Josephine Miles Miles, Josephine (Vol. 2) - Essay

Miles, Josephine (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miles, Josephine 1911–

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

[Josephine Miles's] poems, most of them very short, are glimpses into the drama of ideas and perceptions played by an agile intelligence. Taken together, they make a work that has no name: personal, abstract, ethical, brilliant, miscellaneous.

And often unattractive. In the past one has been dissatisfied with the poetic quality of her work. It was not as if her abstract diction and contorted syntax had been forced by intellectual need, but rather as if they had arisen through neglect, through the occupation of the poet's attention elsewhere….

What hurts Miss Miles's poetry is not so much the limits of the human mind, since these can be accounted for and since in spite of them a place assuredly exists for the poetry of ideas, as the narrowness of her view, her absorption in a single mentality.

Hayden Carruth, "In Their Former Modes," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 28, 1968.

Josephine Miles, in the poems of Kinds of Affection, as in her seminal critical study Eras and Modes in English Literature, is a cartographer who loves to lay out boundaries and periods, keeping clearly outlined those areas and margins where "difference blends into identity." Her delight in the well-trained mind and coolly expert eye lies in their capacity for discovering balance, reciprocity, and "one thought turning/ In expectation/ Its aromatic line."…

Miss Miles's imagination being sociable and mild, she almost never snarls at necessity. Rhetorical flourishes are held to a minimum. Acceptance of fact is the grounding for the questions she poses to herself, and since about whatever she scrutinizes she wishes to initiate discussion, like the experienced teacher she is, a reasonable informality is as much a part of her epistemological method as of her good manners….

But the very reasonableness and quiet civility of the poems is also their weakness. Not only is there no sense of protracted crisis …, but all unruly emotions are defused, as if they would corrupt the answers she pursues with false questions. She is too moderate, giving the mistaken impression she has heard of chaos second-hand. And surprisingly in such an astute student of poetic style, the artifice that goes into rearranging the homely details and abstractions she selects is so unobtrusive that very little momentum is built up and her poems dwindle into a faintly musical prose. Pools of thought collect in the typical Miles poem in a balanced configuration, not at an intense center. Still, if she does not quite fulfill her own requirement: "To sense a beat of life not before known," she is an admirable surveyor of "the dry scope of foothill country."

Herbert Leibowitz, in Hudson Review, Autumn, 1968, pp. 557-59.