Archive for January, 2015


January 12, 2015

This is from the Parade Magazine published on 1/11/15


Forget complicated New Year’s resolutions (you probably already have). Simply taking the time to meditate can make all the difference in your health and well-being this year.

The hottest well-being trend right now isn’t a hardcore workout or a fad diet. It’s a gentle, ancient practice that millions say is the antidote to the 21st-century stress that affects everything from job performance and sleep to your weight.

We’re talking about meditation, and it has cheerleaders from all walks of life—entertainers, businesspeople, athletes, even government legislators. Oprah Winfrey, a longtime meditator, has teamed up with Deepak Chopra to offer a series of 21-day online meditation “challenges” that have drawn more than 3 million participants so far. Hip-hop tycoon Russell Simmons’ new book, Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple (Gotham), aims to demystify meditation for the masses. He even inspired comedian/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to take it up.

In the business world, Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington meditates daily, calling it the “third metric” in success, after money and power. And meditation programs are used to help at-risk schoolchildren thrive in the classroom, and prison inmates cope with the stress of incarceration.

Clearly, meditation is having a moment. And if you’re distracted while reading this —texting, checking email, thinking about what to have for dinner—it could help you, too.

“The goal of mindfulness is to make you more focused and aware, so your mind and body can be in the same place at the same time,” says U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who credits mindfulness for helping him prevent burnout. “I compare it to what athletes experience when they’re totally in the zone.”

Ryan believes in mindfulness so strongly that he holds weekly meditation sessions on Capitol Hill. “Stress is bipartisan,” he says. “Mindfulness cuts through current political divides—it’s based on self-care, and preventing illness, and increasing overall well-being and can save healthcare dollars and promote individual responsibility.” Ryan’s goal is “infusing mindfulness into the different institutions in our country.”

While meditation has roots in Buddhism, many people today practice a non-religious form of mindfulness that requires nothing more than sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders—and it will—just refocus on your breathing.

“It really is that simple,” says Ryan, who has written A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance and Recapture the American Spirit (Hay House). “Thanks to mindfulness, I’m calmer, more focused, and nicer to people around me. I believe this is something that can help many Americans who are struggling right now.”

Body-Building for Your Brain

It’s hard to believe something so easy can be so powerful. “Mindfulness looks like you aren’t doing anything, but when we watch the brain in these studies, we see different parts lighting up and activating,” says psychologist Elisha Goldstein, author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (Atria Books). “You can literally change your brain through this practice.”

In the 1970s, molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn decided to study “Buddhist meditation without the Buddhism.” Kabat-Zinn, now a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, had discovered meditation through a friend, and began to suspect it could improve both mental and physical health.

He developed a program called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) and documented how it worked to ease pain, suffering and stress in cancer patients, bone marrow transplant patients and even prison inmates. His findings were so compelling that over 250 hospitals around the world now use MBSR to promote patient well-being.

And the evidence keeps growing. In a new Harvard study, brain scans showed that mindfulness meditation increased gray matter in brain areas associated with learning, memory and compassion, and a decrease in the part of the brain linked to anxiety and stress.

Anxiety-Busting for Kids & Teachers

Meditation can have huge benefits for children, too. “We’re always yelling at our kids to pay attention,” says Ryan. “But we never teach them how to pay attention. That’s where mindfulness comes in.”

The Holistic Life Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, aims to change that with mindfulness programs for at-risk kids in the city’s poorest elementary schools. A pilot study of their program by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Pennsylvania State University found that fourth- and fifth-graders who participated in the 12-week program were better able to handle chronic stress, experienced fewer emotional outbursts, and had less ongoing anxiety.

Mindfulness can be a tool for educators, too. The U.S. Department of Education is now funding a major study on how mindfulness can help teachers cope with the pressures of overburdened classrooms. “When we’ve piloted these programs in schools, the teachers come back begging us to do more,” says Ryan. “They know it works and that they need this so they can be their best selves with our kids.”

Attention-Boosting for All of Us

Mindfulness is especially handy this time of year, when New Year’s resolutions typically include pledges to lose weight. “Food is one of the most popular applications for mindfulness because we all have to eat, every day,” says Goldstein. “But for most of us, eating has become this mindless activity that we do while we’re working, driving, watching television or looking at our phones. We barely even taste what’s on our plates.”

