Kei Miller

kei miller cathedral cropped

I hate to admit this, especially as a queer black poet living in the UK, but I only discovered Kei Miller three years ago. It was a huge failing on my part as I had spent the last ten years searching for writers that would somehow speak to my experience growing up on an island far away, loving people of the same gender and the peculiar way this can colour the world, and what happens when that same person decides to pick up and move to a vitamin D depleted country in a northern sea.

One evening at a dinner party of a fellow queer writer, she asked me if I knew Kei and/or his work; the shame set in at that moment, I was clueless. The next morning I went to the Saison Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre in London. I mentioned Kei Miller to a friend who works there and he was well acquainted with his poems, so he located and handed me three volumes. I took them home to absorb, feeling as if I had been given tablets holding the secrets of truth (note: the books were hard for me to let go – they were returned months late, after which I purchased my own copies).

The three volumes were Kingdom of Empty Bellies (2005), There is an Anger that Moves (2007), and A Light Song of Light (2010). I was moved by Kei’s keen eye into himself and also those fragile stone characters that surround him; the way they seemed to move, sing, speak, pray and love. His details are so intimate that at moments, the glimpse into himself is so unfettered that I couldn’t help but want to reach through the page and hold his hand, or call forth the Lord like his church folk who populate both his first and second collections.

His collection A Light Song of Light seems to leap forward and Miller’s work takes on a new confidence and authority that binds the book together. The poems command a respect from the reader, their subjects no longer plead to be heard, they are. Whether about a father facing the close of his life and his name, the dissident Guyanese poet Martin Cater, or Epilogue stating clearly If we are amazed at anything let it be this: not that we have fallen from love, but that we were always resurrected into it.

The light and the song highlighted in the title of his last collection breaks through most of his body of work, illuminating the reader and lifting Miller’s sentiments into a harmonised chorus, that I found I inherently know the words to.

Where We Might Fit

In this country, a black man with dreadlocks

passing you on the road will usually nod –

his way to acknowledge a different time

and another country where we might fit.

Some days you want to forget

it is your choice to be here – that, hard

as you fight to break in

was as hard as you fought to leave.

You return his nod because today

you would like to blame the system

or racism or anything else. It isn’t fair

that in this broad country you are still small

and cut off. And if you return his nod

you might be able to cry tonight,

at least there is healing in that.

And you wouldn’t have to admit, not yet,

how the only thing we left behind

is salt.

 

– From There Is an Anger that Moves

 

Kei Miller was born in 1978 and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. He studied English at the University of the West Indies and moved to England to study for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2004.

His first book was a collection of short stories, Fear of Stones and other stories (2006), shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers Prize (Caribbean and Canada Region, Best First Book), and this was followed by two poetry collections – Kingdom of Empty Bellies (2006) and There Is An Anger That Moves (2007). His first novel, The Same Earth, was published in 2008.

His most recent books are the novel, The Last Warner Woman (2010) and a further poetry collection, A Light Song of Light (2010), shortlisted for the 2010 John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize.

Kei Miller has been a visiting writer at York University, Canada; the Department of Library Services in the British Virgin Islands; Vera Rubin Fellow at Yaddo; and International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa.

He is also the editor of New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology (2007), and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. He lives in London.


February’s Poet of the Month was selected by Andra Simons.
Andra  is a Bermudian writer and performer living in London. He has published and performed various works internationally including Canada, the Caribbean, the UK, and the United States. Andra is presently editing his next collection of poetry. He is the co-editor, with Dorothea Smartt of SABLE’s forthcoming LGBTQI issue. For more about Andra go to: http://andrasimons.wordpress.com/about/

 

 

 

 

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