Creative Engagement with Eileen Myles’ Snowflake
by j/j hastain
by j/j hastain
Review of Snowflake / Different Streets
Wave Books, 2012
I do not sense much difference (in tone of language or in language itself) between Myles’ poems and her prose writing. Regardless of genre there is always this feeling of being in a fucked up richness–a richness that is dense and also rooted–rooted in manifestations of magnificence (“an edible saint” / “I imagine you flying/ around/ like ancient art” / “leaning into the peach of/ it”), melancholy (“I don’t know myself/ and that’s a sin” / “I am a bad/ place” / “I hoped/ the darkness/ meant/ something”) and madness (“I’m not even a boat/ I’m where a boat/ crashed” / “when she put/ in the key/ and it wouldn’t/ turn” / “the/ snow is hot”) within quotidian life. True to that feeling of fucked up richness as well as being beautifully confessional, Myles’ new book Snowflake situates us in the tendencies of story (maybe even situates us toward a particular telling or a particular quality of telling: “I mark time”), without really telling us one story.
In Myles’ Snowflake we feel—we feel the melting of the snowflake. The bits of moisture that gather (above to make a whole shape) do dissolve with the passing of time or the changing of circumstance (a slight temperature increase). We feel these passages and shifting qualities in the text of this book. We also feel ourselves being subsumed in it (think of what happens when an untouched snowflake falls through a span and touches the ground (that snowflake is immediately swallowed up in the snow below it)). In this content-pliant (but not formally-plaint) book, history, daily synthesis and death are axial origins–are the geometric perch.
There seems to me to be an extreme sarcasm in something so beautiful and seemingly pure as a snowflake being termed as the cradle or the impetus for the book’s exposures and innards. There are so many lovely parallels that that title brings into view—from the awareness of seemingly whole shapes ending (“I don’t mean to romanticize/ this thing that’s destroying”) to the differentiated an divergent lives of beautiful things (“something/ more/ marvelous/ than a category”). Based on the content and the movements in the text, I think this title is a humorous and wise choice.
The line breaks throughout the book (while they do perform the writing as “poems”) feel like swells within a mania to me. They obsessively refuse length which makes the read of the book less like interacting with curvature and more like climbing a very skinny ladder that is always tipping and flexing. There is discomfort in this. Useful discomfort. For this reason in the second part of the book (different streets) when a few of the poems’ lines do get longer, I can feel the “healing” (which Myles refers to as what the new poems are for and doing (“the new poems/ are poems of/ healing”)).
In Snowflake Myles includes both personal names and public names which as a gesture, simultaneously allows us to feel the text as an intimate space (between Myles and other beings in Myles’ life) as well as it feeling like an intimacy that is distant from us. We say: ‘If I do not know these people in the book, they must be personal to Myles and so, are not personal to me.’ I think that this is one of the ways that the book performs yet another non-ease. We are on the tilting, skinny ladder and there are these flashes of figures that are coming toward us, but they do not really (expect in the case of some of Myles’ descriptions of her lovers: “there was a woman I claimed I would be dead/ with if I couldn’t/ have her alive” / “you,/ my home”) reach out and touch us. We are aware that these figures are passing us–are inherent here–are part of a flowing path that is valid, but is not our flow. I am saying that as we pass through this book, even we begin to dissipate (like a snowflake does) in its momentums—in the ways its figures (even the dog!) splash past us.
Of course we must discuss gender and sex/ sexuality here. Some of my favorite lines in this book exhibit engagement with gender and sex/ sexuality as ways to reveal that rootedness in the fucked up richness certainly can emit radical seeds radially. As a queer person it is always relieving to me to be in Myles’ books for this reason: Snowflake knows about systemic oppressions and knows about personal revolutions that bring refusals to comply with those oppressions, to the level of the body (“I’m not into gender/ OK says the barber/ so don’t think of me/ as a bitch” / “there’s no female/ in my position/ there’s no man” / “I g[o]t erect […] to prove/ I am a man […] I bought a bigger/ pinker dick/ for you”). It is true that I always want to refrain from using a pronoun regarding Myles—but she has self-named here, and self-naming is always germane, so I am going to use her pronoun uses as a way to honor her and her texts. I appreciate how in Snowflake we get to move with Myles through the complexities of her gender, sex and sexuality and as we do we revel with her when she tells us “I’ve become/ not a woman or a man” but “the fish with the human/ teeth.” We know she is striving and succeeding at “past[ing her] hybridity/ onto” us. She tells us—she tells us of the pertinences on a melting verge as we are all peering together into an ever more wilding state and space.
Snowflake is a non-dogma—is a plentiful hurt-hut learning to hail itself. Or perhaps is
a not so precious path into and through
a version of the hallowed mundane.
j/j hastain lives in Colorado, USA with xir beloved. j/j is the author of numerous cross-genre works previously published and forthcoming (a few of which are): prurient anarchic omnibus (Spuyten Duyvil), long past the presence of common (Say it with Stones), a womb-shaped wormhole (BlazeVox). j/j’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Trickhouse, Vlak, Big Bridge, The Offending Adam, Dear Sir, Eccolinguistics, Housfire, EOAGH, Aufgabe, Queerocracy Art, Masculine Femininities, Caketrain, Plath Profiles, Bombay Gin. j/j is currently in the process of curating an Anthology of Queer Nudes (Knives Spoons and Forks Press, 2014) and has helped curate (and participated in) two major Trans anthologies.