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Featured Poet: Susan Miller

Last spring we launched a series with poets whose work we love and want to feature and will continue it moving forward.

Our next poet is Susan Miller, whose work is inspired by the sacred in relationship. Read her poetry and discover more about the connections she makes between poetry and the sacred.

Et In Arcadia Ego

For Anya Krugovoy Silver

Yesterday a new Tom Waits song
was released, and I thought

of you. In a different world
we would have met up this October,

our heads together over a cafe table,
and we could have sung it

like schoolgirls singing the anthem
of their country–not Russia,

not America, but the country of those
who joke about death and carry

a St. Agatha prayer-card wherever
they go. In April your hair

was growing back, and you wore
red and black earrings that swung

like pendulums over our lunch.
You ordered a giant cup of coffee.

I ordered a giant sugar bomb.
The sun warmed our walk

through Central Park, and we linked arms
talking about how much making out

is okay for a 14-year-old, being moms.
It was and was not an ordinary day.

Now I am the only one
who remembers how slowly we walked,

how I returned you to the apartment
because you feared

getting dizzy alone.
I’ve been trying to pray more,

reading your poems.
I painted my nails red

because of you, letting the chips show.
I walk through the house, wishing

you would haunt me the way you said
your dead friends would sit with you

during chemo. One more time
I would sing to you bella ciao, bella ciao,

bella ciao.

Originally published in Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry, 2019

Themes of Her Work

My main theme currently–in just about every aspect of my life–is grief. In the past six years I’ve lost a number of deeply beloved friends, including my official sponsor for conversion to Catholicism, my unofficial sponsor for conversion, one of my early mentors in poetry, one of my most recent mentors in poetry, and my grandmother. I’ve spent the entire last year in rumination. I haven’t been writing so much as preparing to write–I’ll be traveling to Mexico this summer to start a book of essays about death in Mexican art and culture. I expect poetry will follow as well.

Poetry and the Sacred

Poetry, like all acts of witness, allows the reader to enter into another’s perspective. Reading poetry can help develop empathy and a deeper communion with others. If there is anything that brings me closer to the sacred, it’s the effort to grow closer to other human beings. I often write poetry because my reading inspires that impulse. I’m not always in touch with my faith; my mind is likely to be distracted or cloudy. But reading (and I’m a reader first) can center me again, because I’m asking questions and trying to enter into some kind of wisdom. In my twenties, I spent a year reading Ecclesiastes everywhere–on the subway, in my room, at lunch, between classes. I read it because I needed it. It wasn’t just because it was the Bible–it seemed to hold both sensuous music and sere truths, a poetry that was totally dire but would inevitably seduce you anyway. Artists I admire often tell difficult truths in beautiful ways–Colette, Gwendolyn Brooks, Eliot Weinberger, Elizabeth Bishop, Anthony Hecht, Denis Johnson, Anya Krugovoy Silver, George Saunders, Sturgill Simpson, Mark Doty, Werner Herzog, Tom Waits, Marie Ponsot, Jerry Harp, Yehoshua November… plus the usual suspects (Hopkins, O’Connor.)

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A Vision

Last night I dreamed the church in winter.
Crowds of people filled the pews, laden
with armloads of roses and larkspur,
each with a tray of lit candles. St. Claire
loosened all her blonde hair in a pew
in the front of the sanctuary, and I knew
St. Francis nestled between friends somewhere.
The priest told us In this dark hour of the year
we light candles to dispel the vision of evil,
which shadows us whenever we forget to turn
towards the light.
Directly I could feel
beside me the grey one on his ashen horse,
his face obscured under his tattered hood,
and felt the wind of his galloping, but
my candle’s flame did not flicker.
You must make your own light, the Father said,
and as I raised my head I saw every man
and woman, every child, clean and naked,
brighter than the glow of a thousand candles.

Originally published in Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 2016, and in Communion of Saints.

About Susan Miller

Susan L. Miller is the author of Communion of Saints: Poems (Paraclete Press.) She has twice received Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes for poetry, and has poems in Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion, and Spirituality (Sibling Rivalry Press) and St. Peter’s B-List: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints (Ave Maria Press.) Her poems have been published in Commonweal, Black Warrior Review, Meridian, Iowa Review, Los Angeles Review, Image, Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry, and other literary journals. Essays have been published on the Sick Pilgrim blog. Because she is a student of Marie Ponsot, she has also had poems published in several volumes of Still Against War. She teaches at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Recent Articles:
The Catholic Imagination: What’s Actually on Display in the Met’s Heavenly Bodies Exhibit, Part I

Dress Like a Saint: What’s Actually on Display in the Met’s Heavenly Bodies Exhibit, Part II

Vatican Treasures: What’s Actually on Display in the Met’s Heavenly Bodies Exhibit, Part III

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Dreaming of Stones

Christine Valters Paintner‘s new collection of poems Dreaming of Stones has just been published by Paraclete Press.

The poems in Dreaming of Stones are about what endures: hope and desire, changing seasons, wild places, love, and the wisdom of mystics. Inspired by the poet’s time living in Ireland these readings invite you into deeper ways of seeing the world. They have an incantational quality. Drawing on her commitment as a Benedictine oblate, the poems arise out of a practice of sitting in silence and lectio divina, in which life becomes the holy text.

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