Saturday, March 23, 2019


Amherst, Massachusetts: inspirational ground for Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robert Francis, Richard Wilbur and other notable poets…and now the place that has produced a contemporary poet who belongs in that same pantheon of masterful poets: Michael Miller. Miller’s ninth book of poetry, Waking in the Dark, appeared in my mailbox yesterday and is a collection by a poet who faces time and dying with profound wisdom, who is at his best writing intimate revelations about relationships and beautifully cultivated love.

From the opening poem, “Sleeve,” to the concluding “Mortar,” Miller reveals his extraordinary poetic power in a concise style reminiscent of Ted Kooser and Dickinson herself, but his voice is his own, especially when he approaches the threshold of relationships. In the first section of Waking in the Dark, Miller pays homage to his mother, and “Points of Reference” shows an early sensitivity to women: “On Sunday mornings/I climbed into her warm bed,/Not making a sound./Turning away, Mother left me/Her exposed back,/Allowing me to count/The moles I wanted to touch,/this map of beauty/With points of reference/I would seek in each woman/I began to love.” Miller’s tenderness toward women, infused with humor and melancholy, is interwoven throughout Waking in the Dark.

In “Guides,” Miller faces off death using a fox to capture the startling effect of a possible demise, “an hour or ten years/He hopes to be surprised,/Like the red fox appearing/At the fork in the road,/Its left foreleg raised,/A blaze of indecision.” But he continues his life journey as “an old man with no food/Welcoming the sunlight.” 

Miller’s poems about married love carry the mark of maturity, reminding me of the love poems of Pablo Neruda, yet arriving at a point beyond lust: “It was never/The locking of thighs/On that passionate ride/Where we fit perfectly together./It was always about intimacy,/The understanding embrace,/The tenderness coming out/Of the dark that lifted us/With invisible hands.” That verse alone typifies Miller’s mature voice, and further in “Making Love in Pittsburgh:” “…It was the soul longing for /Tenderness as strong as iron, as bridges.”

Among my favorites in this collection is a brief hymn to light: “6:00 A.M.” I know from receiving a few emails from Miller that he gets up early to catch the light that inspires his poetry. He writes: “He raises a slat of the blind,/Peers through the space;/He has always been drawn/To small spaces:/The cracks in the sidewalk/Where the weeds grow./Now he sees a skunk/Crossing the wet grass,/Its stripe a pathway/Of light dividing the dark./Opening the blind/He enters the day—/Treasures are waiting/To be discovered,/He must keep on looking.” 

The voice of this poet often unveils emotional collisions, but the reader is spared sentimentality and mawkishness, his voice is true and accomplished; his lines resonate with the power of love that becomes authentic art.

Move over Dickinson and Frost, Francis and Wilbur… Amherst should be making a place for a poet’s “language, the mortar that binds." Kudos to Pinyon Publishing and Gary Entsminger for producing another banner book of poetry. The beautiful cover design is the art work of Susan Entsminger, co-editor of Pinyon Publishing.

Michael Miller was born in New York City and now lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. His first book, The Joyful Dark, was the Editor’s Choice winner of the McGovern Prize at Ashland Poetry Press. His poem, “The Different War,” was the 2014 First Prize Winner of the W.B. Yeats Society Poetry Award and was anthologized in Yeats 150 (The Lilliput Press, Dublin).

Order Waking in the Dark from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403 or

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


If readers can obtain a copy of the latest 64 Parishes magazine, published by The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the article featuring Darrell Bourque, 2019 Humanist of the Year, written by Chris Turner-Neal with photographs by Akasha Rabut, is cause for celebration. I first saw the stunning cover of this magazine during our last lunch two weeks ago with Darrell and Karen before we left Louisiana for our second home in Tennessee. We’d just accompanied the Bourques to Christ the King Church for which Karen had created a glass triptych honoring Henriette Delille and were doing our pre-lunch briefing before enjoying barbecue.  Henriette Delille, a religious "humanist," has been presented for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church in honor of her former work with the indigent in New Orleans, and From the Other Side, Henriette Delille, Darrell's book of poetry about her, is presently in press.

I loved the photograph of the leonine face of this poet who has been telling stories about southwest Louisiana in his passionate and profound voice during the forty years I’ve been his friend and enjoyed his mentoring. A former Louisiana Poet Laureate, Darrell also received the 2014 Louisiana Book Festival Writer Award and the ULL Center for Louisiana Studies James Rivers Award, among other recent awards and honors. At a reading in Grand Coteau I asked his wife Karen if there were any awards left that could be bestowed on him and then answered my own question with “The Humanist of the Year Award.” 

Darrell served as the first Friends of the Humanities Honor Professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, once directed the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program there, and was president of the National Association for Humanities Education. He also served as project director for a reading series in Lafayette featuring Louisiana African-American writers and calls himself a “kind of social activist” in the article written by Chris Turner-Neal — a modest remark about his work honoring the music, history and culture of Acadians, Creoles, and blacks in his native region. 

