Sunday, April 21, 2013

INTO THIS WORLD


I went into the Barnes and Noble University Bookstore this morning and came out with a children’s book entitled Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made that I seriously thought about reviewing in this blog. However, readers were saved from my foisting the choice of a notable volume of juvenile wit on them by the arrival of the morning mail. A trip to the post office yielded more serious literature in the form of my favorite genre–a book of poetry, fresh from the press of Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado.
Publisher Gary Entsminger has done it again–published the work of a prize-winning poet of unmistakable talent. Michael Miller’s Into This World rivals the latest blockbuster novel in terms of being a page turner–I read the 73-page volume in one sitting and closed the book with thoughts about Donald Hall’s evaluation of poetry: “Poems are not about anything because they are about everything.” Michael Miller’s work encompasses that everything–love, war, the natural world, death…ladybugs, bumblebees, dogs, polar bears…
Miller’s poems achieve the balance of darkness and light, of the intrepid heart pitted against a broken world, each poem rendered with grace and a sense of the invincible spirit of humans; e. g., “Private Bayless:” “Before the dark shoulders of mountains/setting forth on a night mission/With the wind’s breath/Blowing across his face, pricking him/With invisible needles of sand,/ He smells death in the air./ “The Taliban, the Taliban,” a voice/Gnaws at his mind and he prays/to leave Afghanistan alive, intact./Should a bullet sever his spinal cord, He will make love to his wife/With his eyes, blinking signals/For the acts he cannot perform.”
This is only one of the war poems that indicates the deftness with which Miller handles human woundedness, condensing emotions into short lyrical bursts in poems bearing the names and ranks of soldiers: “Private Wheeler,” “Corporal Bedford,” “Lance Corporal Webster”…and ending this section with the reflection about “Corporal Sayers:” “…He never saw the faces of the men he killed./The war is over,/The dead will not run across a ridgeline,/And he has returned,/Refusing to kill a spider.”
There is no artifice in this poet’s ruminations. A keen observer of human passion, he writes a spare poem about how a man “ignited from within brightens the night…singeing the grass/alarming the milkweed.” In the section entitled “Song of the Body,” Miller’s poetry sings in what I’d call wry rapture --songs containing the lyrics of an enduring married love that challenges the shallowness of post-modern promiscuity. He creates and recreates scenes of marital intimacy: “X. Their blue sheets are the color/Of the irises blooming in their garden,/Bordering the two-foot stone wall;/They planted the irises,/They built the wall,/Their hands know earth, stone,/And now they continue to seek/The undiscovered regions/Of each other’s body, /The new concealed within the old.”
As I’m a writer in my 70’s, I quickly identified with Miller’s commentary on aging in his poignant signature of acceptance entitled “Dusk.” “…Like the long grass of late September/On the meadow where I walk at dusk, /Knowing the darkness will arrive/With a part of me welcoming it.” Again, that quality of wry rapture is caught in another poem about age entitled “No Matter Our Age,” the last nine lines illuminating his acceptance of growing older. “More than your body/I wanted the love/Which flickered in your eyes./So our unwritten history began/Which I value each morning,/Waking to its freshness/No matter our age/Or the architecture/Crumbling around us.”
Approximately 20 years ago, my spiritual director told me I should stop writing “little poems” and begin writing “great poems,” a task which I've attempted for years, and I do know when I read “great poems.” Michael Miller achieves the kind of emotional intensity and integrity that make poems in Into This World “great poems;” in which ordinary themes provoke much serious contemplation.
Cover photograph by Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 “Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403. 
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