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Poet closes out sixth year of ABR series

By KBell
April 26, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated April 25, 2012 at 11:26 p.m.

Poet Wayne Miller speaks about war, fist fights, dead bodies and crying children at University of Houston Victoria Thursday. Miller is the last speaker in the American Book Review Reading Series this year.

He spoke of war, of fist fights, dead bodies and of crying children.

These are the inevitables of a city, poet Wayne Miller said, even while letting the endearment of urban life linger in his writings.

Miller finished out the sixth year of the American Book Review Reading Series at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday.

He read from his latest book, "The City, Our City," which he characterized as interrelated poems chronicling multiple Western cities throughout history. The collection of poems, then, conjures a "semi-mythologized city."

One poem, called "Street Fight," straddles rage and apathy, as two friends exchange punches at the encouragement of honking, passing cars.

"And when

I fell, the pavement confettied

my palms,

and I slipped from my hands

so they became useless. Our shouting

shuttled between us

like a piston. And then

we were parched;

I found our bottle where I'd left it

by the mailbox,

and that was the end of it."

While writing "The City, Our City," Miller said it occurred to him he was sometimes writing an elegy to his father, who'd taken him to cities throughout the world, and who died in 2008.

Even still, Miller said he tries to figure out a character in the book - a professor, who Miller said may or may not be trustworthy.

"What I'm really interested in ... are places where paradoxes emerge and answers are not easy," Miller said. "I think a lot of people get nervous in a space where there isn't a clear answer."

Miller shared some new poems Thursday, too, which came about after his father's death. One of his "Post-Elegy" poems describes family members retrieving a car in the long-term parking lot at the airport after the loved one's plane had crashed.

"I was conscious of the ground

passing just beneath the floor -

and the trapped air in the tires

lifting my weight. I realized

I was steering homeward

the down payment

of some house we might live in

for the rest of our lives."

An audience member had said she wished his poems were longer - that the story would continue. But Miller's rhythm, structure and choices are purposeful.

He said he hopes to write "from that place where there are not clear answers, where you're sort of comfortable musing at something. without necessarily finding the bottom line."



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