Monday, May 5, 2014

IN PASSING

During the services at St. Mary's Convent, Sewanee, yesterday, I was happy to hear the priest talk about The Arts as a way to connect with God, expanding that notion to include the art of poetry. I felt like adding to her remarks those made by Urban T. Holmes who said that when Anglicanism is at its best, its liturgy, its poetry, its music and its life can create a world of wonder in which it is very easy to fall in love with God. The presiding priest at St. Mary's also said that reading poetry and listening to music could inspire the same spiritual connection. So, following services, I went home and opened a book of poetry entitled In Passing by John Miller that I had received in the mail when I returned from our visit to Louisiana.

In Passing, Pinyon Publishing's newest publication, covers the lifework of Miller who has published poetry in a variety of journals, two full-length collections and several chapbooks. Many of these publications are compiled in this compelling collection of musings about love, survival, grief, history, and mortality, and Miller expresses his insights in a clear, definitive voice.

Miller's poems are highly accessible, and he's at his best in a section devoted to his father and their relationship entitled "Time and Time Again." I was moved by the intense current of ideas in "Where We'd Caught The Big Ones," as the poet follows his aging father on a fishing trip in Hawai'i "down to jagged lava, the promise/off its jut..." and the poignancy of the lines that expose the old man's vulnerability and the poet's desire to help him: "Balancing our way/over rough stone, uphill, toward the road,/I want to take his hand, offer/to carry all our gear, but do neither,/granting him his own slow pace..." This exact memory of a stark moment in the poet's life conveys the pain of observing mortality and will not fail to move readers with its expression of anguish.

The gem in In Passing is a poem entitled "Emily Dickinson," formerly published in The Southern Review, and a full excerpt of the second section in the poem will titillate devoted readers of the bard of Amherst whose poetry gained immortality in collections published after her death: "A burning bush, a blaze of light:/if such intensities thus spoke His will, /what was her worship as she waited/rapt by the stealthy glow aslant those hills/of frozen Amherst? When light faded, /when trance deepened to shadow in its dumb/unciphered pause, it was she who paid/absence its due and saw its kingdom come..." The emotional poise and power in this poem expresses a truth told in unmistakable clarity and is infused with deep personal radiance. I call it one of those "great poems."

A poem entitled "At Eventide" reminds me of Julian of Norwich's observation that we experience spiritual moments in our lifetime through both consolation and desolation. Miller creates an arresting picture of a woman in a Tampa Bay retirement home watching every evening from a fifth floor window for a man on the beach "...hunting shells or meditating/or both, she can never tell..." The appearance of the man and the moments of his activity in her inactive life seem to comfort her, and when he disappears into the darkness, she reflects: "...She sees beyond, a pyramid of lights/mirrored in the offshore calm. /A cruise ship anchored. There must be/voices, laughter, dance music, karaoke/on board, drowned for her by distance/and the ceaseless swell, /the curl and crash of waves into the night." This poem also reminds me of W.H. Auden's "Musee de Beaux Arts," his poem about suffering in which he writes: "...The expensive delicate ship that must have seen/Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, / Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on..."

Publisher Gary Entminger touts that Miller's poems are easy to read quickly but they contain the depth to encourage readers to return for second readings. His remarks are on the mark—I read the volume in one sitting; however, this morning while listening to Perahia play and direct Mozart's piano concertos, I returned to them again and discovered deeper meaning and resilience in Miller's writings. Here is an original poet whose wisdom is strongly apparent throughout In Passing, but readers won't just read this collection "in passing!"

John Miller grew up in Hawai'i and earned his graduate degrees from Stanford University. He retired from Denison University and lives with his wife Ilse in a retirement community in Lexington, Virginia.


Order In Passing from Pinyon-Publishing, 23847 V 66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403
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