We the Jury
Winner of the 2022 Colorado Book Award for Poetry
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
“One of the most outstanding American poets of his generation . . . Miller's poems face the unvarnished truth of racism and inequality with unsentimental and intriguing utterance.”
“These entries candidly showcase the complexity of human contradictions, and the many forms of grief, doubt, and joy on offer. Moving between specific moments in history and ripe lyrical musings, these poems embrace the unanswerable, offering a deep and satisfying look at selfhood.”
“In We the Jury, Wayne Miller asks probing questions about joy, grief, mortality, and understanding others.”
“Astute and timely . . . Many-minded and formally diverse, [We the Jury] guides its reader through a gauntlet of American moments, personal and political, past and present, en route to what amounts, for this reader, to a sort of reckoning with the American identity and, within that identity, a speaker finding their place.”
“A sharply conceived and exquisitely written collection . . . It’s especially striking to read these poems now, because they feel perfectly suited for our fractured times, but a collection this assured, this perfectly rendered, will remain fresh and equally resonant for future readers.”
“Poetry can transform the imagination, and the kind of changes Miller offers are ones we might shy away from. But the book itself is brave, and it makes me feel brave enough to face even the griefs and losses I have yet to encounter.”
“The poems are dramatic but understated, quiet in the way a bassoon can fill a room without alarming the audience; they are gifts of steady language—unpretentious, unambiguous—in a world swarming with hornet-tipped voices . . . The poems are quiet like an iris bulb. If a reader puts her ear close, she’ll hear the ground rumbling.”
“We the Jury is a good-hearted testament to not only the intricate treading of history but also to enduring love, and the radical strength required to thrive in a ravaged world . . . What Miller does with the expression and capacity of love is magnificent and indeed, memorable. The poems enlarge its concept, open it up in a way that is not a vague, distant thought to the reader, but rather, a real outward force, a gentle beckoning to every wild and quiet possibility.”
“An introspective call-to-action like no other . . . We the Jury delivers the informal findings of our conflicted and always-evolving existence and exposes the heart.”
“Miller—skeptical, exact, yet not entirely without hope—is one of the best. ‘On History,’ about the poet’s relationship with a convicted murderer, is surely one of the most nuanced explorations of justice (criminal or otherwise) that you are likely to read this year.”
“At times heartbreaking, but always beautiful, We the Jury is a collection that does not shy away from the realities of life—those of aging, of politics, of violence, or of loss.”
“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.”
“Simultaneously devastating and stunningly beautiful . . . [Miller’s] is an unflinching, steady gaze, and he clearly feels and sees deeply, attending to the world around him through a lyric that manages to unpack complex ideas across a handful of carved, crafted lines.”
“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.”
“In his latest collection, We the Jury, Miller looks out at his world as a husband, a father, a citizen, and asks with honesty and rapture: ‘What is this America, what is this life?’ A keen observer, Miller is not disheartened by past atrocities and current struggles, but is compelled to hold them in front of him and be candid about what he sees . . . Throughout the book, Miller tackles plenty of tough topics—miscarriage, heroin addiction, housing crisis, middle age, war—but all with a measure of gentleness and abundance. As he observes wisely, ‘Bomb craters’ with time become ‘ponds / exploding with lilies.’”