Wayne Miller is the author of four collections of poems, including Post-, The City, Our City, The Book of Props, and Only the Senses Sleep. He is also a cotranslator of two books from the Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo, and a coeditor of three anthologies, including Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century and New European Poets. He is the recipient of the UNT Rilke Prize, the George Bogin Award, the Lucille Medwick Award, the Lyric Poetry Award, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize, and a Fulbright to Queen’s University Belfast. His work has been named a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award and the PEN Center USA Award in Translation. Miller cocurates the Pleiades Press Unsung Masters Series with Kevin Prufer and is a professor of English at the University of Colorado Denver, where he edits Copper Nickel.
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Books by Wayne Miller
Author Q & A
Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?
I like William Stafford’s idea about this. I’m paraphrasing, but he says something like: a poet is someone who has arrived at a method that allows him to say things he could not have said without that method. My method is nothing like Stafford’s (he wrote a poem every day before getting out of bed—and when a poem didn’t come, he would “lower his standards”), but I do think it’s the consistent work of continually touching back in with the possibility of a poem—and then, once I have a draft, with the poem-in-progress—that allows me to arrive at moments of genuine surprise. Moments, in other words, that feel “received” somehow. [Read more at How a Poem Happens]
How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?
I think what I outline above is typical: I carry a poem around and read it over obsessively, tinkering, revising, etc., until I exhaust myself and put it away for a couple weeks. Then I touch back in with it. If it seems done at that point—when I no longer quite remember the particular details of writing it—I send it out. If the poem requires more revision, I continue revising, then put it away again. Rinse, wash repeat. Sometimes after one of those repetitions I just abandon the poem. Other times, I find it’s done and I put it in the mail. If it comes back rejected, I check back in with it to see if I need to revise further. [Read more at How a Poem Happens]
Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
I tend to imagine a future audience—some person fifty or one hundred years from now who’s literate and has read a decent range of poetry. I’m by no means so confident in my work to be convinced I’ll be read in the future (are any poets so sure of themselves?), but I think it’s important—at least for me—to write with such an audience in mind. I try to remember that an important part of why we read poetry is to connect intimately with a mind that’s not our own—to discover as directly as possible how a mind in a different time or location lived and experienced the world around itself. When I’m thinking about the relative value (or non-value) of a poem of mine, I sometimes consider how well it some aspect our own moment in history—or at least of my tiny slice of it. [Read more at How a Poem Happens]