scholarly work, Poetry and Change (1974), Josephine Miles writes, "The poet is a person in place and time, sharing in a language, participating in a culture" (3). Miles's body of work reflects a mind engaged in the 20th century, from her poetry's distinct modernism to her later involvement in the social movements of the 1960s. The colloquial language in which her poetry delights demonstrates her immersion in the everyday life of her era, but the precision of her diction and the dispassion of her voice reveal the painstaking mind of the scholar. Like Emily Dickinson, Miles displays an often comic self-examination; like Wallace stevens or E. E. cummings, she plays with words and syntax to disorient and delight.
Miles was born in Chicago but spent most of her life in California. She received an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where she subsequently taught. Her students included A. R. ammons, William STAFFORD, Robin blaser, Jack spicer, and Diane wakoski. A mentor and teacher to beat poets, Miles has been called a "precursor" (Knight 7). A prolific scholar, Miles published more than 10 scholarly books and more than 15 collections of poetry. Her Collected Poems: 1930-1983 won the Lenore Marshall/Nation Prize (1983) and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (1983). She received many other awards and fellowships, including one from the Academy of American Poets (1978).
Miles's lyrics are often short, terse observations of a detached, acerbic, scholar: "The gang wanted to give Oedipus Rex a going away present / He had been a good hard-working father and king" ("Oedipus" ). She might also report and reflect on overheard conversation: "Said, Pull her up a bit will you, Mac, I want to unload there. / Said, Pull her up my rear end, first come first serve" ("Reason" ). In her later work, she comments on current events, yet she connects them to her life: "This was a dark year for Spiro Agnew; / It was a dark year for me too" ("Sleeve" ). In all her work, there speaks the voice of one who loves the poetry of the common American idiom and who can perceive the complexity in the most common American experience.
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