Saturday, May 31, 2014

LIFELINES

I've known for some time that Pinyon Publishing had scheduled the publication of the work of one of my favorite Pinyon poets, Michael Miller. Today, I received a copy of Lifelines, Miller's newest book of poetry, and the book is all that I expected to be—an ardent and profound collection of poems that can be read quickly because there is an immediacy and a strong flow of language in his work. 

The poems probe the serious subject of mortality, love, marriage, and family, touching on the truth with good-humored intensity and expressing wisdom gained from past losses, as well as resilience in the face of fierce fear. I read aloud most of the poetry to a friend, and she agreed that Miller is a major poet who has captured the great themes of poetry with poignance and grace while conveying the suffering and loss inevitable in the human condition.

"Hooks and Eyes" is one of the eminent poems in the section of Lifelines devoted to family relationships. It is a poem about the author's grandmother, a moving and ironic piece that recalls the era when polio threatened the American family: "Do you want to be in an iron lung?"/My grandmother asked,/Ordering me to wash my hands/As that crippling disease/Spread like the war in Europe./Fear became my bullying foe,/Stalking me through summer,/Dragging its steel braces/With black leather straps..." The imagery in the last three lines startles the reader with its awful threat, and I shuddered at the remembrance of one awful summer when the disease struck a friend of the family in hot, swampy Louisiana where diseases often fester during sultry weather. Miller rescues the reader from further awfulness with a cameo of his grandmother in the second part of the poem: "Through the crack in the door/I watched my grandmother adjust/Her pendulous breasts inside the corset./I wanted to pull the long laces/Through the hooks and eyes,/To feel it snug around my body." Those clean, simple lines enfold the reader with the author's deep-felt affection for his grandparent and show his ability to express that affinity without the mawkishness of a less-disciplined poet.

Simplicity and clarity are paramount in Miller's lyrics and are evident in the brief depiction of an obviously "special" newspaper carrier. In "Lighting The Way," Miller writes: "Headlights, twenty yards behind him,/Brighten the tree-lined street/Where he walks briskly at four a.m./Tossing The Berkshire Gazette/Onto the doorways of dark houses/With only his mother lighting the way./On his fortieth birthday he insisted/He would do it alone; his mother let him./From the window I watched/His chunky body in shorts, his flashlight/Lighting the pines, the porches./In his Red Sox's T-shirt/He lumbered forward as if to declare:/I have a life, I have a good life,/I am Alvin Kipple delivering your papers." The tone of the poem and description of the carrier evoke moving images of Forest Gump who captured the sympathies of moviegoers in the film of that name. "Lighting the Way" is the poet's clear-eyed view of a person with limited capabilities who has the determination to work and live a dignified life.

Miller is a master at expressing the ambivalent feelings of married couples, and in the poem "A Lasting Marriage," he again explores uncomfortable aspects of the married state, providing a wise reflection about the depth of long-term commitments: "Now we love deeper, deeper/Than the rage that never crossed/The invisible border into violence./Our lips touch with a softness/Of petals opening into another spring./And although we are old/We join with the half-life/Of an unforgotten passion,/The flow between us/Passing over every stone."

Michael Miller's gifts of observation and psychological acuity have provided readers with unforgettable lyrics about the frustrations of life and the inner changes that take place within humans. He has imbued them with a dignity that creates significant emotional responses in all who search for "lifelines." 

As I said earlier, Lifelines is all that I expected it to be—another triumph from Miller's pen and from the poetry corner of Pinyon Publishing. The beautiful cover art of Lifelines was done by Susan Elliott who designs all of Pinyon's book covers.

Miller's poetry has appeared in The Sewanee Review, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Raritan, Pinyon Review, and The Yale Review. His poem entitled "The Different War" was the 2014 First Prize winner of the W.B. Yeats Society Poetry Award.  He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.  


Lifelines is available from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.
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