In Memoriam: Phil Miller–A Tribute

With deep sadness, we report that Phil Miller, an exceptional poet and a generous teacher and mentor, passed away on Monday, February 14, at his home in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania, with his wife Nancy and his family by his side.  In November 2008, Phil shared his unique poetic vision with Sunday Best audience members, reading his work as part of the program Powers of Disturbance. Phil authored several collections of poetry, edited the literary magazine The Same, and taught writing and literature at Kansas City Kansas Community College for more than 25 years.  These are but a sampling of his accomplishments.

 

Phil Miller, April 2010

It was Phil’s ability to see into and to illuminate what was haunting, unexpected, and uncanny in the normal and the mundane that set him apart. In an introduction to Phil’s book The Casablanca Fan, Sunday Best poetry consultant Martin Mitchell described the experience of reading Phil’s poetry as follows:

Sometimes, reading the poetry of Philip Miller is like viewing the etchings of M.C. Escher.  You can’t just look, or read; you’re drawn in.  As you peruse the surface, the poem is likely to lure you into its world, its own take on reality — so convincing as to offer plausible alternative scenarios for day-to-day events.

As Mitchell has observed, Phil was a visionary, and those visions come to life in poems that spring from “his incisive, illuminating comprehension of everyday occurrences and people.”

Phil Miller, April 2010

Phil had been ill for quite awhile, and his friends and colleagues knew how sick he was.  But news such as this is somehow always unexpected.  Instead of contemplating inevitable ends, we hope for remissions and miracles.  We tell ourselves that we know what is coming, all the while seeking shelter in our conviction that it will not come today.  When it comes, if it comes at all, it won’t come until tomorrow, that mythical tomorrow that marks the horizon of our future.  Despite what reason tells us, we are never quite prepared for the loss of someone like Phil Miller, who not only created remarkable poetry of his own but also supported and encouraged others in their endeavors to write and read and understand it.

Phil wrote frequently of ghosts and of himself as a ghost, a haunting observer.  In “Shadowing,” a poem that appears in The Casablanca Fan, the narrator declares, “I’m invisible to you as a ghost.”  In “Translucent,” from the same volume, he calls himself “a ghost with no future/ and a shady past.”  It would be difficult to overstate the magnitude of the impact that Phil had on his colleagues and his friends.  Inevitably, his presence will linger in the imprints and the impressions he has left behind.  But there is little doubt that those who knew and loved Phil will find more pleasure and comfort than sadness in being haunted by such a benevolent poetic spirit.

Phil Miller, November 2009

A personal note:  The writer of this blog entry was only peripherally acquainted with Phil Miller.  I knew him primarily through his poetry and his poetry readings, both of which I have enjoyed immensely, and through my observations of how much others, who knew him far better than I, valued and admired him both as a poet and a human being. But I did have a handful of short conversations with him, and I regret that I will not be able to have more.

I remember one conversation in particular, though I remember more about how I felt during the conversation and the impression that Phil made upon me than I do about anything we discussed.  What I remember most is this: Phil was surrounded by published poets and editors–people in the “literary know.”  Yet, for the short time that our conversation lasted, it was clear that I, a nondescript individual of whom he knew practically nothing, was the most important person in the room to him.

There is in all of us a sense for beauty, an inner eye, that can see the magic, the splendor, the exquisite tragedy that are concealed within the everyday and the routine.  In many, if not most, that sense lies dormant; others, for whom that sense is “turned on,” often find they must switch it off in order to meet the demands of the lives they have constructed for themselves.  But I have the feeling that, in Phil Miller, that sense was wide awake and always dreaming.  His poetry speaks directly to that sense; real poetry–the good stuff–always does.

Phil Miller’s poetry wasn’t just for published poets and erudite scholars (though it was just as much for them as for anyone else).   It wasn’t just for that elite group whose mastery of language sometimes seems to set them apart from those of us mere mortals who admire them and their work.  His poetry was also for gifted poets who write beautiful poetry but struggle to find publishers.  It was for bad poets who scribble earnest stanzas on cocktail napkins.  It was for people who aren’t sure what poetry is in the first place, people who know what poetry is but wish they didn’t, people who don’t like poetry at all or at least don’t think they do.  His poetry was for anyone willing to awaken that dormant sense within, even just a little, and begin to see the world transformed through new eyes.  And his kind words and his generosity left me without a doubt that his poetry was for me, too.

Thank you, Phil.

********************************************************************

To learn more about Phil and what he meant to the literary community, particularly the literary community of Kansas City, please read this tribute to Phil that appeared in the Kansas City Star on February 19.

Phil’s obituary appears below, along with one of his recent poems “Life After Death.”

Philip Winn Miller, teacher, poet, husband and father, age 67, of Mt. Union , Pennsylvania passed peacefully early Monday morning, February 14, at home with his family.

