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Monday, 20 February 2012

Josephine Miles: Gypsy


Farmland along the upper Delaware River in New York State
: photo by John Collier, June 1943 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

The entire country is overrun with private property, the gypsy king said.
I don't know if this is true,
I believe in the gypsy kingship though.

The lost tribes of my own nation
Rove and rove.
In red and yellow rough and silent move.

I believe
The majesty pot mending, copper smith
On the hundred highways, nothing to do with.

And black eyes, black I never saw,

Searching out the pocket lines of cloth
The face lines and the furrows of belief.

It's a curious fact, Stephan, King, if you are made to doubt
Aegyptian vision on the Jersey shore.
Property's private as ever, ever.

Farmland along the upper Delaware River in New York State
: photo by John Collier, June 1943 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Josephine Miles: Gypsy, from Local Measures, 1946


TC said...

Poetry, Teaching and Scholarship -- Oral history interview with Josephine Miles

Lally said...

Thanks for this post Tom. Enlightening for me in more ways than expected.

TC said...

Glad you've picked up on this one, Michael. Thought of you when putting it together.... that Jersey shore.

Of course Jo Miles spent most of her life right around here. She started teaching at UC Berkeley in 1940.

"One of my early students was Robert Duncan, from Fresno, a boy who was in obvious trouble. I brought him high culture to rescue him."

She was the first woman to achieve tenure in the English Department. And became a University Professor, again a significant distinction.

She had suffered from crippling arthritis since childhood, and had to be carried in and out of her classrooms.

I'd been interested in her work for years, and while she was still alive, was always conscious of her being "in the neighborhood," just north of the campus, in a locale briefly made notable by the presence of that famous abductee/vacationer Patricia Hearst, chez The Symbionese Liberation Army.

Early on JM had spent many years tabulating the words used by poets from the 1640s through the 1940s. She counted up word usages in the old, pre-computer way. Quite amazing. The result of all that work was her compendious The Continuity of Poetic Language.

The academic aspect of her life put some people off, I suppose. But to me the poetry showed the distinctive, idiosyncratic, angular shape of a very specific mind and sensibility. R. Jarrell gave her credit for "a carefully awkward and mannered charm. Everything is just a little off; always the precisely unexpected."

That seems about right.

Lally said...

Thanks for all that info. I got the PEN Oakland "Josephine Miles Award" once so was always interested and intended to pursue more information about her. But this post and the poem just brought her approach home in a way I hadn't seen before and maybe overlooked. I'm gonna see what books I can find and make her work familiar.

TC said...

Swell, Mike. Now I get it.

Were I ever to receive a prize of any kind (unlikely, but mind you this is a hypothetical case), it would certainly expand the honour significantly to know that the personage under whose auspices it came was someone worthy not merely of natural gratitude but of craft respect. That's a blue ribbon on the package, I reckon.

JM used to hold Friday afternoon after-classes readings of poets she liked at the building where she taught (Wheeler Hall), Stevens, Thomas, Eliot, among others as I recall. Students came and listened.

A will to share the goods always seems a very good sign in a poet, don't you think?

ACravan said...

This is super-fascinating and a discovery for me in all respects, including your and Michael's discussion. I love the poem and you got the green for the type just right. New York State, just north of Tuxedo a little further into Orange County, still looks like that, by the way. I hope it always will. Curtis

TC said...

And with those pictures, Curtis, I thought of you, there - perhaps in the car, with the family, driving.

What a a pleasant slice of civilization it is, as we see it there, and will remain, in John Collier's loving and quietly dramatic light and shadow.