Victoria-based poet, professor, essayist, and translator Eric Miller is a rare thing in a literary culture dominated by cynicism and irony: a poet of baroque extravagance, soaring vision, and sonorous rhetoric. In previous collections, this resulted in some of the most electrifying poetry being written today, but also in the occasional spectacular collapse. In The Day in Moss, Miller’s third collection, the virtues remain intact, but the flaws of excess are markedly diminished.
It’s hard to quote effectively from Miller’s work in a short review because of the complexity of his syntax. In “Keeping the appetites, like waves,” for example, we don’t get a period until the 16th line. Before we get to that period, we have a pigeon’s “look sharp-wet as the glance of beaded/ shaving-cuts”; “painterly guano’s inexpungible palette”; a “shiny, sordid/ spouse”; a “sheen/ struck from malnourishment and happenstance.” The poem ends with the line “seamlessly ragged,” a perfect encapsulation of the roughhousing graces of Miller’s visually evocative and densely musical verse.
Miller’s often ecstatic spiritual-philosophical nature poetry calls to mind such predecessors as Hopkins; his style also has a kinship with those great verbal splurgers Swinburne and Hart Crane. But Miller’s vision is very much his own. It’s refreshing, in the context of often hysterical contemporary eco-poetry, to come across a thought such as “do not be so arrogant as to think/ you can truly harm the world.”
Miller has not received the kind of critical attention devoted to poets such as Don McKay, Tim Lilburn, Jan Zwicky, and Dennis Lee, who have written on similar subjects, but his thought is in many ways more nuanced and his writing more engaged and engaging. With the firm establishment of his mature voice in this collection, one hopes that more readers find their way to his work.