I Must Be Living Twice

by Stephen Burt

Myles came up with her rough-hewn, irrepressible, short-lined style in the late 1970s, and she has mostly stuck to it ever since, acquiring plenty of punk rock-ish fans in the process. A proud and tough lesbian role model for decades, and a defender of ungentrified, Bohemian downtown New York City, Myles can seem to update the improvisational composition techniques of the Beats, at once offhand and in your face. “Peanut Butter” begins “I am always hungry / & wanting to have / sex. That is a fact. / If you get right / down to it the new / unprocessed peanut / butter is no damn / good.” Myles insists that “writing / is desire / not a form / of it,” and even some readers attuned to her downtown peers may find parts of this big book nearly formless. Others may feel that her poems have the shape of life. She can be funny, too: “I am such / a handsome poet I have to / become an advocate of / verse and stop lying / and get rich.” Yet her core topics are serious, some of them newsworthy (the HIV crisis in the late ’80s and ’90s; 9/11) and some of them more diffuse: social exclusion, the uses of toughness, the limits of cool. “The / media ruins / our lives so we / build tunnels / in our poems / to help the / darkness in.”

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2015.