Book Bag: ‘In the Mirror’ by Michael Miller; ‘Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson’ by Susan Snively

Published: 11/17/2016 2:41:28 PM


By Michael Miller

Pinyon Publishing

Amherst poet Michael Miller has been a productive wordsmith over the last several years, publishing a number of collections and winning acclaim for his work. His poem “The Different War” won first prize for the W.B. Yeats Society Poetry Award in 2014.

In his most recent collection, “In the Mirror,” Miller, an ex-Marine who’s now in his 80s, writes both of the shadow of death and of signs of continued life, especially in the natural world; of some memories that have become sharper as he ages; and of a sustained love with a longtime partner.

The narrator of “On Puffer’s Meadow” finds a reprieve from his dark thoughts in the sudden and unexpected appearance of a deer in a quiet field.

“Then it was there: antlers, forelegs / Crashing out of the woods, / Bounding across the meadow, / Rust-colored embodiment / Of startling beauty … I was yanked out / Of an old man’s forest of death / Into a surprise of blessing / Tilting the world back / To its original order.”

In the extended poem “White Canvas, “ Miller profiles an elderly painter who still finds meaning and energy in creating a new work: “The half-moon pouches under / His eyes attest to his age / But the face in the mirror / Still marvels at being alive, / At the white canvas / Awaiting his brushstrokes.”

He also offers an ode to Amherst’s most famous poet in “Visiting Emily,” describing the daily walk he takes to the famous poet’s house on Main Street “To ask her about living, dying, /About the veins of a leaf/As thin as my white hair.”


Edited by Susan Snively

Illustrated by Christine Davenier

Quarto Publishing Group

How to get young readers interested in Emily Dickinson’s famously enigmatic verse? For a start, you can have Susan Snively — writer, poet, former teacher and current guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst — select some of the Belle of Amherst’s noted poems and couple them with kid-friendly illustrations.

That’s the formula behind “Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson,” which features 35 poems chosen by Snively that are matched with colorful illustrations by Parisian artist Christine Davenier. The poems are arranged by the seasons, beginning in summer and moving through fall, winter and spring.

Some Dickinson standards are here — “Because I could not stop for death,” “There’s a certain slant of light,” and “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” — but the emphasis is on shorter, more accessible works, with a nod to nature and the childlike sense of wonder it can inspire.

Thus summer is marked with the three-line poem “In the name of the Bee,” while fall gets it due in “Blazing in gold and quenching in purple.” And Snively equates the reawakening spirit of spring with the joy of reading by ending the book with Dickinson’s celebration of the written word: “There is no frigate like a book / To take us to lands away, / Nor any coursers like a page / Of prancing poetry.”

Snively, whose own works include an historical novel about Dickinson, “The Heart Has Many Doors,” also includes a glossary that offers a short explanation of each of the book’s 35 poems.


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