Posts Tagged ‘Wayne Miller’

Contributor News: Wayne Miller

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Here at the Cincinnati Review we’re always rooting for our talented contributors, so we’re especially happy today because of some good news from Poetry Editor Don Bogen:

Don Bogen: Congratulations are in order for poet, translator, editor, and CR contributor Wayne Miller, whose most recent book Post- (Milkweed Editions, 2016) was just awarded the Rainer Maria Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas. The prize is for “a book that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision written by a mid-career poet.” And while it does not provide free room and board in an aristocrat’s castle, as its name might imply, it includes a reading at UNT and a good-sized check of $10,000. It is much deserved.

Wayne’s work has been all over our pages and our blog, and we’re glad to have it. Post- includes a poem that originally appeared in our Winter 2015 issue, and you can read José Angel Araguz’s microreview of the book & an interview here.  A review of Wayne’s previous book The City, Our City appeared in the Summer 2012 issue, and another poem of his back in Winter 2010. Wayne’s been here in the flesh too.  If you’d like to hear him talking about his work and reading some poems from Post- and The City, Our City, a reading and a Q&A from his 2010 visit to the University of Cincinnati are available in the Elliston Project archives here.

Hearty congratulations to a friend, a contributor, and one terrific poet.

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Please note that our reading period ends in less than a week! Submit here before March 15th.

microreview/interview: Wayne Miller’s Post-

Monday, October 17th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

In his latest collection, Post- (Milkweed Editions), contributor Wayne Miller (6.2, 11.2) presents poems whose guiding poetic sensibility is able to navigate the terrains of memory and day-to-day life and mine them for what they have to say about personal and social life. “The Debt” opens this work by presenting variations on the title’s concept:

He entered through the doorway of his debt.
Workmen followed, bringing box after box

until everything he’d gather in his life
inhabited his debt. He opened the sliding door to the yard—

a breeze blew through the spaces of his debt,
blew the bills from the table onto the floor.

One can see how financial concerns impose themselves on life. Debt is the house lived in as much as a concept. What makes this poem such an effective opening piece is how it brings together a number of the collection’s themes, namely the way such intangible facts—in this case, debt and laws—affect our tangible lives.

The law theme is again explored in “The People’s History,” which creates a narrative around “the People,” and follows them as they comprise both a group of chanting protesters on a city street and a group policing them:

we, the People, will not be denied.
Then the People
descended upon the People, swinging hardwood batons
heavy with the weight of the People’s intent.

The narrative method here is compelling on two levels: 1) The use of “the People” for both sides makes the intangible nature of rhetoric and law transparent, which in turn makes the tangible effects on human action and experience all the more vivid; and 2) Rather than dulling or deflating the intensity of the scene, the use of the phrase complicates the narrative further:

But the People had grown tired of the afternoon
and released dogs into the crowd, dogs
that could not tell the People from the People;

Subverting the implied idea of an impersonal collective, the phrase takes on, through the poem’s twists and turns, a personal, individualistic meaning. In doing so, the poem indirectly paints a contemporary scene that becomes a direct and compassionate critique.

The themes of debt and inheritance are also found in poems that deal with the nature of words themselves. In “On Language,” the reader is presented the following fabulistic conceit:

1
There were only certain stones
we could step on to cross the river.

2
The stones we could step on to cross the river
were not certain.

Further developing this conceit, the poet states that “the stones we stepped on/ dropped away behind us/ like the notes of a song.” The connotations of this premise are rich: A set of stones is language, the river is speech, and the other side of the river is meaning. Not only is the transient and harried nature of establishing meaning conveyed, but so is the “not certain” feeling of the human effort to communicate. And yet, the speaker’s fable is one of hope, which the urgency behind the midpoem statement—“Love, stay with me inside this syntax of the river”—makes evident.

The sequence of five poems titled “Post-Elegy” that are scattered throughout the collection present a confluence of debt/inheritance narratives. The first describes how “After the plane went down/ the cars sat for weeks in long-term parking.” The speaker’s journey to retrieve the dead person’s car becomes a process of growing awareness, culminating in the following observations as the speaker drives off:

. . . I realized

I was steering homeward
the down payment
of some house we might live in
for the rest of our lives.

The metaphor here makes grief a physical presence, the car suddenly a space where the memory of the dead person lives on.

In the world of Post-, we are left in such complicated afters: the after of accumulating debt; the after of having to distinguish “the People” from each other; the after of wanting stay inside “this syntax of the river.”

interview

JAA: What role do you feel the personal and the social have in your work as reflected in this collection?

WM: For some time I’ve been interested in complicating that personal-social dichotomy by considering how personal narratives bump up against larger historical moments and metanarratives. Thus, in Post- I’m often trying to entangle the personal and social—to juxtapose them or contextualize each inside the other.

For example, Post-’s opening poem, “The Debt,” depicts a father-son relationship while insistently pulling into the frame how middle-class American life is built structurally on debt. Similarly, “Consumers in Rowboat” presents a tug of war between a couple’s own perception of themselves as private, autonomous individuals and the larger economic perspective that they’re demographically trackable consumers. And throughout the book poems about parenthood and loss sit intentionally beside poems about sociopolitical conflict and violence.

