Event Recap: Political Satire, Planned Improvisations, and Poetic Meditations

Words and Music Once Again, April 3, 2011

This spring, the Sunday Best Reading Series expanded its artistic horizons, widening its focus to include musical expression as well as spoken word.  The result was “Words and Music Once Again,” a program that combined the literary and the musical in performances ranging from the poignant to the raucously humorous. For those who missed the show on April 3, the audio from this event is available on the Washington Heights Free Radio website.  Read on for a brief recap with photos from the event.

The program opened with a tribute to poet Phil Miller.  Phil, who passed away on Valentine’s Day 2011, wrote poetry that delineated the internal emotional landscape of the everyday human condition. He was a beloved literary figure, not only in New York City but also far beyond its borders.

Poet Patricia Brody and Charles Ramsey of Duo Fortuna plan the tribute to Phil Miller.

The tribute began with the ringing of a Tibetan prayer bell. Poet Patricia Brody, a friend and colleague of Phil Miller, then read a selection of his work while accompanied by classical-experimental ensemble Duo Fortuna. The poems Patricia chose for the tribute, most notably Phil’s moving villanelle “Hello and Goodbye,” were particularly well-suited for a musical setting.  In addition to “Hello and Goodbye,” Patricia also read “Crooked” and “Like a Tree.”  Patricia read Phil’s poems in a clear, authoritative voice that conveyed the depth of meaning and feeling intrinsic to his writing.  Phil would have been proud of her.

Patricia Brody read poetry by Philip Miller as part of a tribute to the late poet.

The tribute closed with Sunday Best curator Patricia Eakins ringing the Tibetan prayer bell six times in quick succession and then seven times.  The chimes of the bell represented the years in the life of Phil Miller, who died at age 67.

Following the tribute, Duo Fortuna performed a set of four of their own original songs.  Duo Fortuna is an experimental and improvisational musical performance group that consists of pianist Leslie Purcell Upchurch and guitarist Charles Ramsey, both classically trained musicians.

Pianist Leslie Purcell Upchurch of Duo Fortuna.

Duo Fortuna performs “planned improvisations.” While the group has a repertoire, each piece in that repertoire is based upon a specific musical idea or prompt rather than upon a predetermined, set-in-stone arrangement. In performance, Upchurch and Ramsey improvise around that musical idea. Thus, while each of their compositions has its own recognizable identity, no two performances of the piece are ever the same.  The result is thought-provoking music with a meditative quality that impresses the listener as being at once completely spontaneous and motivated by an internal purpose and pattern.

Guitarist Charles Ramsey of Duo Fortuna.

After a brief intermission following Duo Fortuna’s set, the stand-up poetry duo Mik and Gilles took the stage. Poet and performance artist Mikhail Horowitz is the author of three books, two collections of poetry (The Opus of Everything in Nothing Flat and Rafting Into the Afterlife) and a “collage/caption opus” (Big League Poets). The Blues of the Birth, a collection of his jazz fable performances, has been issued on CD.  His partner-in-crime, guitarist Gilles Malkine, performed as a member of Tim Hardin’s band at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and at Carnegie Hall. Malkine has recorded with Hardin and others, plays the bass and the fiddle as well as the guitar, and is a composer in his own right.  He also presents a series of “women in history” profiles on the public radio show 51% The Women’s Perspective.   Together, Horowitz and Malkine have been serving their special concoction of literary spoofs and fold-song parodies, with a heavy helping of political satire, to audiences in the Catskills and beyond since 1989.

Mikhail Horowitz of the stand-up poetry duo Mik and Gilles.

Mik and Gilles have been called the “thinking man’s comics.” On April 3, they presented their trademark blend of outrageous but thought-provoking humor and incisive political commentary to Sunday Best Reading Series attendees. They sang of that Brigadoon-like oasis in the political wasteland, the big Vermont-y Mountain. In their updated rendition of “The Riddle Song,” they posed the eternally puzzling question “How can there be a congressman with no lyin’?” For their closing number, they presented a condensed, hip-hop version of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy (this version has a brief sequel that takes place on Wall Street–the villains are “Gollum Sachs”).

Gilles Malkine of Mik and Gilles.

Following the program, audience members mingled and had a chance to meet and talk to the performers. Wines were again provided by Vines on Pine.

Wines for the Sunday Best after-reception were provided by Vines on Pine.

Gilles Malkine talks with Sunday Best volunteer Risa Hirsch Ehrlich at the Sunday Best after-reception.

In closing, the Sunday Best Reading Series would like to thank poet Nicholas Johnson, editor of BigCityLit and a friend of Phil Miller, who helped plan the tribute to Phil that opened the afternoon’s program.  Nick was originally slated to perform in the tribute alongside Patricia Brody but could not because of a foot ailment.  However, he gallantly attended the event, with his crutches in tow.

Poet Nick Johnson, editor of BigCityLit.

We would also like to acknowledge Nancy Eldredge, wife of Phil Miller, who drove all the way to New York City from Union, Pennsylvania to attend this event.  Those involved with the reading series were touched and honored by her presence.

Poet Patricia Brody (left) and Nancy Eldredge, wife of Phil Miller.

Again, please check out the Sunday Best Reading Series program page on the Washington Heights Free Radio web site for the audio of this event.  To see more photos from this event, please visit the Sunday Best Reading Series Flickr page. And be sure to check out our page on Facebook.


Event Announcement: Words and Music Once Again, Sunday, April 3rd, 4PM


Words and Music Once Again

And the Dreaded Return of Mik and Gilles

Sunday, April 3rd at 4:00 p.m.

