CHEESECAKE ON THE RIVERWALK evi t Zv 00 4 i kaltProo \(loud Serving . froIl1 1 1 : 30 until 11:30 every day of the week; open till midnight in the Metro Center, San Antonio, Texas scended by these very symmetries of language. Through the old verse conventions, she can dance, sing, swoop, pounce, chide, cajole, go freely without her body. Through craftsmanship, she is beautiful, lithe, eager; one misses her spirit in overlooking this telling surface of her work. Her technique is not merely historical, though it connects with a deep past of religious introspection and quest poetry, but rather archetypal, an economy of the soul, as she longs to perfect the ruined part of herself. These poems harrow hell and also glitter like stained glass windows in their rigor and distillations. As an urban poet, a lifelong Houstonian, she takes no part in the agonized adjustment of other poets to the closing of the agrarian age in Texas; her vision is singularly this hidden self of beasts and fictions, gods and monsters, which links her to Southern fiction as well as to Central and South American literature of this century. After Adam’s Footprint appeared, Miller’s subsequent titles announced her quest with greater aggression: Wage War on Silence came out in 1960, followed by My Bones Being Wiser, in 1963, which contains her best love poems. In 1968, she published Onions and Roses, titled after what she calls an “idiot’s bouquet” in “De Profundis,” which begins 0 Lord, defend me where I go Through the dark in daylight. Be with me when I smile peaceably though tigers tear at my guts. In a way, she is the female Orpheus trekking an underworld of her own mind, praying she will not lose her golden bough or look up to find the libido in the aspect of a devouring beast. Her journeys are frightening, but controlled by that white-knuckled craftsmanship of flawless rime and meter. “I move from room to room. No one is here to haunt my empty house” she writes in “The Calling of the Names,” almost in disappointment that she cannot scare up monsters. “So I have ceased to call,” she laments. In “Slump,” she tells us the heart is “a naked nerve, an eyeball/ staring from the socket of darkness.” The tropes of inwardness are inexhaustible; she is a master at dissecting subjectivity; the forcefulness of her own clarity parts so many finenesses of mind in these poems, and keeps all of it vivid, crisp, clear as an image of mountains and arroyos. We can hear her purpose sound a new base in If I Could Sleep Deeply Enough has “Just come up from near drowning.” Her book is about aging, her body now a “weary traveller,” which “drinks from Pools of sleep . . . in the black irrational.” In “Tired,” she tells us If I could sleep deeply enough, I might touch the eye of dark life. We believe her; she has earned our faith in her. I write in rage, sitting in silence, music burning my bones. she says in “Letters to Friends Dead and Living.” If she changes at all in these later poems, it is to relax her vigilance at the gate of self; after 20 years of writing, her poems begin looking into the familiar landscape of this world, where she writes of friends, problems, her fears. In Small Change, a little chapbook published in Houston by Wings Press, personal identity is at stake in the poems, the fine interface between hidden and public selves: I am rooted into rocks that lie in cool absolutes of sleep. I stare puzzling over the difference between my feet and this earth. This waking stance led into Approaching Nada convention in a long five-part open poem which plummets to a core of identity, showing us this substrate of self lodged between deep religious fervor, those images, and the origins of the blood, the family name. It is her most distinguished writing to date. The most recent work is here collected as “The Sun Has No History” in which she insists upon her own. thus coming round to the historical tendency of other Texas poets. Selected and New Poems is a spare selection. Indeed, one wants more of Vassar Miller’s work because she is a profound, intelligent guide to her own underworld, a pungent lyricist, and a formalist of glittering perfection, and because she shows the way for other Texas artists who are just now ending a century of pained refusals to look within. Paul Christensen a poet and the au thor of a recent study, Charles Olson: Call Him Ishmael. Good books in every field JENKINS PUBLISHING CO. The Pemberton Press John H. Jenkins, Publisher Box 2085 131 Austin 78768 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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