I’ve long loved Donald Justice’s well-anthologized poem “Men at Forty,” which feels personal and distilled as the men move solitarily through their domestic spaces while considering their own aging. When, in the last line, Justice describes their houses as “mortgaged,” it felt to me like an almost shocking (and compelling!) breech of the poem’s private lyrical “purity.” That’s just one small example—but it’s the sort of complicating of lyrical isolation that I was reaching for when I was writing Post-.

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Post- is available for purchase from Milkweed Editions.

To find out more about Wayne Miller’s work, check out his site.

Where the Heart Is: Davis, Kimbrell, Miller, and Vang

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

cabinSara Watson: Since my MFA years at Chatham University, a program grounded in themes of nature and travel writing, I’ve developed a particular interest in poetry of place. So much of my own work looks inward, or, at its most ambitious, reaches out from my body toward another. I love it when other poets are able to look up, to look around, to record a world outside themselves. The contributors below have taken their inspiration from a number of locales, using place to investigate themes of home, family, history, and identity.

Susan Davis on “Bertie Mae”: The manuscript from which these poems have been taken is about houses and how people relate to them. How do they feel about the private and public parts, other people’s houses, empty houses telling wordless stories, ownership, centeredness, towns/villages/suburbs and cities, and how they shape the types of dwellings people call home? How did house-building develop in America? The “Bertie Mae” poems are specifically my mother’s stories, starting in 1921 on a farm, ending with a widow alone in a house filled with the memory of her husband. They are snapshots of her along that life path. Although the poems have an elegiac quality, she is very much alive at ninety-three, filling us all with admiration, and challenging me to think of how I will leave myself to my own children.

James Kimbrell on “Pluto’s Gate: Mississippi”: I ran across an article in 2013 about the discovery of an ancient cave opening in Hierapolis, Turkey, believed by archeologist Francesco D’Andria to be the famed gates of the underworld, replete with toxic mist capable of killing any animal that had the ill fortune to breathe there. We all have our own hells with their own gates. Naturally, I started thinking about my home state of Mississippi, and about how far the state—given its history of poverty and racism—has come, and how far it hasn’t. More than most poems I’ve written, I felt that this poem was out of my control, a feeling like being a ventriloquist’s dummy, my mouth getting worked by some unknown voice, both scary and one hell of a rush. In short, this poem is a love letter to Mississippi, and to my friends there, especially to poet C. Leigh McInnis, whom I’ve known since we were both teenagers in the Mississippi Army National Guard, writing poems on legal pads with our desk drawers open so that if anybody walked in our office, we could close the drawers in one quick motion and appear to be hard at work on matters of military readiness.

Wayne Miller: I wrote “Marriage” in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where my wife and two-year-old daughter had accompanied me for six months while I was teaching at Queen’s University on a Fulbright. We were living in faculty housing—a narrow, street-level apartment across from campus—and it poured freezing rain for the first three months we were there. Also important: My wife and I were in our eleventh year as a couple (and second year with a child)—a point in a relationship pretty much no one can imagine when they first get together. Probably because of the weather-induced confinement of those first three months, I kept dreaming myself into different, exotic locales, which was ironic since we’d just traveled all that way to be in Belfast—where, of course, I always woke to find myself. The way my mind kept reaching out and returning home—that lassoing—seemed to me a good description of how a relationship comes to operate ten (or more) years in. As soon as I found the rhyming form, the poem took off.

Mai Der Vang: “Cipher Song” emerged from my attempt to explore and reconcile the lack of an official literary history within my Hmong culture. It’s the idea of writing about not having writing. Yet how does one even begin to tackle such a daunting and elusive past? It’s overwhelming, to say the least, especially given that this history carries profound implications for a new generation of Hmong-American writers like myself, who are seeking to shape a literary identity. In this poem, I try to explore how something as simple as a jacket, along with other items of clothing, can have attached to it centuries of literary and historical documentation. As an oral culture, the Hmong fled southern China in the mid-1800s as a result of persecution, and many migrated into Laos along with other parts of Southeast Asia. Yet just before fleeing, the women secretly embroidered colorful symbols and patterns onto their clothes to represent what the Hmong had been through so they would not forget their history. Much of this traditional clothing is still worn today in our culture.

“Toward Home” is a poem in search of the idea of home, which, to me, is also the search for origin. I feel like I’m constantly digging toward the past, trying to find vestiges of my Hmong cultural history because so little of it was documented. While this poem does not explicitly take up that notion, it still tries to convey the sense of searching for something unexplainable only to be left feeling vulnerable. Craft-wise, I was obsessed at the time with pairing odd objects together, things that just didn’t make any sense. I seem to always be journeying backward, and so much of that internal process can be confusing and bewildering yet still lead to some bizarre and beautiful discoveries, like an oryx as a window, or a lighthouse inside a cave.