Friday, March 6, 2015


by Miller Newman    
               Great rocks frighten little people. “Gibraltar,” May Miller told reporter Isabel Wilkerson some thought it her greatest poem. She on the other hand, said at the time she passed by the rock, one of God’s masterpieces, in the early 1970s, she felt that so much had already been written about this Mediterranean sentinel that she remarked, “what could I add except my own little interpretation of some little thing that hit me as I passed?” More than forty years later, I think, well May Miller is a great rock, and then there are the rest of us--little people.  
Photos of Miller's art from the
collection of Dr. Miller Newman
            Great rocks are God’s gift to mankind, a humbling reminder that even when we can prove the existence of a thing using all of our five senses, that very same thing remains a mystery for all the ages. May Miller is like that, few can deny that nine books of published poetry is proof that a poet lives, but the harbinger of such beauty, the craftsmanship of the words, the natural selection of sound, syllable, meter and rhyme in the hands of May Miller become a whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts. She is a great rock; complex in its shaping by tide and time. She was in her lifetime a sculptress*, a painter, a dancer, a portrait model. May Miller as a younger woman with dreams that took her to the halls of Exeter Academy where she brought to the privileged the perspective of a world beyond their gates was even then a great rock. Then as an older woman with engagements that included the public space of the District of Columbia’s Martin Luther King Library where Lois Mailou Jones, E. Ethelbert Miller and I, sat in plastic chairs next to a homeless man chased in from the frigid February night to be warmed by the sound of Miller reading from her recently published book, Collected Poems.
           May Miller was a teacher, a playwright, according to a classmate and friend of mine, Clement A. Goddard, “. . . who helped to shape black theater in the early 1900s . . . as a folk dramatist, [she] wrote on propaganda topics and used black and white characters and cast members in her plays” (Folkways and Folk Plays the Rhetoric of May Miller 14).  Her stalwart supporters, Betty Parry and Anne Johnston were there too that night which turned out to be one of her last public readings. It was a night, that twenty years or more later is frozen in my mind. That night is a memory I can conjure on a moment’s notice--my own little interpretation of some little thing that hit me as she passed. Claudia Tate, PhD concludes her article, “The Pondered Moment: May Miller’s Meditative Poetry” saying, “. . . Miller regards her work as the means to achieving immortality, as the markers left behind. Her meditative poetry permits her to mark her place in ‘green time,’ as it continually reminds us that life is only a series of quickly fleeting moments, and we would do well to ponder them” (New Directions January 1985 33).
James A. Porter Modern Negro Art, 1943
            May Miller’s “resolution to the problem of creating a black stage reality, which is ‘about us, by us, and for us,’ is most effective in her use of black language. Miller uses black rhetorical strategies such  as ‘signification’ and its many tropes to create a black theater that is filled with the rich experiences of black culture” (Goddard 49). Patrice Gaines-Carter in her article, “New Generation Discovers D.C. Poet May Miller” reports Miller said “There was a time I couldn’t be known as myself . . . . I always had my father’s name tagged onto mine. I’m proud of my background, but you have to make your own contribution in life. If you have any gift you’re obligated to share it.” May Miller has done that, shared her gift, but she’s not done yet. May Miller has poems yet unpublished, scribbled on the backs of old pieces of mail. There’s a second children’s book, and a novella rejected by some publisher way back in 1945; its cover, by James A. Porter**, a hastily sketched Baltimore street scene still intact.  And then, there is the novel she penned in the 1930s. May Miller’s pen knows no limits when it scratches across a page; her novel like her poems is a testimony to the gift she has and is obligated to share even posthumously. And so, I have created a blog, “May Miller Speaks” which launched this month. I will post her blessing as my ancestor to fulfill her personal obligation to “mark in green time” a legacy that will not be stolen, nor lost, nor strayed by inaction or the nefarious acts of others. GREAT ROCKS INDEED!

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