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Kevin Miller, Vanish

VANISH, Kevin Miller. Wandering Aengus Press, PO Box 334, Eastsound, WA 98245, 2020, 81 pages, $18 paper, https://wanderingaenguspress.com/index.html.

Kevin Miller’s poems are rooted in the material world, juice glasses, wet laundry, garden hoes, baseballs, beer and Lucky Strikes, but also blossoms, chickadees, rivers. In Vanish, which won the 2019 Wandering Aengus Book Award, that world seems about to blink out. In the title poem, the first in this collection, the word itself seems at risk: “whispers its swish of sound / as a trail of breath follows / an image you hold like the title / of the film you saw two nights / ago, no longer on the tip of anything…”

Paula Meehan describes Vanish as “teem[ing] with ghosts and their reckonings…narrative raised to elegiac heights.” But those heights are shot through with particularity, grounded in things.

Which makes me think of William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things!” And Sylvia Plath: “I love the thinginess of things.” I loved spending the morning in Miller’s world, and with these poems. Here’s one:

It’s Like Weather

Sixty days without rain, the leaves
fall from heat, the colors fail fast
as if too soon the surrender,
loss without regret, you miss rain
like some miss breakfast, or a cigarette,
what it is—day after day sameness
until you want to scream, and you
know no one’s at fault, still fault
settles it, allows blame, and blame
feels good, like a shot of vengeance,
it bruises in ways the fall colors
come alive under the skin, again
a fall, a parting, a loss you forget
with the first storm, when a fire,
tea, and a blanket find you together,
cozy enough for a change, though
too long under a relentless sky
becomes its other side, and you long
for the same sun, forgetting where
fault lay, nevertheless fault sends you
to your corners until first snow
or spring thaw turns you to each other,
and when this happens, you turn
blame to praise, overdue gratitude,
for if you made the dark, you must give
the light, if you kept the rain, you might
have brought the sun, and since no god
sleeps next to you in these beds, you share
the blame. Make praise your daily bread.

—Kevin Miller

“Make praise your daily bread” is such good advice.

I’m trying to find a way to point out that many of these poems are about marriage—both its dailiness, I think—but, more important, the gift of it (and, it seems, several grandchildren). I’m compelled to share one more short poem, in part because a second title beginning “It’s Like” caught my eye, but also because I wish I had written it.

It’s Like Feeding Horses

in a snowstorm, the sky descends
like a veil and conceals pastures an acre
at a time, the order that is fence lines
disappears in the marriage of earth and sky
as the two of you dish the flakes, collars up,
heads down, and what doesn’t vanish
is the idea of the horses and each other
silent within the whistling quiet of storm.
This is work whether you see it or not.

—Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is a retired teacher—another connection—and lives in Tacoma, Washington. I’ve never met him, but he feels like an old friend.

I first encountered his poetry at Loren Webster’s blog, In a Dark Time, and you can skip over there to see another poem. Find additional poems at Terrain.org.

Local Poets Read

For me, the fun part is just being at home and writing in my sweatpants. And then being like, “I wrote a poem and I like it.” There’s nothing that compares to that. Nothing. Not The New Yorker, not The New York Times. I feel like that’s something that sometimes gets lost in our culture, where everything’s about building a brand before you even have an established creative process. Please, don’t be a poet unless the number one thing you like to do is write poems. And read poems.

ADA LIMÓN

If you’re a poet looking for more poets to read (or listen to) — here are three offerings by local poets today.  All events are free, or for a token donation.


John L. Wright, Thursday, April 29th, 2021    6:30 – 7:30PM EST / 3:30 – 4:30 PST

The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association is delighted to present a live poetry reading with Physician and Poet John L. Wright. His poetry explores humanity’s relationship and place among the fauna and flora of the natural world. Singer-Songwriter Linda Sussman will perform her original songs live. Join us in celebrating Poetry Month on Zoom! Register for this event here.


Kim Stafford, Sy Hoahwah, and Kathleen Flenniken, April 29, 2021 6:30 – 7:45 pm.

Books in Common NW Series–a reading and conversation with Kim Stafford (Singer Come from Afar, Red Hen Press), Sy Hoahwah (Ancestral Demon,University of New Mexico Press) and Kathleen Flenniken, jointly sponsored by three great Northwest book sellers — Paulina Springs Books (Oregon) , Madison Books (Washington) and Country Bookshelf (Montana). 6:30 – 7:45 pm PDT.  Free. Follow the link to find the registration. And notice that this is a series, airing every Thursday.


And finally, this from Tacoma Public Library:

Thursday, April 29, 2021
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm PDT
Online event

Join local poet Kevin Miller as he reads from his new book, VanishVanish is the winner of the Wandering Aengus Book Award and Kevin Miller’s fourth book of poetry. WAP Poetry Editor Tina Schumann says of the poems, “Kevin Miller’s collection Vanish exists in the quiet certitude of lives lived moment to moment, hour by hour and generation to generation. These poems illustrate that it is the varied stuff of this life that makes us whole—farmhouses, sparrows and mackerel, smoke from a cigarette, candles in a window, a question asked over dinner—illuminating each small gesture and ache as they vanish into time, but permeate the living and the land they occupy.” Kevin has received grants from Artist Trust, Tacoma Arts Commission, and was a member of the Jack Straw Writers Program. He was a Fulbright Teacher in Denmark and taught in the public schools of Washington State for thirty-nine years. He lives in Tacoma.