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James Bourey reviews Canticle For Remnant Days, Poems By Jane C. Miller

Updated: Apr 29

Poems

By Jane C. Miller

Pond Road Press 2024, $18


Full disclosure: I have known Jane Miller for several years, beginning with the Delaware Writers Retreat in Lewes in 2014.


Canticle For Remnant Days is Jane C. Miller’s first full length collection of poems. From the title one might think this is a weighty, scholarly stack of work. And in some ways that is true. The poems do carry weight – emotional, layered, thoughtfully composed, revelatory work that has been carefully arranged into four sections. But the poetry here does not carry the obfuscations of academic jargon or unreachable understanding. 


These sixty-one poems punch the gut, bring a deeper awareness of the shared experiences of the human condition, cause laughter in unexpected places, and finely sketch images that stick in the reader’s mind for a long time. There are poems about childhood, about growing up and moving on, about marriage and friendship and love. And there are examinations of social issues and even a little bit of History. Ms. Miller is obviously a widely read and careful observer who can find new ways of approaching some familiar themes.


Consider the opening poem, Heading West on I-80, a road poem that begins with this line: So many deer die in poems, I am due/ to hit one. From that arresting thought the author moves through a few lines that establish her situation. Then observing a deer she writes Her white tail dismisses/ a gossip of flies. Doesn’t she know/ someone is always out for blood, men…and then moves to the view of big-rig trucks descending a hill on to the penultimate couplet where the poem makes a sudden turn …Once our hands so hungry/ we filled them with each other in the dark--/ and then the final separated line darkness, tunnels ahead, ash where light hits. In nine couplets and a strong last line we are introduced to a traveling narrator, find an interesting natural metaphor in the deer, swing back to the road with another way of describing her journey through the movement and sound of a tractor trailer, to an ending – an ending offering imaginable possibilities. The flow of these lines and the constant shifting of views in this poem is an apt introduction to the distinct style and voice of this poet.


Miller’s skill at giving us opening lines that draw us into poems is admirable. And the subsequent poems never disappoint us, which lead us to move, with anticipation, onto the next piece. Opening lines like See the rickety house, the mosquito-fed lake... in Summer Stock. Or - I palm a rock, its torso/ creviced between breasts in At a Workshop on Grief. Or Let poems fly willing as sonar/ to the cave of you in If James Wright Came Back. The titles and opening lines in this volume are alluring and full of deft craft, pulling us into the magic of poems that show us universal experiences and ideas through personal revelations. 


Each part of this collection stands alone, yet the poems are woven into a quilt of experience that tells a bigger story. And there’s enough entertainment in these pages to draw the reader back again and again, always finding something new to think about. I highly recommend this fine book.


James Bourey is a poet, writer, and occasional reviewer.

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