The Lit World: Poems from History
by Tim Miller
0979870704 / 978 0979870705
About the Book
The Lit World begins with God’s voice just before creation, and ends with the destruction of Europe and the last days in Hitler’s bunker. The poems between follow these two, either in their focus on atrocity and violence—a Roman consul’s mistaken campaigns in the Middle East, a Byzantine Emperor’s blinding of thousands of prisoners of war, the drowning and execution of citizens and clergy during the French Revolution, and the many wars against Native Americans in the West; or in looking to a more contemplative and peaceful life, with monologues from Siberian and Australian shamans, Catholic saints, and a Hindu priest who easily dismisses Alexander the Great’s invitation to take him on his campaigns.
There are also voices between these, from Walt Whitman looking back on his years away from New York before the Civil War, to Hart Crane’s highest moment atop a Catholic church in Mexico, celebrating an Aztec festival; from the Roman Cato of Utica, a suicide, surprised to find himself at the base of Dante’s Mount Purgatory, to a sequence of poems from prehistory, imagining the world’s first artists and priests painting in the caves of France and Spain amid music and ritual.
Midwest Book Review
The entirety of human existence is filled with plenty of inspiration, and Tim Miller has taken it. “The Lit World” is a collection of poems based on times throughout known human history from Genesis to the end of the tyrannical time of Adolf Hitler. The verse offers new ways of looking at these vital events, making “The Lit World” a unique compendium of poetry.
Poet Michael S. Begnal
Tim Miller’s poetry collection The Lit World (S4N Books, 2008) is a compact little book (52 pages), concise and honed. Subtitled “Poems from History,” it intends to inhabit the minds of numerous personages throughout time, and succeeds nicely. Beginning with the Hebrew creation myth, and including other Biblical tales (thus making “Poems from History” something of a misnomer, perhaps), Miller’s accomplished prose-poetry ranges across vast swathes of time.
An intriguing early poem here is “Beginning to Paint,” which references the date 18,000-11,000 BC. The ritualistic nature of early cave painting is explored: “as my fingers move, more of him appears: hooves: horns: full body & dark nose—& all smelling of juniper & sweating walls & unforgettable song.” Miller also mentions flutes, the subject of “On Making Flutes (40,000-28,000 BC)” (appropriately enough), thus creating a nice intertextual symmetry.
To my mind, one of the best pieces of the collection is “Those in the Jebel Sahaba Cemetery (10,000 BC),” which is also printed on the book’s back cover. It describes the victims of a 12,000-year-old battle, and insightfully intuits the mindset of those people who buried their dead “in pits with slabs overtop to protect them.” Miller continues, “& you find us all on our left sides: our heads facing south: our hands in front of our faces—you find us all arranged, arrayed, observed.” The slant rhyme of “arranged, arrayed” lends a musical quality to the conclusion, which seems to accord somehow with the reverence imparted to the ancient people with whom the poem engages.
“Trajan’s Bridge (c. 105)” is interesting on a couple of different levels. For one, it is actually written from the point of view of the bridge itself, an inanimate object. Also it addresses the reader, creating a kind of sudden postmodern awareness of this book as book: “I am only two stadiums long yet my length extends to your reading eyes.” The tone is accusatory, indicting the putative reader as shallow, concerned with commerce and transitory pleasures. It ends, “Even the Dacians knew of more than their senses. Consider them, or yourselves—you who are more submerged than me.” The reader of course is invited to see him- or herself here to one degree or another, or may also decline said invitation altogether.
Many of the poems in The Lit World are a comment on genocide and oppression, as for example “The Bulgarian Town of Batak (April, 1876)” deals with one of the various genocides committed but denied by the Turks. “Tecumseh (1811)” delineates a particular response to the genocide committed by the American government against American Indians, while, conversely, “William Tecumseh Sherman (October, 1868)” seeks to explore the viewpoint of a perpetrator. The collection ends with a sequence set in Hitler’s bunker, 1945. So, though Miller’s assessment of human history is ultimately a bleak and at times off-putting one, his poetry itself is absorbingly well-wrought, stripped and direct.
I’ve never personally met Tim Miller so I can’t make any wise cracks about his personal habits. All I can do is review this very excellent book The Lit World. […] The chronological arrangement of the poems coupled with the range of topics, from Creation to WWII, threaded together with scenes of violence and death, demonstrate an attention to craft as well as human nature. Some personal favorites in the book are “Hart Crane”, “The Death of Marcus Licinius Crassus” and “Tecumseh”. The first deals, not with the death of poor Hart, but with one of his last real nights alive banging a drum on the roof of a Cathedral. The second reveals just how superficially humans can live and die and how it is really nothing new at all. The last reports a vow of righteous hatred and intended conflict. Each poem amounts to more than a profile and the add up in the telling directing the reader all the way to the climax in Hitler’s Bunker, which is examined in five separate parts.
The language is engaging and the prose style pays off. Were these pieces presented differently they would probably not be as good and the reader would get stuck on the intended delivery of a particular syllable and miss out on the content. […]
The dead speak, and sometimes inanimate objects like Hitler’s bunker, giving testimony to the meanings of history and to what we can derive from mankind’s short presence on the planet. […] And so we see the cavalcade of human cruelty and folly, from legions of blinded Bulgarians after the Battle of Kleidon (1014), to the noyades (mass drownings) of Jean Baptiste Carrier in 1793. We have fetching moments in the human experience from pre-history through those times in the predictable periphery of the Mediterranean where God saw fit to reveal himself through acts, miracles and extraordinary symbolisms to an astonished world. I would suspect that Mr. Miller has had a solid Catholic education. God is always included in his musings. Of course it is possible that the deity is not involved in any of the insanity of history. It might be all random behavior on the part of the mordant anthropoids that inhabit the earth. Be that as it may, The Lit World is an interesting exercise on a fascinating subject. Miller deserves credit for tackling it but he has no more answers than anyone else.
About the Author
Tim Miller blogs about religion and poetry at www.wordandsilence.com. His other poetry can be read there as well.