Fall 2012

Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 3


Poetry    Fiction    Translations    Reviews   

Dan Cuddy


Leslie F. Miller, BOYGIRLBOYGIRL, ISBN 1-59924-919-7, FINISHINGLINEPRESS, 2012, 36 pages, $14.00.

Leslie Miller’s book of poetry is like Ray Rice, small but explosive. The poet here is an athlete; her sport is words. Though BOYGIRLBOYGIRL is reportedly her first book, it certainly is not the work of a novice. Her writing is accomplished and like the diminutive Ravens’ running back, it puts a number of moves on the reader. I don’t know what impresses me more----the wealth of poetic imagery that shapes each poem with the grit of time and place and circumstance, or the humanity that expresses itself. And though the poems have a personal story or incident that inspired them, these poems transcend the confessional mode. In fact, these poems are not confessional, even when they seem to be, like in “Core Breach”, a poem that tells of her kissing a friend’s husband. Women, of course, will identify or understand the poems better than men, but these are not feminist poems. They are human poems. The best authors that delve into the lives and personalities of the characters they write about transcend all the social castes, whether it is gender, race, religion, nationality. Yes, male readers will learn something about women reading Miller’s poems, as the female readers nod in assent, perhaps recognition.
The two poems that move me the most are “Mary” and “The Old Woman’s Kitchen.” Mary is a misfit:

mary I liked the gauchos
your mother made
gold and pink nubbly plaid
the brand new mary janes.

but someone had to be
the girl who made us all
feel good about our faults.
someone had to be the girl.
we pray it isn’t us.
we pray it’s not our daughters.

The other girls had made fun of her and treated her badly as children do, but

all that stopped the moment
she was plucked from line
at High’s on Belair Road
and left behind the dumpsters....

after that
she looked us in the eye
blue glass beads
that pricked our skin.
we didn’t dare whisper
.....and when they found her
hanging like a plumb line
from her ceiling fan
we were almost grateful
for the air.

I will let some lines from “The Old Woman’s Kitchen” speak for themselves.

she is a well-oiled machine
arthritic knots moving fluidly
from mixer to spoon
to spatula to mitt.
in an hour she will announce
the chicken is dry
and don’t bother lying
because she has tasted the truth.
the old man denies it.
the chicken is moist
because he tastes her tears.
the old man is there to help.
when I conjure her
she is tall as a countertop
her back to me
apron ties yearning to be free.
she climbs the bedroom stairs
as if each riser were a mile
each tread an inch.
the old man is there to help.

Other poems in the book tell of girlhood crushes, a plague of 17 year locusts, the Fourth of July, and the charming “Career Girls”. I’ll just quote the first two stanzas of it.

I wanted to be a mechanic:
be the cool car chick to all the guys
wear blue jeans every day.

my sister wanted to be a cashier.
maybe she liked money’s texture
the strong crispness of new bills
the well-laundered crumple of old.
maybe she liked the noisy action
pushing buttons and ringing bells
shoving shut the drawer with a quick
snap of hip
like bumper english at a pinball arcade.

The lines above illustrate the crisp quality of Miller’s writing. The images are precise and the reader can visualize, and feel tactile sensations when they are expressed. In other poems there are recurring images like coat pockets and fieldstones. Some of these take on symbolic value as well as descriptive. This poet is not a writer of abstractions. There are universal truths, some old as the hills, all the human emotion, whether it is love or the breaking up of a relationship (“The Leaving Song”) but it is communicated as an experience, not as an intellectual thought. It just means that she is a poet and not a theorist. Maybe I’m setting up a straw man with that statement. The point is that opening Leslie F Miller’s little book of poems is like opening a wizard’s tome with doves and crows and robins and jays flying out. These poems are alive.


© Dan Cuddy



Poetry    Fiction    Translations    Reviews   

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