My history with Darrell can be traced back to an interview with him when I was a feature writer for the Daily Iberian in New Iberia, Louisiana during the 80’s, and he loaned me a copy of the manuscript for Burnt Water Suite, providing me  background for work that became his second book of poetry. I was asked to introduce Darrell at a poetry reading in New Iberia when this book was still in manuscript form, and I knew then that I was listening to an authentic voice, one that mirrored the Cajun culture in a mystical and musical way that hasn’t been duplicated by any of Louisiana’s finest poets. 

He has encouraged and supported the work of many “wannabe” and established poets with warmth and sincerity throughout the forty years I’ve known him. Each time I declare that I won’t write poetry again, he laughs and says he looks forward to reading my latest. Each time I received an unwarranted criticism from a fellow student in a Creative Writing class Darrell taught, he’d chide me for not having confidence in my work and urge me to move on.

This morning I re-read the ten books he has written that I carried with me to Sewanee and finally decided that my re-examinations of his work only impressed me further, and his true, original voice would remain one of those soul-stirring invitations to honor our common humanity. I also know that the recent Humanist Award isn’t the tip of the iceberg —he still has to be named Poet Laureate of the United States. You rock, Darrell Bourque!

Monday, March 18, 2019


Flooded cornfield of Lapp's Farm and Nursery

No, that isn’t a Louisiana flood scene. It’s the field I saw upon descending into the Cowan Valley yesterday on the first day of my return to Sewanee, Tennessee. The “pond” was actually a thriving cornfield last summer when we feasted on the sweet corn grown at Lapp’s Farm and Nursery just off highway 41a leading to Winchester, Tennessee.

When I glimpsed the flooded field my heart sank, and we pulled into the drive beside the nursery. The owners of Lapp’s were sitting on the front porch of the market/office smiling affably. I asked if they had an irrigation system that had broken and was told that heavy February rains in the valley had inundated their field and caused flooding of a large portion of their acreage, even into the basement of their home but State assistance had been promised.

“This is supposed to be a non-flood zone,” the proprietress told us. “So there won’t be any corn this summer?” I asked, dismayed. “God willing,” she answered. “Maybe the field will dry naturally.” It had a long way to go, I thought, giving her arm a squeeze. She went back to her rocker on the porch where her husband sat, engrossed in making calculations on his cell phone. They looked as if they had weathered the first shocks of this inundation, but my mind kept returning to images of a large field of green cornstalks holding their faces up to sunlight.

Apple blossoms

We drove on to Winchester for provisions, but that flooded field stayed in my mind until we passed an apple tree blooming alongside the highway, followed by forsythia, and a beautiful cherry tree in the yard of a wholesale nursery. I tried to put aside memories of last summer’s tall, healthy cornstalks and the succulent ears of corn we lunched on for several months. This morning as I sit at my desk listening to Mozart’s “Gran Partita,” I think about going down to the valley to see if Lapp’s market is open for Monday visitors since part of their produce is brought in from other sources. 

Cherry tree

I left New Iberia abloom with azaleas in my front yard and the advent of one spring to find another one here at Sewanee — different blooms abound but there are signs that winter may soon be behind us, although temps this morning were in the 30’s. Yesterday, I went outdoors wearing a short-sleeved shirt to clean the porches of our Sewanee cottage and welcomed the dry air of the Cumberland Plateau after spending a very wet winter in New Iberia, Louisiana. Imagine my chagrin when we drove past that flooded field near Cowan. 

Several plants in the herb garden over-wintered — thyme, sage, chives, lemon balm, mint, and the rosemary that remained to help fight off ticks and fleas, which deer sometimes bring into the yard and woods behind the cottage before they are culled in the fall.


Daffodils have bloomed and gone their way into the Also World, but a lone forsythia near the fence in the backyard shows promises of an early spring. It has inspired me every spring, and I showed my appreciation one year by writing the following excerpt from a poem entitled:


A branch of rust-colored leaves wavers,
its hesitation clinging to afternoon.

The only sign of spring is forsythia,
yellow sprays altering the gray sheet

of an all-day dusk,
tree trunks scaling lime green,

straight stalks in a folded-over day
and the tree’s eyes are closed,

shut out the parsimonious weather.
Crows caw,

announcing a black season,
crying, deliver me from approval

from the prostitute of memory
wind, come part the mystery;

I long for the light so elusive,
for the trees to open their eyes.*

*Between Plants and Humans, Diane Marquart Moore, 2014.

Photographs by Victoria Sullivan

Thursday, March 7, 2019


Train engine at Chattanooga Choo Choo

As we prepare for an exodus to Sewanee, Tennessee, I realize that one of the sounds I’ll miss when we leave New Iberia, Louisiana is that of the many trains that pass through the town during the night — those long, shrieking whistles that annoy light sleepers. At one time, the sound made me feel lonely, but at 83 it’s a song that tells me all is well; the trains are still running. 

When I was working on a book that called for researching a history of trains in the South, I came across a section in Railroads of the Old South about the many interest groups that tangled with railroad officials during the 19th century. These groups caused a ruckus in small southern towns because the trains ran on Sundays, and railroad workers missed church. The group called itself “The Sabbatarians,” members of which placed high value on Sunday attendance and who wanted to enforce that vision on the then-modern technology. In Richmond, Virginia, a minister complained that the private consumer “couldn’t get wares untouched by the sacrilegious hand of the Sabbath breaker.” 