And that piles on calories. Study participants who ate their lunch in front of a computer screen gobbled twice as many cookies an hour later as subjects who ate without distractions, according to recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

But mindfulness can help you reconnect with your body’s cues for hunger and satisfaction. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior found that learning mindfulness strategies helped participants eat more slowly—and eat up to 300 fewer calories a day.

That’s pretty powerful stuff. Still, some critics of mindfulness are quick to dismiss it as another New Age fad like hot yoga or juice cleanses. But the proponents of mindfulness say that’s OK. “The beauty of mindfulness is that you can stop doing it, notice you’ve stopped, and then re-engage at any time,” says Goldstein. “We are continually learning from what did or didn’t work and beginning anew. And that’s mindfulness.”

Mindfulness is free, it’s portable, and you don’t have to be sitting on a pillow somewhere for an hour with your eyes shut to achieve it, says psychologist Susan Albers, author of Eating Mindfully. “You can do it at the dinner table, you can do it during a meeting at work, you can do it while driving your car.”

Mindfulness 101

Breathe Mindfully

Sit in silence, breathing deeply. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.

Hug Mindfully

When you hug someone, take a few moments to focus on the sensation of the hug. “Don’t let go until you feel both bodies start to relax,” says psychologist Elisha Goldstein, who prescribes this meditation for couples he counsels, and does it himself every night with his spouse. “That act of touching will actually align your nervous systems so you feel more connected.”

Eat Mindfully

This classic mindfulness exercise helps you pay more attention to your food so you enjoy it more while you eat less. It’s typically taught with a raisin but can be applied to whatever you’re eating. Here goes: Consciously slow down. Look at the raisin, touch it and smell it. Think about how it started out as a grape, shriveled in the sun, and became the treat you see before you. Then eat it very slowly. Take the time to taste it on all parts of your tongue, and notice how you respond: Do you like it? Does it taste sweet? Does it make you salivate? Chew slowly, feeling the raisin beneath your teeth, and then swallow and notice how you feel.

Walk Mindfully

You have to walk somewhere everyday, so turn it into a moving meditation: Focus on each step, what you see, how it feels, your surroundings, the weather and, yes, your breath, too. Don’t worry about your destination. “Walking meditation is not a means to an end; it is an end,” says Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. “Each step is life; each step is peace and joy.”

Everybody’s Doing It

Who can forget The Beatles, resplendent in hippie garb, meditating with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? Today, meditation is more mainstream, as calm-seekers from the boardroom to the playing field and the red carpet look for a way to relax, focus and be present.

LENA DUNHAM The creator and star of the HBO series Girls has been meditating since age 9 to help her cope with obsessive-compulsive disorder. “It has made it possible for me to weather certain challenges and storms and public moments that I didn’t ever imagine would be in my life,” says Dunham, now 28.

GOOGLE  The company’s “Search Inside Yourself” program was launched by engineer Chade-Meng Tan using science-based mindfulness practices to foster emotional intelligence, self-awareness and attention—all useful traits for those working in a fast-paced, competitive industry.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS Mindfulness helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl last year. Coach Pete  Carroll initiated the practice in 2011 to help fight stress and improve performance. “Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field to practice,” says offensive tackle Russell Okung.


If this were an obituary….

January 12, 2015

Philip Martin’s piece on Miller Williams

– from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 1/11/15 Style section.


Miller Williams’ pyramid
This is not an obituary, but if it were ….


When your father dies take notes somewhere inside.
— Miller Williams, “Let Me Tell You“

The above line comes from a poem in which Arkansas poet Miller Williams urged us to make use of whatever was at hand, including the dying of a friend.

Williams was my beloved friend. He died in Fayetteville on Jan. 1. He was 84 years old.

I was asked by his widow to write an obituary. This is my attempt to honor that request, and to make use of Miller’s dying the best I can.

I think of obituaries as an act of journalism designed to put the community on notice, a quasi-official invertedpyramid story to be read over one’s morning coffee. An obituary provides facts and, maybe, if there is space and time enough, the reporter might share an anecdote or a quote from someone who knew the deceased, designed to give a tender glimpse into the person’s character.

I wish I could turn out a deft and compact synopsis and appreciation of the great man’s life, and maybe leave you with a bemused smile, but I am struggling to invert Miller’s pyramid.

More than this black thicket of text, Miller Williams deserves an edifice — or a city. Some monument that might survive the blighted centuries to come.

