The poems in this collection possess
all the "elements" expected of Miller's work-the hard, uncompromising vision of
Robert Frost for whom "anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak,"
the wit, the fecund imagination, and the courage to chronicle a way of life both
personal and cultural as it vanishes. The poems in this volume grow stronger as
we read more deeply into them, especially those in the final section, where the
poet unflinchingly confronts his own mortality with wry humor and grace. In
and Out of Their Elements is a volume which should not be overlooked.
Such swirls, such spoutings from the underworld
of water–from its depths more than two dozen
dorsal fins and sleek gray backs cavorting,
rising, plunging, circling in great arcs,
riding the surf like merry-go-round horses.
We’ve trudged across black lava beds
to reach the coast, out of temper
with the hot sun and foam-ruffled waves
until we see them. Sportive, sociable,
they seem possessed of something more
than instinct, in their fluent medium
conversing, high-pitched, as they frolic,
as if to tell us something.
But even if we had the instruments
to catch their beeps and chirpings, how could we
land creatures understand
such language? What is there to do
but sit in silence on dry rock,
viewing the syntax of their acrobatics,
aliens to their ocean-born esprit?
Born in the Buckeye State, John N. Miller lived in
various communities in Hawaii from 1937 until 195l, when he graduated
from Punahou School in Honolulu. As a first-year undergraduate at
Denison University in Granville, Ohio, he took two writing courses
from Paul L. Bennett, a man who became his guide and mentor in poetry,
and a lifelong friend for the next 50 years. At Stanford, while
earning his MA and Ph.D. degrees, he worked under Yvor Winters in
poetry. Later, he returned to his undergraduate alma mater, where he
taught literature and creative writing for 35 years before retiring in
He and his German-born wife, Ilse Winter, now live in a Kendal
retirement community in Lexington, Virginia, but frequently travel
both to Hawaii and to Europe.