THE BEAUTY AND LONG LIFE OF POETRY – After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worm

The poems in this collection are selected from a lifetime of Florence Miller’s work. Born in New Jersey in 1922, Miller moved to Berkeley during the sixties and made a name for herself as a Bay Area poet. After Rain A Little Girl Straightening Worms brings us into the world of familial memory set against the backdrop of natural landscapes. From the year of 1922 to 2019 and all the years between, Miller’s poetry proves that beauty and longevity are alive and well.

As a young reader and writer of poetry, I think about the formal traditions that inform my own work: What do poems look like now, and how did they appear fifty years ago? In her body of selected work, Florence Miller takes us back to basics—these poems deliver simple elegance as Miller turns a keen eye to the world around her.

Sparse language reflects Miller’s love for Japanese poetic forms. Much of the collection is imbued with quiet energy, as in this depiction of loss: Shafts of light ate the dark / cold slabs broken earth / a casket of flowers. In a litany of details such as this, reading Miller is like poring over a gallery of photographs. Miller writes with the finesse of a seasoned poet who knows to trust the power of an image, and she gives readers just enough to stir the imagination.

While Miller sets a reflective tone in her poems, the language takes a delightful turn with the author’s subtle humor, as in this excerpt from “Six Haiku”:

Dandelions—

            do children still call them

            pee in the beds?

As Miller moves between past and present, she reminds us that language—like memory—is a slippery thing. Nevertheless, she draws us into a timeless conversation about our desire to make sense of the world, from small moments that change our perception to historical events that shape our lives.

Between simple descriptions of the natural environment, Miller includes prose poems that narrate both personal and public history. As Miller puts it, memory is that bursting of the bag / of waters. In a series of concise portraits, the poet’s lens zooms in and out of a sea of grief and humor. One moment, Miller allows readers to inhabit the reality of the Great Depression. In another instance, she recalls the exhilaration of seeing First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt:

            We knew that she was going to visit her godparents in

            Llewellyn Park, the Parishes. No reporters allowed…

            …we found the house. Knew the park. We picked

            violets there. Rode our sleds in winter. The butler answered

            our ring. Eileen, who was in junior high, said she’d get 50

            points in History if she saw her.

In this excerpt, Miller’s candid play-by-play captures a sense of youthful mischief, and what I admire most about this poet is the versatility of her voice. From this portrayal of a child’s daring spirit to the elegiac moments in the collection, Miller fully inhabits a range of contexts.

After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms presents a well-rounded storyteller—at times solemn and at other times celebratory as people toasting / stars. – Joanne Mallari

Also by Florence Miller: Upriver; A Song of Monarchs, coauthored with Alexis Rotella; Yes coauthored with Alexis Rotella; Eleven Renga, coauthored with Alexis Rotella; My Dreaming Waking Life (with E. Starkman, J. Chaiklin, M. Hofstadter, D. Holt, and S. Solomon) More of Miller’s poetry can be found at Levure Litteraire.

Cover art, Emergence, by the late California artist Barbara P. Lyon

After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms, published by Raven and Wren Press, is another example of the valuable presence of the small press publisher.

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