I once heard Jane Miller recite this poem in a large amphitheater in the Midwest where I swear she read the whole thing in one breath. I love the pace of the poem--how it speeds up, slows down, and finally ends in a rich silence--and what I take to be its clever allusion to Denise Levertov's "O Taste and See" and Wordsworth's "The World is Too Much with Us".

Miami Heart

In a long text, on live tv, in an amphitheater, in the soil,
after the post-moderns, after it is still proven
you can get a smile out of a pretty girl,
after the meta-ritual lectures,
after the flock to further awareness bends “south,”
and Heinz switches to plastic squeeze bottles,
as one flies into St. Louis listening to Lorca’s “Luna, luna, luna...,”
beyond Anacin time,
after, God help us, the dishwasher is emptied again,
and Miss America, Miss Mississippi, reveals she has entered 100 pageants
since age six,
Packer’s ball, first down after a fumble,
the corn detassled,
the assembly of enthusiasms awakened,
and we meet in a car by the river
not not kissing, considering
making love, visiting Jerusalem, the awful daily knowledge
we have to die in a hospital on the sixth floor, in a lecture, on live tv,
or in an amphitheater at half-time,
at one’s parents’ condo, over pasta,
in a strange relative’s arms, in debt, along the coast, staring
at a lighthouse, the heart bumping, bumping the old pebble up the old spine,
a squirrel scared up a sycamore by an infant,
along this stench of humility, along that highway of come,
charge card in hand,
I shall give my time freely
and the more I dissemble the more I resemble
and the more I order the more I reveal I hide,
the better, the faster
I sleep the more I remember
to go elsewhere,
a movie, excuse me, now I must whisper
not to disturb the patrons,
now I must drive, now park, tramp to the edge of the world,
roughness, ferocity, cannibalism,
bite, chew, transmogrify,
inside the lungs the little revolutionaries, between the thighs the reflex
it’s too this, it’s too that, it’s not enough,
similarly, and more particularly, it’s raw twice over,
it’s the imagination draining its husks, left-handed,
because comparison is motive, which is why
one writes with one’s desire.

Find "Miami Heart" and more Jane Miller poems here.

Originally Published: June 9th, 2009

Catherine Halley is the editor of JSTOR Daily, an online magazine that draws connections between current affairs, historical scholarship, and other content available on JSTOR, a digital library of scholarly journals, books, and primary sources. She is the former digital director of the Poetry Foundation, where she served as editor...

  1. June 9, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    This just popped up as I was closing down for the day--I live at the antipodes and get everything upside down and backward!\r

    Thany you for this wonderful line: "I shall give my time freely."\r

    Thank you, Jane Miller, for giving so much hope.\r

    Two comments: \r
    a.) run your eye down the left hand margin for a shock;\r
    b.) see how the last line truly does just what Cathy Halley says it does.\r

    One question: \r
    help me with the title, because I'm in culture shock even at home!\r


  2. June 9, 2009


    Beautiful poem (thank you....and thank you J. Miller). I love the how the rhythm accretes and predicts its own gathering; but how, in contrast, the contents of the individual lines are so surprising...at once down to earth, or maybe I mean concrete, but very suggestive, as though they were built on observation of the inner world observing the outer world.\r


  3. June 9, 2009

    Now how fun is this! What particularly tickles me is how Miller has put to fine effect one of the oldest of verse habits: the catalogue verse whose purpose is reinforcement by elaboration. She really does turn the practice nicely, don't you think? Damn near ancient Welsh in its young-ness.\r

    And thanks, Catherine Halley, for what seems to be your own habit of bringing up these discoveries of yours, how ever old they may be for you. And, yeah. The ethos of the W.W. sonnet comes through.\r


  4. June 9, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I don't think the ethos of the W.W. sonnet comes through at all--in fact I would say just the opposite. It's the ethos of "O Taste and See" that comes through much more--though the poem wouldn't be so forceful if Jane Miller hadn't added that knock-out twist all of her own.\r

    Which is the whole point of a poem which comments not only on our times but on the whole of our literary history.\r

    I've already mentioned elsewhere on Harriet the world shattering event that "happened" at the Royal Albert Hall in London on June 11th, 1965, an event which finally collapsed the British Empire of Letters, zap. For that was the date the Beats arrived in person in Britain, sat down on the floor to sing, pop, poop and fiddle and make English poetry and the Atlantic just a puddle once and for all. Overnight.\r

