Customer Reviews: The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art (Semiotext(e) / Active Agents)
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on August 24, 2009
This book is a triumph. Don't let the seemingly scattered table of contents fool you. All of the subject matter relates in that it is alive, in the world, available to be considered, argued, enjoyed.

The Importance Of Being Iceland is a treatise, a line in the sand, a breaking-open, a heartbreak and a glittering heart. The essays build a matrix of critique and personal anecdote, creating a portrait of the artist yet also functioning as art, itself. The writing is full of profound observation that cuts through rote academic critique to truly examine and investigate art, artists, and nature of life itself (god that sounds so corny but its true!). I have owned this book only two weeks and I've read it cover to cover twice. It is a work that I will quote, share, re-read, and question for some time. Bravo, Eileen!
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on December 21, 2014
The Importance of Being Iceland got me thinking about the differences between the ways in which we string words together to make “art”, whatever that is. In some sense, this book seems to be doing (and I’m being careful to paraphrase what this book is “doing” with many many grains of salt) a thing that challenges me to consider what it is about combinations of words into “text” that makes it artful. For me, this was (as usual in the case of my auditory brain) rooted in the way this book makes sound in comparison to the way in which it makes some kind of conceivable meaning. I think one of the aspects of more conventional, non-prose poems (if you can call these “art essays” “prose poems”) is that the use of line and some kind of formal structure (or lack thereof) creates a sort of abstraction in comparison with a sentence. However, I don’t think that prevents groups of legitimate sentences from being classified as poems. However, back to sound, there is a deep linguistic connection in the post-infancy brain that makes us able to convert sounds to understandable ideas, and with prose, those sound-ideas are, perhaps, often more organized in a manner of linear understanding than non-prose poems. However, what I feel like is sometimes necessarily sacrificed for the sake of linear content comprehension is a sort of abstraction to the art of the phrase making, and I think it’s from that abstraction that I often feel the music of poetry, or the “artiness” of it, or something. I struggled with this book because it was an enjoyable read, even though I was constantly questioning what it was that I was reading. I don’t know why I feel such a compulsion to classify, but there was definitely an element of questioning what makes “essays” like this “art” that interfered with the sheer enjoyment of the quirky and absorbing writing in the book.
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on December 13, 2014
Like Eileen Myles’s says in “The Importance of Being Iceland,” “each book has a different feel.” (289) This particular book was an especially unique read, as it managed to straddle the dimensions between poetry and prose, blurring the lines in a way that made the words read with a rhythmic cadence, while being unconstrained by the structures of poetry. Throughout the book (Novel? Anthology?) I frequently found myself lulled by her words, and then moments later yanked out of that state due to a shift in strange tempo. It often felt as if I was hearing Myles herself speak.
One of the main strengths is Myles’s ability to strike a balance between dealing with universal issues on a cosmic scale, while simultaneously relating these subjects back to the smaller self. For example, in her chapter “The Universe In My Backyard: Russell Crotty,” Myles utilizes the stars, galaxies, and constellations as a macrocosm to represent the importance of time for the human spirit. By describing the precise orbits of planets, and the ability to witness certain phenomena if one understands their movements, Myles highlights the significance and delicate relationship between “movement time and location.” In fact, she describes the theme in her own eloquent words: “location on a massive scale and location on an intimate scale.” This phrase captures one of the fundamental facets of her writing, and the importance of associating items found in nature and the universe, as a way to understand what goes on inside a person.
When reading her prose/poetry, it is helpful to keep this theme in mind. The importance of being Iceland was not only a reference to the country Iceland, but also a metaphor for Myles herself. I feel like Myles’s close examination of Iceland as a nation allowed her to more fully understand some parts of herself, fitting with her idea of “finding yourself in it somewhere.” (291)
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on December 11, 2014
In an odd way, I could see myself in many of the essays in this collection. Like me, Eileen Myles has been exposed to all walks of life and has tried many new, sometimes surprising things. Obviously at my young age my understanding of the world and outlook is much more simple and immature than Eileen's, but her very real description of all her ventures is refreshing to a simple person like myself. If I was ever to become a writer this is the kind of writing I think I would enjoy most. I also enjoyed the variety of essays- from travel pieces to encounters with friends and family and lovers. One of my favorite lines to read was the first line of Everyday Barf- "I don't mind today, but the everyday makes me barf" (Myles 163). In Everyday Barf, Eileen essentially describes various situations in which she has experienced barfing. But the first line is very true- today is just fine and yesterday was fine and tomorrow will probably be fine, but everyday for the rest of my life sounds like a lot of work. To look at things on a large, infinite scale is a lot more sickening that focusing on tasks at hand. Another essay I enjoyed was Sarah's Smoke- I mostly enjoyed the ending. Sarah tells Eileen she never has smoked, but that it looks great. Eileen describes that "she laughs at a vice untried" (Myles 89). I have more of an understanding about addiction and various vices than most would suspect- so I thought this line was endearing in a way. Sarah doesn't smoke, but she knows she would love it if she tried it. The essay that struck me the most as a whole was "Live Through That?!" in which Eileen discusses life through flossing. Eileen flosses her teeth to avoid losing them like her dad did before his early death. After going through a "self destructive" period, Eileen realized that flossing is her being healthy. "One's life is literally that, their duration" (Myles 254). For Myles, as for me, it is much simpler to focus on what is in front of you (brushing, flossing) than to be overwhelmed by the big picture. Eileen's style of very straightforward and detailed writing was pleasant to read.
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on December 11, 2014
This has so far been my favorite book that we have read in this class. Eileen’s many poems on art in real life and the spirit of a woman who sometimes feels as though she could be (or should be) a man, sparked an interest inside of me somewhere next to my inner feminist.

Initially more than a little unsure about what to expect out of the book, I was immediately taken by Myles’ punchy writing, laced with beautifully written insights about the world around her, around us. Her style lends itself, at many moments, to a stream-of-consciousness, conversational feel. One strong example of this is one page 137, at the end of “The Sonnets”, where Myles writes, “Ouch, who wrote that?!” Because of this, I felt a closer connection to her writing that only furthered my interest in the book.

One of my favorite pieces in the book is titled “Sarah’s Smoke” (page 88). In this poem, Myles explores femininity and feminism, being alive and living, and the process of creating art. When she writes about the transition of Sarah’s work from angry and black to a white “[f]emale silence,” I found not only the imagery of this statement to be piercing, but also the meaning itself of such a transition was very poignant to me. It was interesting to imagine a world where we change from all color to absence of color, from screaming to whispering, but still have a profound impact all the same. This piece also talked about a period in Sarah’s life where she was nothing and then how she made a transition into something, as if she was butterfly sexually emerging from the chrysalis, with black wings and angry eyes. Her (lack of) smoke and her period of nothingness made me feel as though her living was dependent on her change. Though she was alive before, her lack of anger, of passion, of vice, led her to be less of a person. Is that what personhood is constituted by, Eileen?

Beyond her skillful commentary on artists and writers throughout the book, Eileen Myles also skillfully comments on what it means to be a woman in the modern world. On page 44, she makes a statement about men compared to women, writing, “I think a man is safe … in the world and a woman never is.” The place of a woman in the world has historically been below that of men, but Eileen uses her writings to explore times when this balance was righted, even tipped in favor of women. At times, Myles also explore the idea of a masculine power being held captive inside women, as on page 63 when describing the art work of Nicole Eisenman. This same power, that, on page 107 Susanna Coffey says women “…have earned...”, finds itself a place in Myles’ own musings and makes them all the more powerful.
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on November 30, 2014
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