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(FutureCycle Press, 2016)
Because There Was No Sea
(Anaphora Literary Press, 2014)
Immigrant's Autumn Poems of Exile
(Aldrich Press, 2014)
In Star Map Nancy Anne Miller writes through the four seasons of Northwestern Connecticut beginning with winter in “It Hints of Madness” with “icicles/ drooling from roofs, constant snow/ a kind of foaming” and ending in autumn, when she opens the poem “Tonic” with “Who knew death could dazzle?” These poems cover the decades Miller has lived in a bucolic setting. They show her early alignment with the British School of Martian Poetry and the years she learned to interpret the seasons through Dickey’s “adventure of metaphor.” In the poem “Star Map,” “The frost on my windshield with/ connecting white stellar shapes is/ a star map to guide me.” The collection steadily maps a Bermudian poet coming to terms with a new country where New England is “Not England” and instead is a place: “four full/ seasons the terrain changes into,/ a mad search for identity and whom to be.”
Nancy Anne Miller takes us into the vivid imagery of New England seasons. They are the perfect container for “what we cannot hold, claim.” Through poems that are full-blown with metaphor and spare in language, we are invited to the contours of Miller’s inner landscape where she bravely faces dislocation and loss. With one foot rooted in her island home, she shows us with keen intelligence and clarity, how the power of nature and the meaning she gives it, can transform the present. How in Connecticut, her “Saab compass points North, shaped like an ancestor’s ship pulled up, not down on the high seas.”
“Heads lowered like snakes uncharmed by music.” from Tulips in January is as devastatingly lovely as it is fresh and precise. Dark imagery and metaphors abound in Miller’s work and as unusual and original as they are we do always know what she means. Her language is sensuous without being precious or sentimental. A transplanted islander, she wrestles with the brittle beauty of New England (or Not England as the poet cites), with a reluctant and hard won respect.
Nancy Anne Miller has an impressively assured poetic voice and a deft use of imagery and language. From the domestic sphere of comforting chintz and Chippendale furniture to the weighty history of empire, ‘fingered by time … spotted by memory’, everything is connected. In Miller’s world, the geographies that shape our lives are key—from oceans which alternately hide and spill forth the secrets underneath the water—and in our hearts—to an autumnal Northern clime whose leaves lead back to the tropics. Past and present merge on the page with the tablecloth, the cutlery, the pain of grief and the joy of life. Here is a poet whose words evoke the world that is present in her tiny island home … which is all our homes.
In Water Logged poet Nancy Anne Miller invites us to her island, Bermuda. Accepting her invitation is like falling into an artist’s collage. I am immersed in an intimate collection fond of turquoise and pink, a product of years of personal history and observation. The waves offer their sandy layers—weeds, shells, stray treasures—but this is not a tourist’s Bermuda, and not a history book’s. In each of three sections, Miller crafts a catalogue of images and anecdotes so vivid that I imagine them punctuated with splashes of paint.
A poet is a namer of things, happenings in the heart; a taker of the heart’s inventory of loss and love. It is a fine poet who enables us to return from our exile to the past. Nancy Anne Miller’s collection, Water Logged, is a work that reifies her home land, Bermuda, with nasturtium sandwiches, hurricane shades and straw dustpans. The poems deliver a world familiar and exotic, making us smile at, and ache for, that world which is gone.
