"Book by book, Jane Miller has evolved a mode, a voice, a palette and landscape entirely her own. If she were a painter, one might describe it as a descendant of cubism, a composition of multiple planes and reflections that appears to emerge out of itself, true to laws of its own nature, and yet is disturbingly recognizable, continuously suggestive, intimate and beautiful. Her subject is love and illusion and their revelation about each other."--W. S. Merwin "Reading Jane Miller's poetry is like channel-surfing on acid."--L.A. Weekly Jane Miller is a traveler stimulated by ideas beyond our immediate sphere. In this book-length sequence animated and propelled by a confrontation with her dead father, she meditates on home, love, war and the responsibility of the poet. A Palace of Pearls is inspired by one of the most spectacular civilizations in history, the Arab kingdom of Al-Andalus--a Middle Age civilization where architecture, science and art flourished and Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in relative harmony. The reader roams through "rooms," encountering Greek, Judaic and Roman mythology, and through the streets of fifteenth-century Spain and contemporary Rome in Miller's most personal and associative volume. FromA Palace of Pearls We bow our heads for the ancient draping of the gardenia lei in the hotel lobby and are relieved of our possessions as per a reminder that one must enter Paradise a little naked Jane Miller is the author of eight previous books of poetry and essays. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award. She lives in Tucson and teaches in the creative writing program at The University of Arizona, having served as the program's director from 1999-2003.
Miller also follows Federico García Lorca’s relationship to these Moorish legends, and the politics that led to his assassination.
Jane does create an almost physical stride through the book. There's an exertion that puts a lot of pressure on the reader. To a fault I think. No meditation. No stopping for anything. Jane does not dwell in these poems, she doesn't live in the architecture she works so hard to create (or re-create or whatever). She's just continuously toppling and rebuilding these instances, sort of turning them into steam. But steam does not a poem make. So ehh. Two stars.
Miller's writing is elegant, but does not grasp at the gorgeous in language; this is poetry to be felt and thought with one's eyes wide open, not poetry that makes one swoon. All to the better, since this is no romanticized retreat into what Yves Bonnefoy (writing about the French romantics) called the “pretentiousness of the me,” even though Miller doesn’t hesitate to make use of the raw material of her personal life. This is not Language poetry either, even though it is intimately about the using and uses of language and the very notion and nature of use: what is the use of poetry? what does poetry do or accomplish?, how does (or should) a poet engage notions of culpability and responsibility vis-à-vis her world, her situation? In "21" she says, “people are cut they’re frightened/ they want to know why they want to know/ where they are dying well aware/ it is not in this poem”. There is an element of reportage in A Palace of Pearls, the eye of the journalist (from the root meaning daily) issuing field reports on art, architecture, history, love, and war. Numerous themes or “subjects” weave in and out, among which are the painters Goya and Caravaggio (shadows), Andalusia, the Alhambra, the poet Lorca (it is a household employee of his family who enacts for him and his brother the tale of the Palace of Pearls), the Inquisition (and by extension, the Holocaust), the poet’s dying/ dead father, the poet’s girlfriend on a trip to Italy, Naples (Caravaggio was stranded in Naples), Pompeii and Rome, the Arizona desert, and a honeymoon in Hawaii. Even though Miller claims in "22" that “history is the last thing poems should tell/ and stories next to last so poetry is all/ a scent of berry like a splash of destiny/ which hints at the best of life and after its small/ thrill passes like a small lost civilization/ it can be solace and sadness as well . . . . the poem restores nothing,” I think that A Palace of Pearls, its art, landscapes and travel memoirs included, admirably succeeds in bearing witness.