A Review of "Y" - Saint Julian Press
Leslie Adrienne Miller’s newest book of poetry, “Y,” deals with the development of manhood in a child that is filled with deep and probing observations, invoking images and ideas that move the mind in several directions at once. Opening up a spaciousness of thought that is challenging to describe in its wholeness, in its gestalt of human consciousness and maturity that leave you wondering in that openness. More than anything it leaves the reader wishing to ask the right questions.
Miller is the author of six collections of poetry; a Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. In “Y, “ she searches through her experience of motherhood and raising a son, mindful of science, culture, and literary composition found in a symphony of words.
Archibald MacLeish, the 20th Century American poet once wrote; “We have learned all the answers, all the answers. It is the questions we do not know." “Y” leads the reader into asking the deepest questions, questions on how we are formed and shaped within a world where individuals are constantly presented with hidden possibilities and invisible pathways into our potential as fully developed human beings.
She writes with an amazing capacity, in using poetic language and images to capture the question of how we actualize this veiled potential. Wondering what comes next, wondering deeply what the next steps might be in our evolution and growth towards what we may become. The answers are here, hidden in the spaces between each word and verse, but you will need to discover them on your own by reading her work.
Perhaps it’s a thread that needs to be pulled,
a single stitch caught in the crux.
Whole word in French and Spanish,
vertical axis of Cartesian three
loaning its fragile branch to a boy
in theory. On y va. Let’s go There.
What happens to unrepaired sequences
in subsequent generations? Semivowel,
blown umbrella, arrow reversed in wind,
frizzy blot of genetic code directing the symphony
of a trillion sperm, a single Y . . . might fold over,
line up these similar patches of genetic sequence,
and then accidentally delete everything
that lies in between. Je est un autre.
If the face is a christening in flesh,
the boy of him is its opposite,
raising the tent of bones in which
he will harbor all the starry anomalies
that a knowledge of God cannot undo.
“Je est un autre - I is another, ” she voices in these verses on the Y chromosome. Here is where her poetic dialogue of probing questions and art filled answers begins to take shape. Here is where we begin to delve deeply into a new language that awakens within us the mystery hidden within life; often invisible and unseen like the genetic coding hidden from our sight.
Leaving whatever answers you find still open, the questions still presented, responses not quite certain, knowing that life is constantly changing, full of infinite variables and relationships that shape our experience and surrounding reality. Life is a journey after all, with many destinations; we never know where we may travel to metaphorically or literally. In the poem titled “Fauna,” in the third stanza she touches on the utter mystery of being a boy, joyfully and tenderly observing.
What the child has chosen to save,
to feature on the dresser’s tidy archive
is a mystifying collection of candy
he will not eat, a trio of metal pigs,
The baptismal bowl heaped with thumb-sized
fighters from myths she does not know.
There was never a time when she knew
what the boy was thinking, and today,
she’s sure she never will, though she’s learned
to close her eyes and breathe his stink
back into the dark inkling she was born with,
to ride the fluent reflection on his retina: white
moth lost in a smear of dogwood flower;
the cottonwood drifts, a trove of clouds
brought down by seeds so small, most
will never root. The bright clot
of an earthworm chopped in half
to learn how much it can lose
and still survive.
Miller’s verses stir my own memories as a boy and the intense curiosity and adventures of life shared with other boys in our imaginations and exploration of the world. She reminds us of how quickly any child grows up, and that nearly before we may notice, the years have flown by and suddenly there is a young adult standing before you, demanding a parity we may be reluctant to give.
Adding to the poetic dialogue, tightly written and woven between the poems you will find “adversaria,” prose that offers observations and scientific notes creating a collage of images and information. Explained in a note at the book’s end, “they are almost all collaged direct quotes from sources listed at the back of the book and represent the poet’s attempt to leave a trail of bread crumbs from her forays into disciplines beyond her own in search of answers to questions the poems themselves collectively ask and only provisionally answer.” Each “adversaria” balances out the poems, serving as a résonnance to help expand and complete the ongoing literary conversation. In the second adversaria we read:
“They were surprised to find
massive palindromes, hairpin-like structures
that contain DNA sequences that read the same
backward and forward. Are we not drawn onward
to a new Era? The system is robust,
and it doesn’t depend on the weather.”
As you move further into the book this becomes an essential part of the literary dialogue, the poems and “adversaria” drawing you in artistically, intellectually, emotionally; interacting with one another at multiple levels, which touch upon our capacity for analytical curiosity, creative imagination, empathy, and compassion.
“Y” is a poetic dialogue that is thought provoking and marvellous in its complexity and creativity, it is the work of a master poet, a poet’s poet, and well worth your time in exploring the images and reality of a boy’s universe and a mother’s contemplation.
HOUSTON – February 1, 2014 – Poets and writers Aliki Barnstone, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and Melissa Studdard will be joined by special guest Donna McKenzie and composer/pianist John Hardesty for “An Evening of Poetry and Music” at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1015 Holman Street at Main, on April 4, 2014 from 7-9 PM.
Leslie Adrienne Miller is the author of six collections of poetry including Y, The Resurrection Trade and Eat Quite Everything You See from Graywolf Press, and Yesterday Had a Man in It, Ungodliness, and Staying Up For Love from Carnegie Mellon University Press. Professor of English at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an M.A. from the University of Missouri, and a B.A. from Stephens College.