He might disagree with that and remind me of Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” Miller was a scientist; he understood the odds favored existential ice over rapturous fire and, while we might be delighted by whatever prizes we collect in this life, they are ultimately vanities. He had a great sense of humor about this.

Here’s the entirety of his poem “My Wife Reads the Paper at Breakfast on the Birthday of the Scottish Poet”:

Poet Burns to Be Honored, the headline read.
She put it down. “They found you out,” she said.

The first few lines of the conventional obituary would note that he read his occasional poem “Of History and Hope” at President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997. That Miller was the co-founder of the University of Arkansas Press, which he directed for 17 years, and of the university’s Master of Fine Arts in literary translation program and was instrumental in the shaping of its MFA in creative writing program. It would note that he was married to Jordan, his wife since 1969; that he was the father of three children — singersongwriter Lucinda Williams, Robert and Karyn — and a grandfather and a great-grandfather.

Over the years he published more than 40 books, collections of poetry, translations of foreign poets’ work, textbooks and even — with James A. McPherson — a history of America’s railroads. Maybe the obit would mention his 1952 meeting with Hank Williams in Lake Charles, La., an occasion on which the singer advised the poet to “drink beer.”

After he told me that story, I teasingly referred to Miller as “The Hank Williams of American Poetry” every time I mentioned him in print. It pleased him, but there is truth in it. Miller’s plainsong had the same tough honesty as Hank’s voice; the same uncommon sensitivity to the extraordinary experience available to ordinary people. On the other hand, I don’t remember Miller as much of a beer drinker — his especial fondness was for Woodbridge Chardonnay, which we poured from 1.5-liter bottles.

Miller was born in Hoxie, and was one of six children. His father, E.B., was a Methodist preacher, an early integrationist who sought to organize sharecroppers in the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union. The Williams family moved about Arkansas frequently — to Fort Smith, Booneville, Paragould and Russellville. Miller began writing early and found himself especially drawn to poetry. But after he entered Hendrix College in Conway, a counselor put him on a different path.

“A psychological evaluation indicated I had no verbal aptitude,” he said. “I was told I’d embarrass myself and my family.”

So he went into science. He studied hard and well and ended up doing graduate work in zoology, teaching high school and college biology. He married young, had a family and went to work selling appliances for Sears and college textbooks out of his car’s trunk. But he always wrote poetry.

In 1950, teaching biology at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., Miller hosted a poetry show on television (can you imagine such a thing these days?) and had poems published in The New York Times. He thought he might live out his life as a scientist/ poet, balancing vocation and avocation like pediatrician William Carlos Williams or novelist Walker Percy, who was trained as a physician.

But in 1961 he met John Ciardi, the poet who would become his friend and mentor. Ciardi invited Miller to the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont. There Williams met Robert Frost and discovered a kind of community of poets he had suspected existed but had never before encountered. The next year, Miller joined the faculty of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge — as an English professor.

His poems remain shot through with science. His training has lent his work a kind of epistemological skepticism — a distrust of certitude that nonetheless acknowledges the role faith plays in human pursuits. His 2007 poem “After All These Years of Prayer and Pi R Square” illuminates his synthesis of these two seemingly antithetical paths of intellectual striving:

How sweet a confusion that science, that creed of the creature,
that earthly philosophy of numbers in motion,
distrusted by rabbi, sheik, and preacher
who have clothed its nakedness in flame,
should quietly introduce us to the notion
of something weightless within us wanting a name

Any conventional obituary of Miller would necessarily include a representative, though probably not inclusive, list of the honors he was accorded, including the Prix de Rome for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Harvard’s Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship for poetry, the New York Arts Fund Award for Significant Contribution to American Letters, the Henry Bellaman Poetry Prize, the Charity Randall Citation for Contribution to Poetry as a Spoken Art, the John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence and the Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been named Socio Benemerito dell’Associazione of the Centro Romanesco Trilussa in Rome. In 1990, he won the prestigious Poet’s Prize.

But you don’t measure a man by the prizes he wins, for there are all sorts of reasons people win (and fail to win) prizes. People who live in Arkansas know their accomplishments are by and large discounted by the people who live in our country’s coastal cultural centers and by their own neighbors, who are given to wondering why, if you’re so good, why are you still here?

