Leslie Adrienne Miller’s Y is difficult: dense with image, crowded with sound, a book that is willing to puzzle over a lifetime of mysteries, regardless of size. “Voracious” best describes the attention underpinning the collection, as it gobbles up everything from Roget to Rukeyser, feral children to Elmer Fudd. A full fifth of the poems are centos, collaged from bewildering sources. If Y appeared as a question on a multiple-choice test, the answer would be “all of the above.” Still, the choices Miller makes are not haphazard; they are instead brutally calculating. Read more
Leslie Adrienne Miller
Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2012.
By Callista Buchen
reviewed in The Literary Review, Fall 2012
Leslie Adrienne Miller is fascinated with the male child’s evolving sense of right and wrong, as well as his linguistic and physical development and the factors that shape these processes. The riveting poems of her new collection, Y, explore that fascination, bringing together a variety of disciplines around child development— biological, social, cultural, and parental. In the second poem of the collection, “The Lucifer Effect,” we see the boy who appears throughout the collection interacting with a nearly blind neighbor who offers a treat through the fence: “Learning her limits is a game he suspects / he shouldn’t play, but sometimes he’s quiet / on purpose: some funny place in him likes / to see her struggle.”
Miller synthesizes research from a long list of sources that treat subjects as radically diverse as boy sopranos, language acquisition, feral children, testicular distention, genes, gender, and art. Miller also includes “adversaria” sections, each on its own page, where she includes short, research-based passages, typographically and functionally different from the poems. The adversaria on page 16 concludes: “They were surprised to find / massive palindromes, hairpin-like structures / that contain DNA sequences that read the same / backward and forward. Are we not drawn onward / to a new Era? The system is robust, / and it doesn’t depend on the weather.” Explained in “A Note on the Adversaria,” these moments “are almost all collaged direct quotes from sources listed at the back of the book and represent the poet’s attempt to leave a trail of bread crumbs from her forays into disciplines beyond her own in search of answers to questions the poems themselves collectively ask and only provisionally answer.” This strategy allows the poems and the adversaria, each of which are strong and compelling as individual pieces, to resonate even further as an ongoing dialogue.
In addition to collaging research, Miller’s work deftly combines poetic strategies—the lyrical, narrative, reflective, and the new, in mostly traditional shapes— with precision and comprehensive intelligence. The resulting work is thoughtful, and visceral—readers will find both their minds and hearts engaged. Through the complex questions she articulates, Miller allows us to feel with the child and with his observer(s):
“All fodder, fur, and fury, / he’s bound to roll the sturdy carcass / of imperative against even this, / his glittering box of tokens for the heart.”
Perhaps the greatest success of the collection is the organic ease with which Miller couples the extent and scope of the research with insistent and emotional inquiry. She builds a new whole in splicing these veins, allowing the project to wrestle with the relationship of parent to child and child to parent. For instance, in “Relinquishing the Fusional Moment,” the speaker begins by identifying the changing child: “The first sign is his rejection / of the French lullabies. The second, / a predilection for meat, / three, standing up to pee.” Later, the speaker acknowledges how these changes also propel a kind of relativity, forcing changes to the speaker’s sense of position: “I’m becoming another planet fast, / a hurtling ball of foreign gases.”
In poems like “Tuileries,” Miller implicates the reader in the child’s development, asking, of a scene of a child running at birds, “teeth bared with a brutal glee,” “How is our laughter at this good?” Miller is unafraid to indict the reader and the child, suggesting that an essential quality is unacknowledged:
What power there is, children claim like a sweet, a desire not grounded in need, but arriving nonetheless in their consciousness, an itch to rule even this make shift roost.
The speaker finds something of this experience in her adult self: All I know is: were you to appear
in the garden at this moment as threat to that boy body scooped from my own, I too would wear such a face, and I’d be aiming to kill.
Y wallops the reader with its quiet power, and of course it must, given that in reading the collection, “then we understand again that our minds / might not, after all, be our own to close.” Leslie Adrienne Miller’s investigation into development becomes an examination of the elusive slippage of relation and (seeming) opposition, one where art and science, fear and longing, love and distance coalesce and “form a cradle that frees // and captures all at once.”
Y Poetry by Leslie Adrienne Miller
Graywolf Press, September 2012
Paperback: 120pp; $15.00
Review by H. V. Cramond
I’ve been thinking a lot about masculinity lately, more specifically the particularly violent attitudes that have been swirled into recent discussions about mental illness, gun laws, sexual violence, and football. In this miasma, masculinity is presented as problem, as a relation of actions based on constructed ideals. But of course, a person is not a problem, or not only a problem, and especially not to his mother. read more at New Pages. . .
Article by Elizabeth Hoover, Sepcial to the Star Tribune, December 1, 2012
“Y,” by Leslie Adrienne Miller. (Graywolf Press, 114 pages, $15.)
“Y,” the title of Leslie Adrienne Miller’s sixth collection of poetry, refers to the chromosome indicating maleness. In poems that explore the relationship between mother and son, the boy remains a cipher.
“There was never a time when she knew / what the boy was thinking, and today / she’s sure she never will.”
“In one poem, the child is described as a “huddle of spine” who “conjures claws and heft, a taste / for the big and the mean.” Watching him make a box for Valentine cards is “the workshop / wherein we learn at last what’s in that wallop / of genes.”
“Miller’s syntax is complex; she drapes long brambly sentences down a half-dozen lines of poetry.”
In “Diary of a Sentence,” she writes that a sentence is a “wonderland, / torture chamber, boudoir, closet, / whatever can be locked behind a door.”
“These searching sentences are a delight to read. Miller’s investment in strangeness — odd jumbles of quotes, disturbing images and wrenched sentences — remind us that a partner to strangeness is awe. What enthralls is never the familiar.”
“What are all the things the letter Y could be? Leslie Adrienne Miller implicitly ponders that question in the opening poem of her collection . . . ” –listen to more
Brought to You By the Letter Y: Leslie Adrienne Miller’s New Poems
Interview with Amy Goetzman — MINNPOST, September 13, 2012
In “Y,” Miller engages in a part scientific, part observed exploration of the Y chromosome and boyhood. She was inspired by the idea of the “Wild Child,” the varied feral kids in legend and history that have been found living in the woods or outside of society. As the mother of a boy, Miller easily found a connection between the wild boy and the supposedly tame version. read more
Minnesotan Leslie Adrienne Miller’s sixth poetry collection, “Y,” combines poems with “adversaria,” short paragraphs of explanation.
Miller’s titles range from “Lost Photograph of Muriel Rukeyser” to “When Menthol Was Queen” and “The Body Apologizes for Almost Everything.” At its heart, this is a collection about boys and their development. read more >>
September EXEMPLARS — Washington Independent Review of Books, 2012
Monthly Poetry reviews by Grace Cavalieri
The child is the hero in these poems by a watcher who apprehends the stuff of truth In Mothering. We are sometimes stirred by the frightening happenstance of daily life seen from many points of views. You have to give up assumptions about poetry and children when you open this book for Miller’s concepts and connections are explorations of people, cities, scientific theories set in motion to better understand humankind. There are also intelligent inserts throughout called “adversaria” which are fragments of thought unrelated to the poetry, yet obliquely part of the book’s theme. They further an understanding of behaviors, by studying the abnormal, or the unusual, to create a new intellectual norm.