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Poet Profile: Eileen Myles

Poet Eileen Myles brings moments out of time and shows the reader, through the particular lens of her perspective, the significance of that moment, or sometimes a shared universal experience in matters like love, war and death.
Many of these moments can be found in her volume of poetry, School of Fish. In this volume of poetry, she brings to the reader personal moments of experience.

The moments Myles presents in her poems range from the dark explorations of the possible reasons behind her father’s suicide, to the more mundane: sitting on a park bench watching her dog chase geese in a park.

She writes of stripes of light, of her dog Rosie and city animals; she writes of water and homeless men; she writes of her father and food; she writes of being a lesbian and what it might be like if she were a man.
In this collection, Myles states her poetic manifesto in The Lesbian Poet. She writes about her identity as a lesbian poet, and the responsibilities she has to both men and women.
In many of her poems she writes about being a man, or feeling like a man, and she also writes about being female. She writes to an audience of both men and women and wants both to be included as an audience.
Although she had been celebrated as a feminist poet, and indeed identifies herself as a lesbian, Myles clearly states in her poetic manifesto that her poems are for everyone. She is not an isolationist.


Her most famous poem in this collection is Merk, a poem she has since been defined by in poetic circles. Almost anyone can relate to the feeling of being “eaten” in society, trying to survive on one’s own, or trying to speak to a lover and gain their understanding, which is what Merk is about. This poem encompasses many of her main themes in her work: being a lesbian, food, loving and death.
The poem speaks of being safe in a lover’s mouth as a piece of food, living forever as a part of that person. This can be seen in one of the lines of the poem: “We must offer ourselves/up as food or eat/someone.”

New American Poetry

Her poetry most closely resembles “New American” poetry, as stylized by Beat Poets Gary Snyder and Robert Creely, because she shares some traits with them: especially the idea that America has so much potential, and that poems should make us think about America and its complicated history.
Like Creely and Snyder, Myles mixes metaphor and reality, which is at times specific and at times general.
Myles chooses to write in a free form style, and rarely, if ever, does her poetry rhyme. The lines are usually very short, sometimes only consisting of one word, usually not longer than five or so together. The stanzas are equally short, consisting mostly of three to four short lines.
There is a tremendous amount of white space on the page, which gives the reader a real sense of reading poetry as opposed to a work that is more narrative.
Myles has described words as magical and transporting, the whole reason many people read poetry and other kinds of literature, to feel something extraordinary, to escape, to be inspired, to look through someone else’s eyes for moment, to forget, to remember, to gain perspective.
Myles expresses a desire to continue to be a lens of perspective with which to view the devouring city and society for anyone who wishes to survive.

Myles, Eileen. School of Fish, 1997, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara, CA, 193 pages
(IBSN: 1-57423-032-8)

This is a reposting of an article I wrote a while ago for, regarding her poetry collection, School of Fish. Learn more about Eileen Myles and all her awesome poetry @ her


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