Saturday, May 2, 2020



Wars leave scars in the minds of those who serve in any military conflict, and survivors often share their experiences through journaling, drawing, writing poetry, and novels. In Michael Miller’s case, he records glimpses of several wars through his own experience and the engagements of his relatives in military conflict. Although he reflects on other experiences “entering the day,” his accounts of servicemen during several wars are the most arresting poems in this volume. 

In “A Different Time,” Miller reflects on the experience of  a Marine who landed on Okinawa during World War II during his walk across a meadow in Massachusetts, “far from the black sand of that island/Where he left his blood;/His Purple Heart remain[ing] in/the glove compartment of His Buick beside his pistol,…” this poem followed by  “Tide of Blood,” a powerful salute to those whose “lives deprived /Of their future, the letters/He was asked to mail, ‘In case,’/And with each whiskey and cigarette/Another comrade appears, his face/Still innocent across the table.” Although Miller, of course, did not serve in this conflict, he recounts the experience as if he had served alongside the narrator in a convincing unsentimental portrait of a WWII survivor.

Miller’s own experiences in war are encapsulated in Section V, Verse VII, a powerful retrospective poem familiar to many veterans of the Vietnam conflict: “Only once did we visit/The wall, move our fingers/Over the chiseled names,/The Marines we knew./Flowers, photographs,/Letters and crayon drawings/Rested before the wall./No one walked away with/Their head held high.” This poem invoked a poignant memory of an encounter with a Vietnam veteran when I attended The Sixth Day course in upper state New York. A survivor of the Vietnam War stood up among 300 participants at this event where we had been “processing” experiences all night, and as the sun came up, he confessed that he was deeply hurt because he had been maligned as a veteran of that conflict and never properly thanked for his service. The moderator told him to stand up and declared, “In the name of the president of the United States and all U.S. citizens, we thank you for your service and remember all who served in this conflict.” Two weeks later, after we had returned home, we read about the wall going up, and I’ve always believed we had something to do with this commemoration.

Miller does not leave readers suspended with dark reflections and redeems his experiences with a more hopeful poem entitled “On Nauset Beach,” where “beyond [his] limitations of old age…” “he strides through the surprise/Of an unswept morning/On a shoulder of Nauset Beach/Singing to the Atlantic,/The thrashing incoming tide,/the waves breaking onto the shore/Like sleeves of ruffled lace,/The gannets swooping/With black-tipped wings/Beating a welcome…” Here is Miller at his lyrical best, counteracting the darkness of war and old age with his insightful voice and an undaunted heart.

This poet is not without humor and is capable of a comfortable irony in “Morning Song in Amherst” (his home) where Miller encounters a street person, “In July, her hair a tangled nest/No bird would return to/Beside the Dickinson home/A cigarette between/Her dirty fingers…” He suggests that Emily Dickinson would have invited the woman into her home for “a bath and breakfast” and when the woman volunteers that she slept on a bench beside the home all night and no one bothered her, Miller writes that he offered her bath and breakfast, “almost hearing Emily say, ‘Yes, oh yes!’”

In Section IV of Entering the DayMiller’s poem about Virginia Wolfe entitled “Virginia,” shows that he can achieve that which he believes Virginia was capable of: “…her words/Were meant to be elsewhere,/In perfect sentences she could control.” That capability is shown throughout this volume, Miller’s meditations emerging with crafted control over his phrasing. Here is a true voice devoid of mawkishness in the delivery of difficult experiences — poems without cloying lamentations about the ravages of war and an uncertain future —conditions with which we are confronted in the wake of  Coronavirus, “a language wait[ing] to be heard” that Miller seems to be game for, despite…

Michael Miller has published nine poetry collections, and his first book The Joyful Dark was the Editor’s Choice winner of the McGovern Prize at Ashland Poetry Press. His poems have appeared in The Sewanee Review, The New Republic, The American Scholar, The Southern Review, and many other literary journals. In 2014 he became the First Prize Winner of the W. B. Yeats Society Poetry Award and was anthologized in Yeats 150 (Lilliput Press, Dublin).

I am proud to add that Michael Miller is a good friend and supporter of my work. Salut, Michael! We eagerly look for more. And kudos to Susan Entsminger for the lovely artwork on the cover of Entering the Day: “Protea from the Upcountry Farmer’s Market, Maui.”

Order online or from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose CO 81403

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice work, Diane
And nice Art Work,