from Make

Artist Note:

I employ varying approaches to developing hybrid texts, but one element unites all: the aim of offering a reader a transformational experience, just as each piece of writing makes me, in a real sense, a new kind of writer. By “new” I do not mean shiny and flawless. I mean possessing the piquant freshness of having been altered intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually by immersion in a creative process. These hybrid works are designed to be read and also to be viewed from afar as a distinct glossary of images.

Heeding the particular cue of Adrienne Rich’s comment “The notes for the poem are the only poem,” Make is a graphic poetic sequence that documents the musical and atonal reality of “the page under the page” or the idiosyncratic force of a creative process in manufacturing mode. Its solid tools —curious motifs—scary whispers—exuberant shouts—swirling influences—vexing banalities and repetitions. Here the means is the end.

Other excerpts from Make have appeared in—or will soon appear in—AMPHole in the Head ReviewSolsticePositNew NoteSuperpresentEcotone, and Inscription.


click the image for a larger version

Selective Notes on Make:

While the preceding poetic territory relies on the insistent enigma of the writing process as a source of music, I offer these notes to readers interested in delving further into the minutiae of the text. Generally excluded are identifications of historical figures, place names, and other entities that might be located via obvious Internet keyword searches unless there is a detail to add not readily available to the public and which I deem of importance to understanding what is happening.


liberal use of castanets
First musical instrument I learned to play, and still the only instrument I can play.

the wastel
Writer who kills a story by telling too much.

lost a common language with family
As I strived to locate words for what I had experienced while growing up in an Iowa house of screams and filth, it became harder to communicate with family members relying on other ways to process difficult history, or trying to ignore it altogether.

stared in a way that was not quiet but made no noise
Ref. to 2010 performance piece “The Artist is Present” by Marina Abramovic (1946-) which lasted 700 hours at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and consisted of the artist staring at people brave enough to sit opposite her. The duel depth and simplicity of this event I equate to daily encounters with the page, an inevitable fraught face-off with all that art might be and all that it cannot ever be.

win a blue ribbon at the fir fair
Ref. to winning the Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest in 1979, at age 15, for a six-page poem about Private Eddie Slovak, the only U.S. soldier executed during WWII. The award, given at the Butterworth Mansion in Moline, Illinois, always, in memory, comes with elaborate hair-dos arrayed in rows in the dusk of the paneled library.


Shiny secretions of Andy Warhol (1928-1987) as opposed to more interesting Pop Art productions Idelle Weber (1932-2020) and Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997).

cabernet franc
The most miraculous grape on earth in my opinion, adding to dust a taste of new life.

Quack doctors!
Ref. to rumors swirling around my grandfather, Dr. H.P. Miller, who purportedly was the attending physician when his first wife died during childbirth in Wisconsin, and verifiably made an error of angle when setting the broken leg of a teenage son, David (later my father, 1934-2011), causing him to limp for the rest of his life.

Ref. to the blues of Bessie Smith (1894-1937) and Koko Taylor (1928-2009).

bare foot camus
Ref. to images in The First Man, the last manuscript completed by Albert Camus (1913-1960). A copy was recovered from the crushed car he died in. The book was finally published in 1994. It recounts an Algiers childhood of sun, beaches, honey.

primal sacred flush
Ref. to an album by Yoko Ono (1933-) called Fly that I found on sale in the 1970s at Co-op Tapes and Records. It contained a cut called “Toilet Piece/Unknown” that consisted only of the sound of a toilet flushing. I was fascinated by how the mere recording of such a commonplace event completely “flushed” its common-ness away, turning it into something else entirely, something exotic, art to study.

Slang for the sphere where wise critics like Carmen Maria Machado (1986-) reside.

chagrina consent
That in us which gladly consents to irritations to become, in the end, happier.

The limpness of apathy that has become clever enough (with the aid of Social Media) to look actually active and involved in the world.


Short (word or image) for “apt incremental account.”

Louisa V. comfort thee
Ref. to Argentinian writer Louisa Valenzuela (1938-), a teacher of mine at NYU and the only authority to ever compliment me on my misspelled words.

Stan too fast disappeared. Around the bend
Ref. to Stan Lee (1922-2018), co-creator of my favorite superhero Spiderman, and the fact that after age 16 I could not comfortably read comic books any longer due to their painful association with a nervous breakdown suffered in my early teens.

big olf ridge
Nonsense term for the sudden incline that a stanza or sentence can become.

stufle parger
A reader expert at turning pages fast rather than reading.


blabbery inability to settle on the word for blabbering
Excerpt from an e-mail to Conjunctions editor Bradford Morrow.

welch’s overalls
Ref. to the twentieth-century garment manufactured by the Welch-Cook-Beals Company that has much to teach any maker of anything about quality of materials and thoroughness of execution. A vintage flyer describes them thus: “We call your attention to the extra high bib, combination watch and pencil pocket and check book pocket with button down flap on the bib, two large double hip pockets, one rule and wrench pocket, two side pockets, hammer loop, extra high waist and rise, button stay on back, faced two button sides, strong detachable button-hole and suspenders, laced heavy webbing, combination buckles and snap loops, brass buttons, button stays on the upper corners of the bib, three button fly; two seamed, double felled and triple stitched throughout, sewed with white thread, all pockets bar tacked.”

chuck close
Ref. to the American painter (1940-) who created a work called Self Portrait (1997) that has been reproduced in postcard form and is pinned to my bulletin board.

duck soup elevator to the
Ref. to my participation in Marx-Brother-like groupings of four or five or six random New Yorkers in skyscraper elevators whizzing upward or downward pre-Covid.

When I write or hear the name of this sculptor (1917-1840) I inevitably picture a large bronze figure in the garden behind the Rodin Museum in Paris, holding an enormous key and bending toward its weight of “the answer.”

A French bridge that does not live up to expectations.

The latest cruel lesson in how a proper noun can degrade in the mind when one lives too far from its tactile origin—in this instance the orange and white striped booth-filled Brooklyn diner Junior’s that bakes the city’s creamiest cheesecake.

sleep sade
The other side of writer Marquis de Sade (1740-1814): rest.



Ben Miller is the author of the forthcoming Pandemonium Logs: Sioux Falls 2020-2022 (Rutgers University Press) and River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll Amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa (University of North Carolina Press. His awards include fellowships from the NEA and the Radcliffe Institute.