Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A WKU Professor Who Wrote Soul Food


Jim Wayne Miller (October 21, 1936 – August 18, 1996) taught at Western Kentucky University for thirty-three years.  He was a graduate of Berea College and earned a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in German and American Literature.  One would not think that this highly educated man would become one of the most honored poets in the genre of Appalachian poetry, but that is exactly what happened. 

Jim Wayne Miller, on his poetry:
 “Good poetry will deal with ordinary things...and still manage to evoke a sense of wonder, of the miraculous."  http://jimwaynemiller.net/index.html

The reason I say his poetry is soul food is because he wrote with a direct meaning that also had a bigger meaning.  His poetry is much like the parables found in the Gospels or the stories passed down from our ancestors.  They may be simple, but when we look deeper there is a greater meaning to them.  You can find a sample of his poetry at the link above.

Every day that goes by those of us with a psychiatric label seem to be losing a little more of our freedoms.  We are treated less like we are fully human and more like we are something to be feared and shunned.  That means we need all the soul food we can find.

Where a person finds something to feed their inner being is different for each one of us.  I was delighted when I found Jim Wayne Miller and his straight forward poetry.  He was from North Carolina where I had lived for many years on two different occasions.  He went to Berea College where my father and mother and both my sisters attended. He did his graduate work at Vanderbilt where James Still and Robert Penn Warren had gone.  He taught where one of my nieces and her husband had graduated from.  Most important his poetry was about real down to earth things.

Some lines from a poem of his.
 (from Brier Sermon-"You Must be Born Again." )

I'm telling you, every day you're leaving
a place you won't be coming back to ever.
What are you going to leave behind?
What are you taking with you?
Don't run off and leave the best part of yourself.

from The Mountains Have Come Closer, 1980 ©

That last line hit me hard.  How many times do we run from the best part of ourselves to become what others want us to be rather than being ourselves?
     

© Ed Cooper, June 10, 2014, Stoney Creek, Tennessee,  All rights reserved 

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