Born 19 July 1924, Houston, Texas; died 31 October 1998
Daughter of Jesse G. and Vassar Morrison Miller
Vassar Miller kept house for herself and her dog in Houston, Texas. For Miller, born with cerebral palsy, this testifies to an unusual courage and fiercely independent spirit. Miller's stepmother was the most important person in her childhood and early life. She taught Miller to read, and enabled her to attend junior and senior high school and to earn B.S. and M.A. degrees from the University of Houston. The Wings Press, in Houston, was founded as a vehicle to publish and distribute Miller's new work.
Adam's Footprint (1956), Miller's first collection of poems, marked the appearance of an accomplished lyric poet. Miller's peculiar voice is heard in the title poem: "My bantam brawn could turn them back / My crooked step wrenched straight to kill / Live pods that then screwed tight and still." Howard Nemerov wrote that Miller's poems were "at their best brilliant works of language." Miller is a maker of the short lyric, songs singing in words that are worked to the utmost, with rich combinations of meanings. In "Love Song out of Nothing," Miller speaks of the "Mirage…formed from the crooked hear waves of my thought," minus which the poet is "nothing but a nought." Without her poems, the poet is nothing; and yet even from this nought she sang a strange convoluted love song to her muse. In the poem "Waste of Breath," Miller writes of "waging war with paper pistols." In "Spastic Child," she writes of a boy whose "tongue… / Is locked so minnows of his wit may never / Leap playing in our waterspouts of words, / …his mind, bright bird, forever trapped in silence."
The confessional aspects of Miller's poetry become more pronounced with each new volume. Meditative, religious, rebellious, anguished, angry, subdued, and quiet, Miller's poems are suffused with learned acceptance. With Miller's "small emphasis" and her "weapons of words," but most especially with her "one two three four / clink clank this small change of being," Miller sings something rare—songs that bear hearing over and over.
Wage War On Silence (1960). My Bones Being Wiser (1963). Onions and Roses (1968). If I Could Sleep Deeply Enough (1974). Small Change (1976). Approaching Nada (1977). Selected and New Poems: 1950-1980 (1981). Open Question (1982). Struggling to Swim on Concrete: Poems (1984). Despite This Flesh: The Disabled in Stories and Poems (edited by Miller, 1985). If I Had Wheels or Love: Collected Poems of Vassar Miller (1991).
Brown, S. F., ed., Heart's Invention: On the Poetry of Vassar Miller (1988). Davy, T. C., "Benediction of Bone: The Poetry of Vassar Miller, a Psychological Study of the Evolution of Poetic Voice and Self" (thesis 1990). Howe, F., ed., No More Masks! An Anthology of 20th-Century American Women Poets, Newly Revised and Expanded (1993). Jones, W. H., "Mystic of the Bruising Thing," A Study of the Mystical in the Poetry of Vassar Miller (thesis 1996). Miller, N. J., "Aloneness, Suffering, and Faith: A Study of Themes in the Poetry of Vassar Miller" (thesis 1989). Saylors, R., ed., Liquid City (1987). Tyler, B., Life of a Poet (1994). Wade, S., Her Own Dilemma: Vassar Miller (1984).
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the Untied States (1995). WA.
American Book Review (Oct. 1991). Christian Century (1997). Houston Chronicle (2 Feb. 1975). Sam Houston Literary Review (Nov. 1977). Houston Post (26 Jan. 1969). Kenyon Review (1958). NYTBR (22 Dec. 1968).