Word from the pulpit was so effective that a railroad worker in North Carolina resigned his job because he felt he was sinning on Sunday. Most of the petitions to southern railroad officials were advanced by preachers who lambasted stockbrokers as well as governing bodies of railroads. Condemnation included one argument by a Protestant Episcopal Church representative at a stockholders meeting: “The trains traverse great distances (on Sundays)…attracting great attention and exciting curiosity wherever they go…” Further complaints included the “hustle and bustle of business, properly belonging only to the working days of the week…”

Twenty years passed before the Sabbatarians were able to get railroad officials to reduce their Sunday service to a bare minimum; however, officials endured the criticisms and were finally praised for offering reliable and regular transportation. For many years, the Sabbatarians demonstrated that railroad companies weren’t in control of their own time due to the moral pressure from special interest groups.

Today, railway service is available seven days of the week and offers a plethora of schedules and time tables, running through towns like New Iberia throughout the night, and are a part of the social fabric that connects all of us who appreciate their services.

In 2018, I published Destinations, a book of poetry about trains, accompanied by photographs that Victoria Sullivan snapped in various locales of the South and including one poem about the trains that rumble through New Iberia at night:


I miss hearing them at night,
trains carrying grave histories,
doing ghostly runs through New Iberia,
making sounds that once brought melancholy;

As I age, they become gifts
exploring places I don’t know,
good friends holding me close
yet keeping their distance,

their thunder an escape from bad dreams,
voices saying goodbye while I lie in bed,
move toward a world away,
out there in the storm,

bell ringing in an untroubled dawn.

Friday, March 1, 2019


Today marks the birthday of my great-granddaughters, Kate and Lillian, and tomorrow I'll travel to Baton Rouge to celebrate the occasion with them. This morning, in a telephone conversation with my daughter Stephanie, before I thought about what I was saying, I commented apologetically, "I'm just giving them books."

My mother probably turned over in her grave when I made this remark since she believed that books were the most valued possessions in any home. During WWII, she regarded them as more precious than rationed food.

In the introduction to my now out-of-print book, Their Adventurous Will, a volume about Louisiana women, I wrote that she read aloud to us every night and related how that nightly reading contributed to my development as a writer: "When I was three years old, she'd seat me, cross-legged in the middle of our small kitchen, and open for me giant editions of Mother Goose, A Child’s Garden of Verse, and Marigold Garden…She read aloud the entire series of Uncle Wiggly in the Cabbage Patch, The Little Colonel, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Greek Legends, Black Beauty and Grimm's Fairy Tales, even after all the children in our family had learned to read…"

In that same introduction, I wrote about another family member, my Godmother Dora, who built a library of books that would challenge my own 2,000-and-more book collection. "Books by mystics, theologians, poets, and Christian apologists crowded the bookshelves in her home," I wrote. "A visitor might be engaged in intent conversation with her, and she'd suddenly scurry away on her tiny feet, select a book from a shelf nearby and begin reading some lengthy passage. On the flyleaf of a small, yellow-gold volume entitled The Fruits of the Spirit by Evelyn Underhill, which Dora gave me in 1963, she inscribed in her elegant but often-illegible handwriting: "For Diane, for whom we wish the fruits of the spirit above all else…"

Lillian and Kate with Christmas toys, 2018

Dora was a stern critic of literature and had she lived to read my books, she would've referred me to those disciplined writers who put in their 10,000 hours before calling themselves poets. However, a friend recently told me that her band leader in high school often admonished, "practice won't make you a great musician if you practice wrong." 

Recently I loaned a copy of Their Adventurous Will to a friend and when she returned the book, I found a message on a sticky note within telling me that as she read the introduction about my mother, she journeyed back to her own childhood and the times her Mama had read to the family long after they could read themselves. "It was a special bonding time," she added.

Just yesterday, when I visited a funeral home to pay respects to an old friend, her daughter told me that in her mother's demise, she often requested that "someone read aloud to her." Her daughter would protest that there were mostly children's books available in the house. "I don't care," her mother had said. "Just read to me!" And the implication was that, like my mother, she probably enjoyed children's books as much as any contemporary novel or tome.

When Sister Elizabeth came down to New Iberia from the Convent of St. Mary in Sewanee, Tennessee last year, she did a "walk through" of my home and gave us her candid appraisal. "I always go into a home and find myself thinking about what their major interests are," she said. (Now there are many crosses scattered about and I'm a deacon, but she didn't list them as a major interest). 

Instead, she commented, "Books and art…you really value them." She was spot on. So now I'm wondering why I apologized about giving my great-grandchildren "just books," and this blog is an apology for making such a foolish remark.

As Piglet (in Winnie the Pooh) said to Eeyore: "Many happy returns of the day" to precious Kate and Lillian. May you always have an abundance of beloved stories of adventure, friendship, and fun in your home.