Tuesday, January 17, 2017


I love the title of Pinyon Publishing's newest book of poetry, After the Invocation, the word "invocation" summoning immediate interest in a collection covering locations of author John Miller's life: Hawai'i, central Ohio, and a retirement community in Virginia. Although the imminent poet, Dabney Stuart, masterfully reviewed Miller's poetry on the back cover of this new volume, and his review covers the range of Miller's voice, I feel compelled to add a few notes about those poems that invoked a response and invited me to read further.

Among the more nostalgic pieces, I was drawn to "High School Graduation Photos," a wry poem about the posturing of teenagers when it's time to take what we once called "the school picture." Today, of course, teenagers use a more sophisticated camera embedded in their ubiquitous cell phones for "selfies" and aren't as attentive to the staged school photographs, but I can readily relate to Miller's description of that occasion when "white bloused, coated, tied,/dressed for our proofs to choose among, we chose,/not knowing if such preference would last,/what black and white shades best implied/our selfhood, or what features froze us/into our high school pasts." And most of us who have entered old age shudder to think of being frozen into that adolescent stage of our lives with all its angst, self-consciousness and pre-occupation... and, I might add, lack of wisdom.

As a former fishing enthusiast, I appreciated "Elegy For An Ebbing Upland Stream," the active language in this one engendering old memories of "floating the river," fly fishing with my former husband. This poem rivals any writing I've read about fishing, including the meditative pieces in Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton "...A ganglion of branches, with dead grass/dead gray-brown on it, stirs above the last/few inches of that pool, no more a test/of angling in the wilderness...my long baton-switch whipped a lure on course/to land beyond the logjam, where a trout/might slash the surface faster than a thought..." As fishermen say about a fish with sufficient flesh, this poem is "a keeper."

As I recently completed a collection of poetry entitled Sifting Red Dirt that focuses on family portraits and events, including one about my Greenlaw forebears, "Genealogy" especially interested me. Miller's droll voice appears again as he examines the "paper trail to the ancestors/we think we deserve?..." (in my poem about tracing ancestry, I refer to that attitude of deserving as "remember you're a...") Miller concludes this poem that is infused with the "time-honored means of social climbing" with the caveat: "Why try to cultivate a family tree/when we're like Whitman's leaves of grass?" As the reader can discern, Miller's voice borders on acrimonious, but he explains the complexities of life in ironic verse forms that adjure the reader's amusement.

Another poem featuring Mormon visitors who often visited Miller's family,"... [asking] for a few minutes of our time,/that they might save us/for eternity..." again showcases Miller's sense of irony and his skilled use of it in portraying a young boy's exposure to the elders' conversation about sin and punishment, "...those self-chosen Saints, their low voices/trailing off into the darkness/along with my unease/and stolen innocence."

Classical myths, important characters in American history, childhood experiences, and the homeless in our country's cities — Miller offers us a panoply of poetic experiences in a seasoned voice that reflects delightful wit and empathetic nuances of the inner life — humor and elegance are gently entwined.

John Miller grew up in Hawai'i, received graduate degrees at Stanford, and taught at Denison University. His work has appeared in numerous poetry journals and in three books of poetry, In Passing, Second War in Hawai'i, and In and Out of Their Elements, as well as two chapbooks.

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