Eileen Myles is one of America’s most renowned writers, known for her inimitable approach to verse and poignant stanzas that strike the hearts of many who read her work. With over twenty published works to her name (including poetry, libretti, plays and fiction), she is highly critically acclaimed, having secured (among other notable awards) the 2010 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and The Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing in 2015.
When I picked up I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975 – 2014, however, I wasn’t aware of the illustrious reputation that proceeded Myles and her work, so approached the book blind, with no expectations other than the hope that I would find another poet to add to my ever-growing collection of favourites. What I got was an approach to poetry that I had never come across before.
Myles’ style is bold and unique, frenzied and unyielding as she seemingly refuses to follow the poetic rules of those set out by her predecessors. From newer poems such as What Tree Am I Waiting, LONDON EXCHANGE and memory, she moves onto the work for through which she has made a name for herself, starting chronologically with excerpts of 1978’s The Irony of The Leash all the way through to 2012’s Snowflake/Different Trees, and it is here that I find the poems to which I am most drawn.
For me, what makes Myles work stand out is the surprise within her prose. One poem can last up to two or three pages, almost essay-like in format (such as School of Fish) before displaying her talent for minimalistic brevity like that found in Road Warrior – which was one of my personal favourites.
While some poems may take a while to grasp the true meaning of what Myles is trying to say – I often found myself reading lines over again before I could make sense of what I was reading – it’s further proof that this is an artist who is unafraid to push the boundaries, to step outside the comfort zone of what a reader expects by making them question what they thought the world, and poetry in particular, was.
Admittedly, I didn’t like all that I read, but there were quite a few shining lights that made me keep coming back for more, wondering what Myles would do next, what topic she would cover and how she would do so. Poetry, at its very best is subjective and as such, hard to critique, but Myles has a unique way with words. It’s a confidence not often seen in even the most accomplished of poets that makes it compelling, if nothing else.
Myles may not be the most conventional of writers; her work has a restless quality that can make the reader feel a little uncertain at times. But if you’re looking for something outside the box, that makes you sit up and listen, you just may find something of worth in I Must Be Living Twice.