Eileen Myles has it all—the moxie for politics (poets have a hard enough time getting off their asses to run for their greengrocer’s board, let alone run for president as Myles did), the lyric zeal that satisfies both the avant-gardists and the downtown populists, and the anarchic post-feminist energy that has inspired legions of baby dykes to vent in front of the mic. In her new collection, Skies, Myles has turned her attention to, well, skies, or more precisely, skies as the boundless condition for our own coreless, shape-shifting personas: “don’t be rehearsing/be doing/it the first/time/suddenly/a blue/cloud/is in/the sky/and then/it’s the/sky.”
As in her previous work, the poems in Skies are plainspoken and personalized. But in this collection, Myles turns down the corrosive energy a notch for a more contemplative pitch: “There’s this gesture where one part of god is pointing/at the other part. The fingers of the sky, a day diving/down a hill in which you feel accepted.” These ruminations are in the New York School vernacular but with verse that is stretched out to a continuous Dickinsonian trickle, a form that seems to mimic her subject’s cumuloft wisps. Her keen observations are from multiple perspectives, from craning her neck up to see the assurance of a blue swatch against the roiling cityscape to a more abstract bird’s-eye view: “you really/don’t/ know/how many/people/have pools/till/you’re/ up in/ the/air.” In an included transcript of a conference about skies, the poet Frances Richard describes the term “diaphany” as a “certain kind of separation or longing that is ambient.” Diaphany could describe Myles’s poems, especially the later love poems.
The sky is a perfect muse for Myles: Its panoramic oscillations are swifter than the speed in which she could jot them down. She freezes the flashes of cloud formations the way she freezes incidental moments of her life. But as much as these poems are visually impressionistic, they are also visionary. The sky is not only a manifestation of our evanescent identities, it is a hovering witness to the city’s turbulence, the melancholic absence of lost love, and its outlaw, borderless condition is Myles’s own utopian space: “there is no dictatorship/of the skies/today’s . . . /snow is not human/I am,/you cannot insult/Me,/I hold this sense of awe.” Meditative, brave, and insouciant, Myles has a limitless thirst for marrying poetry with her social agenda.