A good obit writer would note Miller lived all over the world and spoke a half-dozen languages or more (including Esperanto), yet he spent most of his life in the state where he was born.

There were prizes that Miller did not win, and I asked him about them. One of the things that people who live in Arkansas know is that there is a price to be paid for living here.

“I think of myself as an Arkansawyer, but not an Arkansas poet,” Miller used to say. “I would rather live in Arkansas than win any prize on earth.”

Miller could say this because he had the chance to travel and a not inconsiderable part of the world wound up passing through his orbit. He served as visiting professor of U.S. literature at the University of Chile and Fulbright professor of American studies at the University of Mexico. For seven years he was a member of the poetry faculty at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He represented the U.S. State Department on reading and lecturing tours through Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. He published stories, translations, poems and critical essays in most of the seminal journals and mass circulation magazines in the United States and many in Canada, Latin America and Europe. His poems have been translated into many languages; he translated Pablo Neruda into English.

The walls of Miller’s Fayetteville home were splashed with photographs and paintings, with a story attached to every one. He had a lot of friends, many of them celebrated.

He rode on tour buses with Johnny Cash and Tom T. Hall. During the civil rights era, as marchers were on their way to participate in demonstrations in Selma, Ala., Miller participated in diner sit-ins with George Haley — the former ambassador to Somalia under Bill Clinton and brother of Roots author Alex and one of the first black law students admitted into the University of Arkansas.

He knew Flannery O’Connor, C.D. Wright, Maya Angelou, Frank Stanford and Howard Nemerov. I remember him talking about the time he and Jordan spent the night dancing with Ciardi and his wife at Ralph Ellison’s apartment in Harlem, and how Ellison insisted on walking the four of them to their car because he didn’t want four white friends on the Harlem streets after midnight without a black presence to vouch for them.

He saw Eudora Welty at a reception in New York.

“Everyone else was dressed for Sunday morning church, and she was in a wash-dress and a shapeless cardigan sweater with what seemed to be kitchen slippers,” Miller recalled. “And she was treated with such awesome respect by everyone that all of us felt terribly overdressed.”

“I don’t know of any poet who can express more clearly and beautifully the humorous and serious thoughts of this modern world,” former President Jimmy Carter, who counted Miller as a mentor, told me in 2001.

“I have always had a kind of frustration about not having had an adequate liberal arts education,” Carter said. “So I’ve tried to make up for it by studying and writing myself. Maybe 10 years ago I had written a few poems, not even good enough for me to want to show them to anybody in my family. And Miller Williams came down to Plains, I got to know him and I told him that I would really love to learn more about poetry. In effect he took me under his wing as a student and was a very tough taskmaster in assigning me the same kind of literary textbooks he used in college courses. I began to struggle with poetry then.”

Carter spent thousands of hours over an eight-year period writing what became his first book of poems, Always a Reckoning.

“The wonderful thing that I had with Miller was that he could tell me that a line or a word was inferior, but I never let him give me a word instead,” Carter said. “That was the deal we had and I stuck with it. So he would say, ‘This line has an artificial rhyme and you’re straining to say something.’ He would recognize it, and so I would try to correct it.”

The obituary would not note that I was also one of Miller’s padawans. He taught me, as surely as he taught all those students that passed through the UA writing program. He used to tell me that Ciardi used to tell him that poetry was the art of lying one’s way to the truth, which is a useful idea. But I prefer Miller’s own working definition of poetry as the use of language to communicate more than the words seem to say in such a way that the reader cannot help but be pulled into the conspiracy of creation. Miller’s poems give voice to our inchoate thoughts.

Miller once told me that, when he became (briefly unquestionably) famous after reading his poem at the Clinton inauguration, he was recognized in a drugstore by a 60-ish man. “Are you Miller Williams?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” he responded.
“Well, I just wanted you to know I didn’t watch the inauguration — I’m a Republican businessman — but I read about you and your poem in The Wall Street Journal. I was skeptical, but the poem was there so I read it. Well, I want to tell you, I took it home with me at noon that day, and I said to my wife, ‘Honey, I understood a poem.’”
“Sir,” Miller said, “I’d rather hear that from you than from a hundred English professors.”

Miller’s poems are constructed of plain words; they aren’t obscure or ambiguous. They mean what they say.