    I still have on my shelves here in Chiang Mai, though now full of ants and impregnated with several small lizard eggs, that wonderful 1968 Penquin teaching anthology called VOICES--still by my way of thinking the best collection ever put together for the gifting of poetry to young people. And its lead-off poem is, of course, "O Taste and See"-- followed immediately by Randall Jarrell's "Well Water," Philip Larkin's "Days," and Sylvia Plath's "Black Rook in Rainy Weather!" \r

    You can't imagine what a wow all that was when I first taught it in Sussex in the early 70s. I was just a confused Cambridge don steeped in Lewis and Spenser, and this anthology was a blow-out for me as much as it was for my very lucky students, just to be there. And there was so much more in that beautifully printed and illustrated masterpiece of modern collusion and sensitivity-- "The Loving Dexterity," "Hay for the Horses," extracts from "The People, Yes," "Don't Sign Anything," "The Sick Rose." John Clare, Wole Soyinka, Anne Bradstreet, François Villon, Andrei Voznesensky, Muriel Rukeyser, William Stafford, Judith Wright, Miroslav Holub--on and on forever.\r


    So back to "Miami Heart." What I'd like to propose is that we celebrate this wonderful new step taken by Jane Miller in a very distinguished but complex modern tradition. So after all this, what does make all the difference?\r


  5. June 10, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    One of the things that makes all the difference for me in this poem is that its particular variation is NOT your old "reinforcement by elaboration." \r

    Yes, the poem does include references to many other poets who list things, and yes, it is a fun literary treasure hunt to identify them, but the poem achieves its own special effect by rejecting them all. It's a "left handed" poem, so to speak, perverse--"it’s too this, it’s too that, it’s not enough." \r

    "Comparison is motive" becomes the main statement of the poem, a conceit which makes clear that living to the imagination's tongue is NOT going to be enough either. For real life is much more complicated than that, and its images don't like to stand still or be sensibly or comprehesibly used. On the contrary, the imagination is "draining its husks," says the poem, and in so doing exhausts every one of us with its demands and unnerving reversals, spitting us out even as it tastes us! \r

    Which is why such poems have to be written over and over again, to satisfy that insatiable desire.\r

    "One writes with one's desire"--a memorable final line indeed! \r

    (One might even say that in judging the value of any poem one ought to measure the weight of its desire!)\r


  6. July 11, 2009
     jane miller


    The title, "Miami Heart," is the name of a hospital in Florida. \r

  7. July 11, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I'm so glad you came in with that, Jane Miller, because it's an indispensable piece of information and I never even suspected. Because I had no idea I never associated the word in the title with surgery!\r

    And that pulls in all sorts of new concerns from the opening words that I didn't suspect either, "live TV" in the waiting room, the "ampitheatre" in which the main event is taking place, the "long text" also in the sense of the painfully detailed text-message one is either writing or receiving, the emergency bulletin---and all contributing to that sense of the very delicate, ephemeral line like a small child's pulse between the dead and the living.\r

    I was about to say the "Miamai Heart" as hospital-image in the title deepens the poem, which it does but only in historical specificity. From a more human point of view the poem is already more than sufficiently deep as it moves toward it's last line, which makes sense out of the febrile attempt that's just living without having to be on the operating table.\r

    I like this poem so much, and was very surprized no one came in after I did my best to get a discussion started on it. I now know it was because of my "cowpatty hammers," the kind gift an official poster offered to me in qualifying how Harriet sees my metaphors. And I also got one of those letters that's being discussed on the verse drama thread. So now I've learned my lesson, and know that my kind of writing isn't welcome here. It's too wild and off-putting and drives people away--like at the end of this thread. So now I've gone home.\r

    Thanks so much for having noticed my question,\r


  8. July 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Jane Miller,\r
    If you're still around or somebody could draw your attention to this long buried thread, I did respond to your information about the title at some length but, as for everyone, time moves on. Today I feel the significance of the title is enormous. What we lose sight of so easily is the delicacy of life in the moment, even finer than the child's pulse I used as an image in my first reply to you. Today it's more like the throb in the newborn fontanelle.\r

    I won't say more, because now I'm flying solo---and so what? I just wanted to say that the whole movement of the poem toward the last line is so much more powerful when you know someone is lying right on the edge of the abyss--so do add a footnote if you publish this poem abroad. Otherwise I don't think any foreigner is going to realize that Miami Heart is a hospital!\r

    Thanks for the poem, Jane and Cathy--I shall never forget it.\r