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

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