Thursday Night Poetry

When I started this feature, I originally resolved to blog about new poets, my contemporaries, people who hopefully we'll be reading and teaching in twenty years. But tonight I'm feeling nostalgic--it's probably the whisky--and so I'm going to feature an old friend who was also the reason I chose the graduate program I did. Miller Williams.

When I started writing poetry again, after my divorce and in my second semester of college (I started late, remember?), I was writing profusely, but I had no sense of whether or not it was any good. (Today, I'm less prolific, but still have plenty of doubt.) My first creative writing teacher, Jack Bedell, was wonderful, and when it came time to go to grad school, he recommended Arkansas, and in particular, Miller. By that point, I'd read some of his work and respected it highly. More than that, it infected my work tremendously. I've gone beyond that and found my own voice now, but every so often, I'll see a Miller line creep in, and most of the time, I keep it.

So here's one of my favorite Miller poems. I'm not generally a fan of meta-poetry, but I like this one.

Let Me Tell You

how to do it from the beginning.
First notice everything:
the stain on the wallpaper
of the vacant house,
the mothball smell of a
Greyhound toilet.
Miss nothing. Memorize it.
You cannot twist the fact you do not know.

The blond girl you saw in the bar.
Put a scar on her breast.
Say she left home to get away from her father.
Invent whatever will support your line.
Leave out the rest.

Use metaphors: The mayor is a pig
is a metaphor
which is not to suggest
it is not a fact.
Which is irrelevant.
Nothing is less important
than a fact.

Be suspicious of any word you learned
and were proud of learning.
It will go bad.
It will fall off the page.

When your father lies
in the last light
and your mother cries for him,
listen to the sound of her crying.
When your father dies
take notes
somewhere inside.

If there is a heaven
he will forgive you
if the line you found was a good one.

It does not have to be worth the dying.

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