Florence Miller releases second poetry collection at age 96—R&W hosts book launch on April 7, 2019

Posted: April 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

Raven & Wren Press is proud to announce the release of poet Florence Miller’s second full-length collection of poetry, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms.To celebrate, the press is hosting a book launch on Sunday, April 7, 2019, from 4 to 6 PM, at Mission Coffee Roasting Company, located at 151 Washington Blvd, in Fremont. 

Poet Florence Miller and artist Barbara Lyon, March 2016. Lyon’s  watercolor is the cover art for Miller’s new book, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms.
Photo courtesy of Denny Stein.

Florence Miller, who lives in Fremont, was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1922. Her family moved to West Orange soon after. She loved the natural beauty and freedom she experienced as a child, climbing every tree in every park. One summer, when Florence was in sixth grade, she and her friends learned that Eleanor Roosevelt would be visiting her godparents in the gated neighborhood Llewellyn Park. The girls decided to pay the First Lady a visit. A headline in the Newark Evening News read: Six West Orange Girls Crash the Gate.  This cherished experience is captured in one of Florence’s poems, as is the  pain and confusion she experienced when her father lost his drugstore and the family their home during the Great Depression. Florence’s family pulled up stakes and eventually settled into a two-and-a-half family home in Newark where the schools were a year behind in instruction. Of the book, poet Sara Mithra wrote:

“Autobiographical images gleaned from the Great Depression accrue a mythic thickness under Miller’s spare line…A naive girl knocking her head on a table grows up, dreaming a timeless raven. One cycles through unpredictable loss and recovery, as in a mist. A wedding ring tossed into the water later resurfaces as a bone ring. The attendant reemergence of mortality from the maw of nature is delineated as gracefully as a birch.” 

Florence remembers how her mother, Jeannette Shank, recited Milton to her and her siblings when they were small children. “My mother loved poetry,” she said, and attended the same high school as Allen Ginsburg’s father Louis. “He was our class poet,” my mother said, her voice filled with admiration for him. 

One of Florence’s earliest memories of poem-making happened when she was a three-year-old child twirling around the house, singing out, “Spinach and Fish! Spinach and Fish! Mixed in a dish!” 

That’s a poem,” her mother cried. “Let me get a pencil and write it down.” Poetry is in Florence’s DNA.

Florence, her husband Don Miller, a sociology professor, and their young son David moved to Berkeley “just in time for the sixties”—as Florence likes to say.  Don taught at Laney College and Florence taught English and creative writing at McClymonds High School, in Oakland, where she infused her students with the same love of language she possesses. Miller’s students are the subject of the Emmy Award winning 1972 film by Allen Willis, Can you Hear Me? Young Black Poets from the Ghetto. (In her book, Florence has a poem, “My Student, Beaten to Death on the Street,” for Robbie Bowie, whose death she learned about from his mother while paying a visit to his home to let her student know one of his poems would soon be published.)  

Florence also became a founding member of the writing collective, Shakespeare’s Sisters, co-authored with Alexis Rotella a renga trilogy during the 1970s, and published her work in numerous magazines and anthologies.

Widowed in 1985, Florence eventually married the east coast writer Edward Wahl. She and Wahl enjoyed six years of marriage, until his death in 2006. After his death, Florence moved to Fremont to be closer to her son David Miller, a (retired) teacher at American High School. 

Since returning to the west coast, Florence has co-authored (with bay area poets Elaine Starkman, Joseph Chailkin, Dave Holt, S. Solomon, and Mark Hofstadter) the poetry collection, My Dreaming Waking Life (Dog Ear Publishing, 2009) and her previous full length collection, Upriver (Shakespeare’s Sisters Press, 2012).  

Of her latest collection, Florence sums it up simply: “ This book is the culmination of a lifetime of work.”

Florence astounds the reader with how deftly she captures a quicksilver glimpse of beauty while simultaneously bearing witness to loss. 

“Florence’s poetry is magical,” says poet Joan Alexander. “The direct imagery hits me somewhere just below consciousness with a profound and simple beauty.”

Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event. 

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