Longtime JP resident David Miller just released his second collection of poetry, and though his love of poetry has grown over the years, he hasn’t always been an avid poet.
Miller told the Gazette that his dream as a child was to become a zoologist, but in middle school he really began to fall in love with theater. After attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst and majoring in theater, “even then, I never really intended that I would pursue it professionally,” he said of the art.
In the mid 1980s, Miller got a Master’s degree in theater from Emerson College, where he also worked in the library when it was located on Beacon St.
After earning a third degree from Simmons College, he became a professional librarian, and spent his career at Curry College in Milton. Miller retired in 2018, but says that the experience really helped to further shape his love for theater, and eventually poetry.
In 1980, Miller became involved with the Mobius Artists Group of Boston (then Mobius Theatre) when he auditioned for a part in Persephone and Hades, and remained a member of the group through 2007. He is now on the Board of Directors.
Miller said he was very interested in experimental theater, and “most of what I did then you could call performance art” during his time with Mobius.
Though Miller has always been a reader of poetry, he says he’s “only been writing poetry actively for about a dozen years.”
He cited A. A. Milne, Edward Lear, and Robert Louis Stevenson as influential authors. “These fellows dug into me early,” he said, and “I continued reading poems. Poetry was not an obsessive part of my reading, but was always there.”
Around the year 1990, Miller said he began to befriend more poets and began attending more poetry readings, all while reading more and more poetry. For the past 30 years, he said he’s “been a daily reader” of poetry.
He also took various workshops with different poets “out of curiosity,” not expecting them to “make me into a poet,” but they ended up being very useful to him in writing more of his own poetry, he said.
“I don’t have a thing that I’m trying to accomplish,” Miller said of his poetry. “I think about individual poems. I approach the writing of individual poems the way I imagine composers approaching individual compositions. Each pieces is its own world.”
He continued, “I want to share stories about my life and the lives of people I know and have known in a way that people can find relatable. I care a lot about life and death. I’m 66—it matters,” he said.
Much of his poetry is free verse, and “I don’t write for everybody because I don’t believe that’s possible,” he said. But he added that “I also don’t only write to amuse myself.”
Miller’s new poetry collection, Bend in the Stair, includes many poems about “people who have lived and died.”
The poems in the book “go back maybe a half dozen years,” and he had sent the original manuscript to his editor, Eileen Cleary of Lily Poetry Review, in the summer of 2019. The manuscript was unsolicited, but Cleary accepted it and Miller worked with Lily Poetry Review Books editor Lisa Sullivan on the manuscript from the fall of 2019 through the spring of this year.
Miller’s first collection, Sprawled Asleep, was published in 2019, but “live readings were murdered by the pandemic,” he said, but added that he is “still proud” of it.
“This book is a lot more concerned with family stories than the previous one,” Miller said. “The previous book has a lot more to do with daily life in the city,” and includes a lot of poems about public transportation and also more poems about music than Bend in the Stair.
Miller said he feels “really lucky” to have two books published within two years, but he’s “not currently thinking about what my third book is going to be.”
In 1989, Miller moved to Jamaica Plain with his wife Jane Wiley, who’s an artist and created the cover art for Bend in the Stair.
The two have lived in the same house near the Stonybrook T station since then, and Miller said that he appreciates “the diversity of the neighborhood,” as well as its rich history.
“That kind of history right under your feet is really enjoyable; really compelling,” he said. He spoke of the many changes the neighborhood has undergone over the years, and thanked the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and City Life for their work on creating more affordable housing in the neighborhood.
Miller wrote a poem about his JP home, called “From a House,” for which he had to do some fairly in-depth research to write.
He said he spent some time at the city’s Registry of Deeds to find out who the home’s previous owners had been, and he discovered the names and occupations of those who have occupied the house. He mentions in the poem that those occupations ranged from knitters to tailors to insurance clerks to stagehands.
“At one point, someone had four mortgages on the house,” he said.
Miller said that he would like to express his “gratitude for everyone that’s involved in the book. It’s sort of generic, but a true, real feeling of thanks and gratitude and appreciation. This is one of those things in life that didn’t have to happen, but it did.”
Miller has several virtual readings lined up for Bend in the Stair, including an official launch with Lily Poetry Books on Sunday, October 10. Information can be found at facebook.com/events/267103828571136, and those interested in attending the virtual event should reach out to [email protected] for the Zoom link.
On Friday, November 12, Miller will do a reading with Jamaica Pond Poets’ poetry series Chapter and Verse. More information can be found at jamaicapondpoets.com/chapter-and-verse-by-zoom/, and interested parties should email [email protected] to RSVP for the event and receive the Zoom link.