Eileen Myles’s 2016 collection of new and selected poems, I Must Be Living Twice is an absolute must-read—and no, it’s not just for fans of her work, but for poetry lovers everywhere. The collection is a big, thick volume of poetry that you can dive into and get lost within. From The Irony of the Leash published in 1978 to Snowflake/Different Streets in 2012, the selected older poems chronicle an artist’s life and ideas and demonstrate growth throughout the years as well as the trademarks that make Myles a monumental poet. From the very beginning, An Attitude About Poetry gives the reader an idea of what’s to come. Here she writes of “the poetry of money” and, personally, this is one of my favorite areas of Myles’s work: when she discusses what it’s like to live in the world as a normal person (except for when you’re a “Kennedy”) without material wealth.
For example, she mentions the city in An American Poem (from Not Me: Native Agents) by saying “people with beautiful teeth who are not on the streets” in a way that makes the reader almost feel disdain for those people, those who must be clueless about the grittier side of life. Some of the new poems include What Tree Am I Waiting, Summer, My Devil and memory where she discusses loss and the utmost clarity of living in a painful world with aches and “wakefulness.” Some of my favorite works of Myles’s include her poems that deal heavily with colorful imagery such as Yellow Tulips and New York Tulips. She describes the tulips as “sexual looking in the way flowers always are” and says that they “soften the blows of this and that.” These poems come from the collection, Sappho’s Boat (1982) and are very female-centric.
One of the most important parts of Myles’s work, to me, is how she talks about nature in its tenderness and how it relates to sexuality and femininity. Being a woman, loving women and sex with women are all parts of Myles’s poetry that I love and crave to read. Tears came to my eyes while reading “I always put my pussy…” She talks about putting her womanhood in nature and wearing it like a badge. She places her vagina “between trees” and equates it with a “waterfall” and “a flock of birds.” Her “lover’s pussy” is a “hurricane,” “a river of blood,” “a bible,” and a “battle cry.” To me, the poem is essentially about the protection of lesbian love and a person’s right to love whom they choose without fear of being persecuted. I also particularly like her poem Peanut Butter in which she writes “Nature is out of control you tell me & that’s what’s so good about it.” This is a perfect example of how her work discusses love and nature, sometimes interchangeably.
At the end of the collection, I’m left with a distinct imprint of colors, nature, and love. Some lines that stand out include the ones that juxtapose light with dark, such as in School of Fish when she says “there is nothing but blue & grey” and that “it’s like home, it’s like family.” I’m also left with amazing images of birds, like the dove that “leaped right out of her mouth” in the poem Joan about Joan of Arc. I would say that I Must Be Living Twice is a beautiful collection filled with interesting language that discusses what it means to be a woman, a writer and a lesbian but, most importantly, a human being.