Review: The Importance of Being Iceland by Eileen Myles


Eileen Myles exists somewhere outside of neat binaries. We know her as a legendary queer poet and novelist, a respected professor, and a one-time presidential candidate. In this book, she shows us yet another side of herself — that of art critic and travel journalist. Myles’ latest work combines broad, universal experiences with a pinpointed mapping of gay and lesbian art-intelligentsia; a large portion of these essays offers up personal and continually relevant analysis of her friends, including Allen Ginsberg, Sadie Benning, James Schuyler, and Jill Johnston. Myles also witnesses the brilliant art spectacle of Björk in concert and interviews Daniel Day Lewis.

Alongside these pieces on impressive cultural instigators, this mixed-genre anthology includes travel essays, of the kind only she could write. Myles ventures to a gay St. Petersburg found deep underground, visits the Iceland of dramatic Sagas and economic cycles, and writes about her sister’s lesbian wedding in Massachusetts.

Like Myles’ fiction, these “travel essays in art” feature rambling yet astounding excursions into evocative everyday experiences. Profound moments nestle sweetly within mundane victories. Some of her most striking insights are gleaned during simple daily activities like flossing, visiting a cheap, yet redeeming therapist, or caring for the 16-year old dog to whom the book is dedicated; these are the times when Myles Boston-bred working-class humanity will charm even the most conservative reader.