Biography of Josephine Miles
Josephine Miles (June 11, 1911 – May 12, 1985) was an American poet and literary critic; the first woman to be tenured in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She wrote over a dozen books of poetry and several works of criticism.
Born in Chicago in 1911, her family moved when she was young to Southern California. Due to a disabling arthritis, she was educated at home by tutors, but was able to graduate from Los Angeles High School in a class which included the composer John Cage.
Miles attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature before moving to the University of California, Berkeley to pursue her doctorate. She remained in Berkeley for the rest of her life, receiving many highly-coveted fellowships and awards until her death in May 1985. She was the first woman to receive tenure in the English Department at Berkeley and, at the time of her death, held the position of University Professor, one of the rarest and most prestigious honors in academic life.
She was fascinated with Beat poetry and was both a host and critic to many Beat poets from her chair at Berkeley. Most notably, she helped Allen Ginsberg publish Howl by recommending it to Richard Eberhart, who would publish an article in the New York Times praising the poem. She was also the founder of the internationally distributed Berkeley Poetry Review in 1974 on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Miles was a mentor to many young poets, including Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, Diane Wakoski, Diana O'Hehir, William Stafford, and A. R. Ammons.
In reference to her lifelong disability, Thom Gunn recollected that “The unavoidable first fact about Josephine Miles was physical. As a young child she contracted a form of degenerative arthritis so severe that it left her limbs deformed and crippled. As a result, she could not be left alone in a house, she could not handle a mug...she could not use a typewriter; and she could neither walk nor operate a wheelchair.” Miles bequethed her Berkeley home to the University of California, which offers the house for use by the visiting Roberta C. Holloway Lecturer in the Practice of Poetry.
The PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award was established in her honor to recognize achievement in multicultural literature.
Josephine Miles Poems
A poem I keep forgetting to write Is about the stars, How I see them in their order Even without the chair and bear and the sisters,
Fields of Learning
When we go out into the fields of learning We go by a rough route Marked by colossal statues, Frankenstein's Monsters, AMPAC and the 704,
When you swim in the surf off Seal Rocks, and your family Sits in the sand Eating potato salad, and the undertow Comes which takes you out away down
After her pills the girl slept and counted Pellet on pellet the regress of life. Dead to the world, the world's count yet counted
To this man, to his boned shoulders Came the descent of pain. All kinds, Cruel, blind, dear, horrid, hallowed,
This face had no use for light, took none of it, Grew cavernous against stars, bore into noon A dark of midnight by its own resources.
One rat across the floor and quick to floor's a breeze, But two a whisper of a human tongue. One is a breath, two voice; And one a dream, but more are dreamed too long.
When I think of my kindness which is tentative and quiet And of yours which is intense and free, I am in elaboration of knowledge impatient Of even the patientest immobility.
All our stones like as much sun as possible. Along their joints run both solar access and decline In equal splendor, like a mica chipping At every beat, being sun responsible.
When the lights come on at five o'clock on street corners That is Evolution by the bureau of power, That is a fine mechanic dealing in futures: For the sky is wide and warm upon that hour.
Effort for Distraction
for Henry Adams Effort for distraction grew Ferocious, grew Ferocious and paced, that was its exercise.
As George Washington hacked at his cherry tree, Joseph said to him This is the tree that fed Mary When she lingered by the way.
Mother said to call her if the H-bomb exploded And I said I would, and it about did When Louis my brother robbed a service station And lay cursing on the oily cement in handcuffs.
[Down From Another Planet They Have Sett...
Down from another planet they have settled to mend The Hampton Institute banisters. They wear bow ties and braces. The flutings they polish with a polished hand.
Effort for Distraction
for Henry Adams
Effort for distraction grew
Ferocious and paced, that was its exercise.
Effort for distraction strained,
Legged in the hour-like single stretch
Its heels and sight to feel, so slit its eyes.