With dazzlingly unpredictable imagery, Nancy Miller shifts prototypic
narratives and geographies, making the familiar strange and the strange
familiar. From peonies to pink lockers, penmanship to postboxes, Somersault
reconceptualizes the quotidian, insisting Bermuda into the crevices of the
Nancy Anne Miller’s powerful and moving collection of poetry, Somersault, is an exquisitely balanced exploration of the power of place to both form and inform us. She writes of Bermuda, its paradisiacal beauty, with rich and original metaphors and striking imagery—Bermuda is “a safety pin pushed through /the ocean’s hem trailing the ribbon / of the Gulf Stream;” a banana is “the moon’s finger;” a hibiscus bud is“ folded like a bird asleep,” its withered blossom “a hanky a suitor might pick up.” Bermuda’s “aquamarine waters” where she spent so much of her childhood bends “back in the somersault of a wave,” the knobs of a conch shell “rise like young waves /bowing into spray,” and a jellyfish is “a slip from/ down under, the ocean’s /soft filmy lingerie.” All this glorious imagery, this inventive and often startlingly original use of metaphor, while consistently and skillfully drawing the reader into the poet’s passionate connection to her birthplace, is also used with great skill to remind us over and over that beneath that seductive beauty the horror of colonialism and slavery still cast their shadows, and this awareness is an essential part of understanding such a paradise. The “stingray float[ing]gracefully” when the cruise ship comes in; the “fins of snappers / flash[ing] like broken glass”; a woman whose “ancestors crossed the Atlantic / chained as meat in a butcher’s locker” has great grandsons who use “tools / meant for outside work, / to slice a bag off a tourist’s shoulder / like a heavy and ripe mango”; a cook with her “slave bracelets rattling” makes a pie, “retrieving bits of flour and butter, / islands she pressed into one whole piece, // a woman mending a map,” who “spiked the pie with rum, mangoes, loquats,” so it is “a ship bearing /her African ancestor’s flavours.” No one who reads this book will ever be able to think of Bermuda as simply a tourists’ dream, a string of beautiful, flower-filled islands again, and this re-visioning, painful, honest, and courageous, is Nancy Anne Miller’s gift to the reader, and most of all a fitting and moving homage to her beautiful, complex home.
Nancy Miller’s poetry travels far but homes to landscapes which, seemingly familiar, enchant and surprise. Nothing quite settles, the poems haunted by things turning into plants and creatures, plants and creatures into things, words folding and unfolding their meanings. The best poems are on tenterhooks, and we with them.
“These poems reek of Bermuda and the sea, all about love and history that dovetail into the present that is both haunting and nostalgic; the poems offer a familiar, yet new perspective, crafted with tender care and an ear for the truth that is indelible.”
Nancy Anne Miller’s poems are dazzling, their startling, original images compact almost to bursting. They reveal a visual imagination that clashes, delights, surprises with such impact that we are struck breathless. Immigrant’s Autumn is one of a kind. Yet why do I think of the abundance of metaphor, the compulsion to bring disparities of place together to survive, to breathe—of such artists as, yes, an Emily Dickinson, yes, a James Joyce. How can I not!
In Immigrant’s Autumn, Nancy Anne Miller looks back on her native Bermuda from her adopted Connecticut with a mix of irony and nostalgia. The small island of her childhood was a place where one dressed for croquet and ate off Spode. A sailboat on the horizon was “A Dixie Cup turned over” and white plastic clothes pegs in a row were “knobby joints of a dinosaur’s spine.” Now, from temporal as well as physical distance, she captures the ephemeral nature of all things, from the hibiscus flower that “lives a day, then folds hours into its hanky and drops to the earth to be retrieved,” to the autumn of the title, “when pumpkins suck on death through their crooked teeth.” These poems are filled with longing and laughter. Miller’s voice is as delicate as the clink of a Limoge teacup in its saucer and as deep-throated as the sea itself—“alive with addition, subtraction.”
As you travel with Nancy Anne Miller along the beaches and reefs of her Bermuda, you see memories of family, friends, and coming of age experiences. Then, as she portrays her adopted New England, her home ocean always a near memory, the poems observe, with an alert stranger’s eye, that other world she seems always conscious of being a tourist in. Bermuda remains her boat’s compass wherever she reports from.
"Because There Was No Sea combines a mastery of simile (the 'jaws' of bicycle brakes snapping at the wind 'like two dogs'; a golf ball hit 'like a semibreve into/ the staff of phone lines') with a Blake-like ability to build whole worlds from a grain of sand (or a phone, which 'may as well be a conch/from off the beach'). This is a restless, Janus-faced collection, simultaneously looking back on childhood memories of Bermuda ('alive, fresh as raw meat') and thirstily drinking in the details of the wider world."
"Nancy Anne Miller's poems embrace island icons with a ruthless tenderness, teasing out their secrets and accepting with equal enthusiasm their surface beauty and their burdened hearts. Miller approaches the island's difficult colonial history from a position of exile and with a wondrous ability to find and restore the paradisiacal as she explores the mysteries of one place through the lens of the other."
"Like hand-cut stones strung along a necklace, each of Miller's poems is its own gem. Untethered by theme, each page is a new discovery: a childhood memory, a lusty evocation of the landscape, an observation of passersby. We journey into these experiences finding fresh perspectives on our Island home. The imagery is alive; the author makes nature an active character."