Not exactly...


Spiritual Letters (Series 6), David Miller (31pp, 5, Shearsman)


Over a number of years now, David Miller has been producing a series of prose texts mixed sometimes with verse, seeking a 'spiritual' approach to the real. If that sounds rather aery-faerie, then the title certainly takes that risk but this sixth section is as far from feyness as it is from simple-minded social realism.

Instead, the poet is intensely aware of the strangeness of the phenomenal world and how that world is infused with, not separate from, spirit. It's not always clear what's going on. Section 1, for instance, seems to be about a funeral, the story of a priest in the Nazi death camps, a journey, all happening at the same time to a mysterious 'you'. There is also a painting being painted, and a woman who could be the icon 'weeping'. The last sentence says: 'If you think you know something you can only appear deluded, bereft of your senses, insane.'

Which could almost be the epigram to these - what? Poems? Proses? They are not exactly short stories, nor are they exactly poems. They contain hints at stories, snatches of narrative; and snatches of lyric grace and musical depth. But they continually slide away from definition; and that's what makes them so compelling. They hint at and tease out the spiritual, rather than speak directly.

Robert Sheppard described his typical technique as that of a slow montage: images, and it is still true, I think, to what he is attempting in these pieces. There are no savage juxtapositions; it's more like the narratives fade in and out and are slowly replaced by images. This gives them a mysterious energy that I personally find more moving. The language is always simple and clear, but like a well, you can't see to the bottom of it.

It took me a while to read this short pamphlet, because I don't think it can be taken at one gulp. It resists easy reading, invites contemplation and absorption over time. I don't know much of David Miller's other work, though I have read a little; but now I will be looking out for more.

   Steve Waling 2015