The Lounge at Hudson View Gardens

Join the Sunday Best Reading Series on April 3rd at 4PM for a program of poetry and music.  The afternoon’s performers include two unique musical duos: the stand-up poetry and guitar team of Mikhail Horowitz and Gilles Malkine, and Duo Fortuna, a  classical-experimental group featuring  Charles Ramsey 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 and fellow poets Patricia Brody and Nicholas Johnson read selections of his work.

As always, this event will take place in The Lounge at Hudson View Gardens, 116 Pinehurst Avenue (at West 183rd Street) in Washington Heights.   A suggested contribution of $7 will cover admission to the event, attendance at the after-reception to meet the performers, and drinks and snacks.

Mikhail Horowitz + Gilles Malkine

Mik and Gilles

Stand-up poet Mikhail Horowitz and unapologetically French guitarist Gilles Malkine have been performing together since 1989. They perpetrate increasingly unlawful acts of political satire and recycle literary classics, adapting them to rap, blues, bop, hip-hop, high-tech hillbilly, and other even scruffier musical idioms. They also spoof or pay backhanded homage to various subgenres of American roots music.  To see Mik and Gilles in action, check out this YouTube video.

“Horowitz does with the English language what Jim Carrey does with his face. His rap versions of the classics, his language games, and the irresponsible relationship between him and his guitar-totin’ accomplice, Gilles Malkine, are a full-fledged delight. . . .” — Peter Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach)

Mikhail Horowitz

Mikhail Horowitz is the author of Big League Poets (City Lights, 1978) and two collections of poetry, The Opus of Everything in Nothing Flat (Outloud/Red Hill, 1993) and Rafting Into the Afterlife (Codhill Press, 2007). His CD of jazz fables, The Blues of the Birth, is available from Sundazed Records. He and Malkine have two CDs: Live, Jive, and Over 45 and Poor, On Tour, and Over 54. They are available at cdbaby.

Gilles Malkine

Gilles Malkine performed at the original Woodstock Festival in 1969 as a member of Tim Hardin’s band. He has recorded with Hardin, Billy Faier, John Sebastian, and his mother, Sonia Malkine, the world’s preeminent collector and interpreter of traditional Breton folksongs. He plays guitar, bass, and fiddle, and several of his compositions have been performed in recital by the classical pianist Justin Kolb.

Duo Fortuna: Charles Ramsey + Leslie Upchurch

Duo Fortuna

Duo Fortuna‘s approach to music can best be summed up as “planned improvisations.”  Their music makes conscious use of modern classical idioms (such as those of Bartok, Schoenberg, Debussy), as well as jazz and other world musics, and makes some explorations in the electronic realm.  You can hear some of DuoFortuna’s music on their MySpace page.

“Like electric Debussy….” — Blaise Siwula, curator of C.O.M.A. at ABC No-Rio

Charles Ramsey

Charles Ramsey holds a Bachelor’s of Music in Classical Guitar Performance from the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. He has given solo recitals in New York as well as in the Midwest and Japan. In addition to Duo Fortuna, his current projects include playing with Australian singer/songwriter Sadhak Hearst in the band Kuki. He is also a member of the classical guitar-flute ensemble Duo Nanashi with flutist Yuuki Koike. In addition, Ramsey maintains his own fusion ensemble, the New York City Pop Band.  Occasionally he scores music for very short films.

Leslie Upchurch

Leslie Purcell Upchurch is a classically trained musician with a Master’s degree in Piano Performance from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She has worked with freestyle improvisation since her undergraduate training at Carnegie-Mellon University. Upchurch is a a Dalcroze Eurhythmics teacher and has appeared as a guest artist with the Open Music Ensemble, as well as for various theater productions.

Tribute to Phil Miller

“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.” —Martin Mitchell

Phil Miller

Philip Miller taught at Kansas City (KS) Community College and directed the Riverfront Reading Series in Kansas City. He more recently had lived in Mount Union, PA, where he edited The Same and co-directed the Aughwick Poet and Writers Reading Series. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Coal City Review, Cottonwood, Gargoyle, Home Planet News, the I-70 Review, Kansas Quarterly, Literary Magazine Review, Mid-American Review, New Letters, Poetry, Poetry Wales, Rattapallax, and Thorny Locust. His sixth book of poems, The Casablanca Fan, was published in 2008 by Spartan Press. He co-edited the ghost-poem anthology Chance of a Ghost, from Helicon Nine Editions. His forthcoming collection, The Ghost of Everyday and Other Poems, will be published by Spartan Press, Kansas City, MO, this spring.

Patricia Brody

Patricia Brody s first poetry collection, American Desire, was selected  by Finishing Line Books for a 2009 New Women’s Voices Award. Her second collection, Dangerous to Know, is due out from Salmon Poetry (Ireland) in 2012. Her work has appeared in Big City Lit, Western Humanities Review,  Barrow Street, The Paris Review, on Poetry Daily, and in the anthology (co edited by Philip Miller) Chance of a Ghost. Brody teaches Seeking Your Voice: a Poetry Workshop,  at Barnard College Center for Women. She has received two Pushcart nominations and two Academy of American Poets prizes.

Nicholas Johnson

Nicholas Johnson is co-founder and editor of  BigCityLit.com, an online literary magazine.  He is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of The Lyric Recovery Festival Award 2000 at Carnegie Hall.  He has taught creative writing for many years at the Payne Whitney Clinic and The Lighthouse in New York City. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Pivot, Rattapallax, The Journal, The Same, and the anthology Chance of a Ghost. His chapbook, Degrees of Freedom, is available from Bright Hill Press.

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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