Born in Kansas City , Missouri , May 21, 1943 to Richard M. and Alveretta J. Miller, he received a BA in English and Psychology, and a MA in English from Emporia State University in 1966 where he studied under Keith Denniston.

Miller taught at Kansas City Kansas Community College from 1976 until 2002. While at KCKCC, he coordinated the college’s Basic English program for over 20 years; he served as professor of English and taught creative writing, composition and American literature.

Miller was a longtime resident of Kansas City . He was a founding member of The Writers Place and he co-founded and directed the Riverfront Reading Series. In 2004, he retired to Mt. Union , where he edited The Same magazine, was co-director of the Aughwick Poet and Writers Reading Series and was a board member on the Huntingdon County Arts Council.

Miller’s works appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals. He edited and co-edited numerous publications throughout his career. He had many books of poetry published.

He is survived by his loving wife Nancy, his beloved Scottie-Dachshund Milton, his children, Kevin, Darren & Khris, Meredith & Darick, Alison & Brent and Jaime and his grandchildren, Ryan, Alec, Philip Brooks, Charlie, Nicole, Owen, Hattie, Ella, Rhys, Andrew, Ian and Lily.

Miller gifted his body to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Human Gift Registry . His family will hold a memorial gathering at a later date. The family requests that remembrances be payable to The Philip W. Miller Memorial Scholarship Trust at Clearfield Bank and Trust, 16 West Shirley St, Mount Union, PA 17066,(814) 542-2591. The scholarship will be awarded to future English majors.

The family expresses great appreciation to his many caregivers especially those from the Home Nursing Agency and Hospice of Huntingdon County, PA.

Life after Death

It isn’t so bad, you know,

now that I’ve packed my bags.

I get along on my own,

pay my rent, hold down

a small job, have a friend

or two, at a distance, of course.

Look, there are my shoes

beside my bed, ready for action,

ready to walk whichever direction.

Who knows, this may be it.

(by Philip Miller, from his forthcoming collection, The Ghost of Every Day and Other Poems, to be published by Spartan Press, Kansas City, MO.)

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a wonderfully written tribute. My husband and I knew Phil several years back when we lived in Kansas City. I’ll always remember him as the person who proved that a genuinely nice guy and an inspired poet can both inhabit the same body.

  2. It is startling to hear someone I do not know at all describe Phil and his impact so very well. Phil left Kansas City in 2004 and it has taken 1/2 dozen people, (myself included) to keep up the thriving reading series (Riverfront Readings) he founded in 1987. We could not then or now ever fill his shoes. We can only keep trying. Thank for saying so well what we all wanted to say about Phil.

  3. Thanks for this great tribute to Phil, who was an amazing man. I’m also going to write my own personal goodbye to Phil on my blog and wondered if I could have permission to use one of your photos of him–with attribution, of course. You can reach me at llrodriguez@sbcglobal.net Thanks, Linda Rodriguez

  4. I’m sitting at my computer with tears, tears, tears. There are only few left in this world who are so loving and so devoted to writing and writers as Phil was. He was dear to my heart, and to think that he is gone just like that. He came to mind this morning at my office, and I promised myself I would call, but later did I know that it was his ghost visiting me, to say he was gone now. His lovely wife Nancy always by his side at poetry readings, encouraging, always there to answer the phone when a writer they were bringing to town called, and sometimes, I was that writer. May you find sunshine and poetry in all the places beyond this earth, Phil. May you find all the words you need to make poetry in the other world.

    Lovingly,

    Patricia

  5. […] Sunday Best Reading Series has published a Tribute to Phil on its blog. Phil Miller 1943-2011 Posted in […]

  6. […] on guitar and Leslie Purcell Upchurch on piano.  The program will also include a tribute to the poet Phil Miller who died in February 2011.  Duo Fortuna will provide musical accompaniment as Phil’s friends […]

  7. […] Best Reading Series wrote a particularly squish-inducing tribute to Phil, which includes the statement from friend and collaborator Martin Mitchell, praising the […]

  8. […] program opened with a tribute to poet Phil Miller.  Phil, who passed away on Valentine’s Day 2011, wrote poetry that delineated the internal […]

  9. Nancy
    To my very best friend and mentor.
    Im so sorry for your loss!! Phill was a very good person to talk to.
    I remember standing on your front porch talking to Phill about this and that.
    I realy enjoyed his insite to the world, and its irony. I consider him my mentor.
    I know he felt the same about me hes given me a self portrait and one his books signed too me I charish it and all he said to me.
    I ve missed him, you and Alison.
    Id love to talke to you. I found out about his rememberence from a another cust, friend.
    Will you be in kc on 14 this yr I was gonna make it. Hopfuly to see you and Alison.
    Sincerly your friend
    Eldon corky Nelson
    # 816 468 1747


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