Josephine Miles Essay - Miles, Josephine (Vol. 1)

Miles, Josephine (Vol. 1)

Miles, Josephine 1911–

American poet and scholar. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

In Josephine Miles's poems some overspecialized sensitivity and ability come to a cautionary end: mostly because Miss Miles asks surprisingly little of herself, and seems to feel that the world and poetry ask even less. Each of the poems in Local Measures—an acute title—fits conveniently on a single page: the poem is not the worked-out, required, sometimes lengthy expression of a subject that is trying to realize itself through Miss Miles, but only one more product of the Miles method for turning out Miles poems. These seem easily different from anybody else's poems, but hardly distinguishable from one another; their language, tone, and mechanism of effect have a relishingly idiosyncratic and monotonous regularity, as if they were the diary some impressionable but unimpassioned monomaniac had year by year been engraving on the side of a knitting-needle. Miss Miles specializes in the sly, dry, minimal observation. The poems are full of the conversational elegance of understatement, of a carefully awkward and mannered charm. Everything is just a little off; is, always, the precisely unexpected: so that after a while it becomes the expected, and the repetitions of words, the omissions of words or phrases required by ordinary syntax, the little voluntary tricks of technique seem as automatic as the emotions or ideas they accompany.

Randall Jarrell, in his Poetry and the Age (© 1953 by Randall Jarrell; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Knopf-Vintage, 1953, p. 200.

[After] reading Miss Miles, I find … that all my standards, never very strictly defined, have been upset, so that I am not exactly sure what I like and what I don't…. I came to believe what Miss Miles says, and believe it in a way that also includes a large measure of admiration for the gentle assurance with which she deals with her material. If there is such a thing as making a cardinal virtue out of deliberately letting alone larger subjects in favor of smaller ones, Miss Miles has made a modest and authentic triumph of it, and any reader who is at all alive will be enriched by her quick, penetrating looks from the odd angles of hidden corners.

James Dickey, "Josephine Miles," in his Babel to Byzantium (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 by James Dickey), Farrar, Straus, 1968, p. 146.