Donna de la Perrière: What role does place play in your work / aesthetic? How has your extended time in the Bay Area over the past few years played out in your work?
Jane Miller: I will say this of place and time -- if one can only imagine, but not remember, one is in danger. In order to be mindful of the past and the future, I usually start by writing in a notebook about what is in view. I move gradually from the sort of description common in prose to more figurative speech, all the while hoping to gather momentum, music, and meanings.
The Bay area, especially Berkeley, is the setting for Midnights, my most recent book. Other locations get added, in a widening circle like a snail. My hope is to locate, to point out in the stuff of this world, other worlds.
DDLP: What do you find especially rewarding and/or challenging about writing prose poems?
JM: The prose poem is an enforcer of the sentence for me. While I welcome visits from fragments, mostly my prose poems are subject-verb-predicate, often accompanied by subordinate clauses, prepositional phrases, asides, interruptions, and an occasional chocolate cake! When a shard occurs, it hopes to be lyrical, surprising, and thrilling. Then the work of discourses and of stories resumes, keeping the text’s emotions in real time.
I guess I think of working at a prose poem as I would work at a good job. I labor over it like a letter to someone I love. I write prose quickly, and also, without realizing, carelessly, so I go back and back. I like going back in art as I like going back to some places; that is, I feel compelled by forces larger than myself: responsibility, commitment, engagement. The prose poem demands a certain adult behavior. It prepares me to return and enjoy the present.
DDLP: What roles have visual arts (painting, in particular) and music played in your work? And how has changed over time?
JM: I’ve had two amateur preoccupations with other arts: I used to paint and now I play the piano. So while all the arts are of a piece and interdependent, these have affected me the most. I think probably by keeping me sufficiently free. By this I mean that while art and music require discipline, I only painted when I was moved to paint and now I only play the piano to experiment. So there you have my young cousins, indulgence and fun!
I try to take them wherever I go, because I don’t have children.
In poetry, I wish not to be over-permissive, nor too protective. I go back and forth on this; sometimes, to ground the reader, I’m overtly autobiographical. Also, I can be abstract and distant. As an aside: I love surrealism because of its special relation to time and place, with a torch in its mouth and a seahorse in its path. In surrealism, do time and place serve to hide or reveal things as they are? Perhaps, as the greatest of literary movements, it serves both.
With the recent death of my mother, I feel that I would like to speak more sparely. Perhaps I may say goodbye to the prose poem, goodbye to surrealism, goodbye to the long line, and goodbye, mother.
Donna de la Perrière is the author of True Crime (Talisman House, 2009). Her poems have appeared in Agni, American Letters and Commentary, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Five Fingers Review, The New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly, New American Writing, Parthenon West Review, Volt, and other journals, as well as in Faux Press’s 2006 Bay Poetics anthology. The recipient of a 2009 Fund for Poetry award, she teaches in the MFA and undergraduate creative writing programs at California College of the Arts and San Francisco State University, and curates the Bay Area Poetry Marathon reading series at San Francisco’s The Lab gallery and performance space.
MIDNIGHTS, poetry and prose poems by Jane Miller, is Saturnalia Press artist/poet Collaboration Series, #4, 2008, with visual art contributed by Beverly Pepper and an introduction by C.D. Wright. Miller’s other recent work is the book-length sequence, A Palace of Pearls (Copper Canyon Press, 2005), which received the 2006 Audre Lorde Prize in Poetry. Among earlier collections are Wherever You Lay Your Head; Memory at These Speeds: New and Selected Poems; The Greater Leisures, a National Poetry Series Selection; and August Zero, winner of the Western States Book Award. She has also written Working Time: Essays on Poetry, Culture, and Travel, published in the University of Michigan's Poets on Poetry Series.