Saturday, September 08, 2012

Josephine Miles

Ron Silliman, whose blog has become my one stop shop for contemporary and experimental poetry, points to a recorded 1954 talk by poet Josephine Miles on teaching poetry.  Miles was an important figure in the Bay Area, and was, from her tenured chair (later University Professorship) at UCB, the academic point of contrast or even pendant to Robert Duncan (on one hand) and the Beats (on another).  But when she was kind enough to give me a few minutes, a very long time ago when I was a Santa Cruz undergrad, it was to ask her about her Los Angeles High School classmate, John Cage.  She recalled that he had wanted to become a minister and had excelled at oratory, with his high-pitched voice well-suited for public speaking (which makes sense for a time when the microphone was not yet ubiquitous to the pulpit.)  In this talk, Miles recalls a high school class on the Aeneid, in which the text was read and not analysed, as a critical experience in her life. I doubt that Cage was in that class, as Cage had Greek and not Latin in High School, but taking pleasure in the uninterpreted experience of a work is certainly close to Cage's thinking, for example his work with texts by Joyce or Thoreau, so I do wonder if he had the same classics teacher for a similar course in translating a major Greek text. I don't know how much more the connection between the two can illuminate the very different work, the very different poetics in particular of the two. (Indeed, I can't imagine a greater difference from Cage than in Miles'  identification of poetry as an "art of making sense.")  In any case, it is an unexplored part of the biography of both artists. And it is interesting in this talk on teaching poetic composition, that Miles focuses on the making of questions rather than the production of answers, a similar focus to that of Cage, and I wonder if it might have been a shared teacher at LA High who pointed them in this direction.

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