ALTHOUGH MILLER has often been defiantly traditional in form she returns regularly to the sonnet, including a 22-sonnet sequence that closes Struggling To Swim On Concrete her approach to the line and varied in her assumption of voice; and that dimension of variety underscores the catholicity of her temperament. Her voice can take baldly erotic turns as frankly as it will an enthusiastically devotional stance; and just as she can be elegiac in recording the incidents and textures of memory, she can also be caustic, contemplative and lyrical. Again, one notes the importance of the collection of essays Brown has gathered here. Just as the essayists define what one might call the psychology of craft in Miller’s verse, they also serve a pioneering function. They remind us of the excitement generated by lively minds. They let us see patterns of concern we might have missed without their help. They sharpen our perspective by showing us relationships between the part and the whole, the individual and the culture. Because of their wealth of judicious quotation of Miller’s work, they give us a participatory relationship with the ideas and images of a poet nervy enough to evoke the redemptive and sanctifying possibilities of art and wittily lucid enough to say in Approaching Nada: “One might become Quaker/in this Aztec land.” She also realistically evokes a sense of her own limits: “I seek my roots of shifted waters/shifting . . .” Every page she writes, Miller says in “An Essay In Criticism By Way Of Rebuttal,” is the threat of infinite snow. Every descent into silence is the risk of never returning. Every poet knows what the saint knows that every new day is to retake the frontier of one’s name. In addition to those critics who outline then analyze some of the broader elements of Miller’s themes and prosody, other essayists in the collection consider the subtler qualities of her work. In “Passionate Scriptures of the Body,” Robert Bonazzi contrasts Miller with the mystic by noting: “Except for certain instants of ecstasy, the poet vividly fuels the body’s sensate cage. Whereas the mystic transcends the body’s text, Miller grapples with it.” So Bonazzi sees Miller as a poet actively involved in the process of discovery, one who in reflection sees the body as the “bloody laboratory, of our lives.” Seeing Miller as a modern mystic, however, Frances Sage outlines the progressive sense of calmness articulated in her work: “She explores over and over the theme of death but now without despair.” An example of this is found in the witty undertones of one of Miller’s more deceptively casual pieces, “Another Sleep Poem” beginning by saying: Sleep seduces me better than the lovers that I never had ever could Miller closes with a voluptuous air of insouciance that turns startling: But, friends, best of all, far more than death sleep soothes me, when, during the night, we wake to kiss each other Death has no mouth. BY TOM MCCLELLAN THE DEATH SHIFT By Peter Mind New York: Viking, 1989 351 pages, $19.95 THE PUBLISHER’S NOTE on my copy of The Death Shift warns reviewers -that any quotes from these unrevised proofs of Elkind’s work ought to be “verified with finished book.” Rather than that, I’m going to guess that the editors at Viking will revise out dull metaphors: The picturesque image is a facade. Beneath the veneer of modern sophistication, San Antonio .. . anything-but-dull metaphors: Genene Jones’s adoptive father [Richard Jones] was a child of “Unsainted Anthony,” and the wooly character of the city flowed through him like blood. ambiguous phrasing: . . . little Dick slept on a bed that extended under the kitchen sink. and the author’s disconcerting tendency to remove Texas towns via the past tense: A community of 15,000 in the Texas Hill Country, Kerrville sat along the picturesque Guadalupe River, sixty miles northwest of San Antonio. The area was a haven for retirees Otherwise, readers of “finished book” may Observer contributor Tom McClellan teaches writing in Dallas. The essays gathered in Heart’s Invention survey the achievement of a strong and steadily vigorous poetic voice. Outlining the integrity of her vision and her attention to craft, the essayists have established places for subsequent thinkers to explore. More immediately important than that, however, is their incisive thought, polished phrasing and sense of mission. Impressive in their accomplishment, this group of critics brings interesting news about the mind and work of an instructive sensibility, one who sees craft not as a fence or barrier but as “the loving use of language.” Like the poems in Miller’s nine collections, the essays in Heart’s Invention have textures that make them worth returning to. decide that the first sentence of Gary Cartwright’s back-cover puff “THE DEATH SHIFT will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up” constitutes threat, rather than promise, fulfilled. Subtitled “a true story of murder and medicine,” The Death Shift is one of many descendants from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, works that established the genre, and for the imitative, set up the formula: Sensational Murder Story + Larger Issues. The sensational story sells the book; the larger issues pacify the reader’s intellect, which might otherwise turn to musing upon the neighborly relations between sex and violence, prurience and morbidity. Writers have provided sensational murder stories with “redeeming social value” in various ways: Compassion for the murderer reflections on social stratification speculations as to the murderer’s psychopathology observations on the media ratscrabble around a sensational story \(Executioner’s even mythological analysis of the murderer-victim dyad According to Dallas Observer columnist Dennis Holder, several books on the Matamoros cult slayings are in the works \(one local writer proposes to include geography of drug smuggling and background on Satanic religion as food for The Death Shift may face gruesome competition in bookstores this fall. Blood For Money 14 SEPTEMBER 15, 1989
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