We the Jury
A boy asks his father what it means to die; a poet wonders whether we can truly know another’s thoughts; a man tries to understand how extreme violence and grace can occupy the same space. These are the questions Wayne Miller tackles in We the Jury: the hard ones, the impossible ones.
From an academic dinner party disturbing in its crassness and disaffection to a family struggling to communicate gently the permanence of death, Miller situates his poems in dilemma. He faces moments of profound discomfort, grief, and even joy with a philosopher’s curiosity, a father’s compassion, and an overarching inquiry at the crossroads of ethics and art: what is the poet’s role in making sense of human behavior? A bomb crater–turned–lake “exploding with lilies,” a home lost during the late-aughts housing crash—these images and others, powerful and resonant, attempt to answer that question.
Candid and vulnerable, Miller sits with us while we puzzle: we all wish we knew what to tell our children about death. But he also pushes past this and other uncertainties, vowing—and inviting us—to “expand our relationship / with Death,” and with every challenging, uncomfortable subject we meet. In the face of questions that seem impossible to answer, We the Jury offers not a shrug, but curiosity, transparency, a throwing of the arms wide.
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Praise and Prizes
“We the Jury is a book of dark and sometimes surreal love poems from the heart of a man to his wife, his children, his nation, and his past. ‘Marveling at the age of things,’ Wayne Miller writes with an understanding of community and the knowledge that any one understanding must be questioned: ‘we will come down upon us with the weight of our entire existence // even then not one of us // will truly understand what we have done.’ It’s the subtleties and vulnerabilities of these poems that move them from a good look at recent history to a leap of lyric exploration.”
“In We the Jury, Wayne Miller asks probing questions about joy, grief, mortality, and understanding others.”
“We the Jury is incisive and deeply personal, plumbing complex human questions (how do we belong, who decides what we belong to, how do we contend with the evidence of our mortality) in ways that feel both current and enduring. These poems are succinct, the line breaks taut and attentive, and the narratives profoundly compelling. Rich in image and full of the unexpected, We the Jury offers glimpses of a nation, a family, a life, and a mind at work piecing together (and picking apart) the stories that shape our individual and collective experience. A truly moving and meaningful book.”
“There is no didacticism in We the Jury because the paradoxes, quandaries, and trespasses of our age are not presented for predetermined consumption. Through Miller’s wisdom and fearlessness, these spare, incisive lyrics drop us into a stark world. They bare what we fail to remember or what we fail to understand about our pseudo-productive, throwaway existence. Whether Miller implicates his speaker in our false economy or resists an indictment, he pays chilling attention to the present. That is, his curiosity is both passionate and disinterested. Moments of suspended wonder abound. In We the Jury, every poem, measured and flawless, says, look with open eyes.”
“We the Jury is a startling, radiant book. Wayne Miller dangles the hope to be ‘lifted // into the purity of our politics’—then yanks it back with truth. The truth? Cell phones buzzing in the pockets of massacred gay men is ‘the best image we had / of what made us a nation.’ I admire so much, including Miller’s elemental gift for metaphor: the ‘lit-up silence’ after a miscarriage; the vacant houses of the rich ‘mute and clear, like still water.’ No American poet interrogates the ways our center cannot hold—middle class, middle age, Midwest, rage—better, and more humanely, than Wayne Miller.”