relationship, though that’s certainly part of it. There’s a sense that the author is getting older and has seen how the environment has changed (“you could put your hand in the water / & hit a fish or two // now you gotta / go look”) and how technology has changed, perhaps creating more distance between one another. She laments the phone as no longer being the same string connecting people, but now “we carry / them and / have no homes.” However, Snowflake isn’t all doom and gloom. It also includes funny observations, such as in the poem “Observance,” about traffic in Los Angeles, and it includes a great love poem titled “Girlfriend.” In “To My Class,” Myles writes that she’s trying to sort some things out at this time in her life and that “the body / place is / a thinking / place.” Snowflake offers a glimpse into the thinking.

In different streets, the companion to Snowflake, Myles offers the meta-commentary: “The new poems / are poems of / healing. / But first I’ll / be funny.” And overall they are lighter than the poems in Snowflake, but there remains an attention to aging, though it isn’t portrayed as a bad thing because it brings the wisdom that “[a]nyone / can be beautiful / at 19 or 30.” In “pencil poem #5,” Myles writes, “it’s a strange gig / this body I’m riding / for 59 years,” which gets at the multitudes of experience–both good and bad–that one has, and also hints that no matter what age someone is, things will continue to surprise him or her.

The isolation that existed in the other collection is gone here. In “Mitten,” Myles writes:

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

The poet/speaker is reconnected to the world around her and takes pleasure in the simple facts of the day, much like the speakers in Sorry, Tree. In “idiot ho,” she asks sans question mark whether it is mad “to say I / like May / so so so / much / at this exact moment // stupid, wet.” The reader senses that even if it is madness causing the behavior, it wouldn’t make any difference to the delight the speaker feels.

The speaker finds herself “stinking of love,” moving through the collection with energy and a willingness to face the day with full force. However, much as Snowflake wasn’t all dark, different streets isn’t all highs. In “smile,” the speaker says, “I would go out into the world with this / enormous hurt. And I have carried mine / for so long I now know it’s nothing special.” In other poems, she describes herself as a monster who will cry until the end of her life. However, the voice doesn’t come across as self-pitying; rather, it’s wise, the voice of someone who contains multitudes.

Several poems stand out in different streets, including “the nervous entertainment,” “the weather,” “mitten,” and “the perfect faceless fish,” but every poem has something to offer. Myles can pack a lot into few words, such as in “2008: for emma,” a seven line poem that concludes: “The bed not so much / made / as simply / closed.” Another poem, “became” describes Myles’s desire to stuff a day full of details:

is so subtle
I can jam tiny details
in its jaw
& it holds them
it’s a strong day
that can withstand change

From these two new books, the reader can gather that it isn’t just the day that is strong and can withstand change, but the same words can be applied to the speakers of these poems and to Myles herself.


Read “15 Minutes,” a new poem from Eileen Myles and our Day 13 entry of The Rumpus’s 2012 National Poetry Month Project.

Gina Myers is the author of two full-length poetry collections, A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013), as well as numerous chapbooks. Originally from Saginaw, Michigan, she now lives in Philadelphia where she works in higher ed communications. More from this author →