cover image Without Compass

Without Compass

Benjamin Miller. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (60p) ISBN 978-1-935536-38-3

Through delicately woven motifs, the poems in Miller's debut collection echo and build off one another cohering in central themes of navigation and orientation (and its inverse, disorientation). Despite being mostly non-sequential, Miller's seven "Desert" poems each close with the line that opens the next poem in the series, a circling that builds a loose narrative momentum between the poems. Similarly, images layer in complexity and dynamic potential; wings, instruments of movement, recur in different contexts: "Like falling kites, the night came in a rush/ To settle just outside the window, garnet eyes/ Outlined by swaying trees. Pewter-slow,/ My throat contracted. Hidden wings unfurled." Later, Miller writes, "Again the sudden slick of fear/ across the shoulder blades, the ozone scrape/ of tooth on tooth, of knowledge on fast wings." The migratory metaphors stand out as well, particularly in relation to longing and desire: "Westward they'd say/ Send your people westward... Were we always this distant// Some days I wake/ And find you haven't followed." By the same token, the speaker makes clear that "it is not with me as it is with bridges." Miller deftly handles his poems' spiritual dimensions to amplify attentiveness to physical and metaphysical journeying, as "who/ can search for what is obvious?" (Apr.)