“It is almost inexpressibly important to me that my poetry be accessible to anyone who cares to read poetry, whatever their station in life, whatever their background,” he said. “At the same time, I want to write poetry that acquits itself as serious poetry to those in an academic position to make that judgment.”

A few years ago, for a program on Miller that ran on AETN, journalist Ernie Dumas asked Miller what he’d like his legacy to be.

“Professionally, apart from my children and their children, I would want to have my poetry read and appreciated — on paper as long as there are words on paper,” Miller said. “It would make me very happy on my deathbed to believe that in a thousand years someone would actually open a book and read one of my poems.”

That would be monument enough.

The family of Miller Williams requests that memorials be sent to:
The Miller Williams Poetry Series, University of Arkansas Press, McIlroy House, 105 N. McIlroy Ave., Fayetteville, Ark. 72701 or The Harrison/Whitehead endowment, Fayetteville Community Foundation, P.O. Box 997, Fayetteville, Ark. 72702


Williams sampler
Here is a selection of some of Arkansas poet Miller Williams’ books as a poet, translator and editor.

Of his 2009 book Time and the Tilting Earth, Joel Brouwer in The New York Times said: “In poem after poem, he mingles the low and the high in both form and content, bringing a sense of cleareyed practicality to life’s big questions and a keenly honed poetic technique to the cadences of Arkansas porch talk.”

    A Circle of Stone (Louisiana State University Press, 1965)
    Halfway From Hoxie: New and Selected Poems (Dutton, 1973)
    Why God Permits Evil: New Poems (LSU Press, 1977)
    The Boys on Their Bony Mules (LSU Press, 1983)
    Living on the Surface: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press, 1989)
    Points of Departure (University of Illinois Press, 1995)
    Some Jazz a While: Collected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1999)
    Time and the Tilting Earth: Poems (LSU Press , 2008)
    The Lives of Kelvin Fletcher (University of Georgia Press, 2002)
    Patterns of Poetry: A Encyclopedia of Forms (LSU Press, 1986)
    Making a Poem: Some Thoughts About Poetry and the People Who Write It (LSU Press, 2006)
    Editor, with John William Corrington, Southern Writings in the Sixties: Fiction (LSU Press, 1966)
    Editor, with Corrington; Southern Writing in the Sixties: Poetry (LSU Press, 1967)
    Translator, Nicanor Parra, Poems and Antipoems (New Directions, 1967)
    Editor, The Achievement of John Ciardi: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems With a Critical Introduction (Scott, Foresman, 1969)
    Editor, Contemporary Poetry in America (Random House, 1973)
    Editor, with James A. McPherson, Railroad: Trains and Train People in American Culture (Random House, 1976)
    Editor, Ozark, Ozark: A Hillside Reader, University of Missouri Press, 1981.
    Selector and arranger, John Ciardi, Stations of the Air: Thirty-Three Poems, BkMk Press, 1993)
    Source: The Poetry Foundation,


for Miller Williams

Vito Corleone was in the hospital on the first night of 2015.
With my phone buzzing in the other room we focused our attention on the screen.
We watched until they blew up Apollonia then we took a break and I saw the missed call.
My hands were shaking as I punched the number out
the world cracked open bitter and banal.

There are times you want to burn down hospitals
and there are times you want to spit at nuns.
These days these times arrive at briefer intervals:
I hate the gods of cancer, rape and guns.
Michael Corleone was exiled to Sicily,
when the news came down from Fayetteville.
I sat down at the table and I tried to write,
but I ended up taking a sleeping pill.

There are times you want to wreck the universe,
rip out the cosmic ganglia and dreck.
Rage, rage against the dying
and the pain that’s worse
and wear the viscera around your neck

Godfather, you were such a gentle soul.
calm and temperate, courtly as a squire.
I know there’ll come a time when I regain control
I know they’ll come a time when I expire.
But I’ve got no pretty words to make it seem all right
I’ve no breath to waste on sweet cliches.
I know they’ll never come another New Year’s night
when I don’t fondly think upon your ways.

— Philip Martin

Another Miller Williams Article

January 6, 2015

Written by Ben Pollock Jr. – He talks about having Miller as a neighbor as well as a mentor. Very good!!

Losing My Neighbor Miller Williams

Of course I’d known of him, Miller Williams. In the 1990s, liv­ing in Lit­tle Rock, I was relearn­ing how to read verse. He was an Arkansas poetry icon, along with Maya Angelou and John Gould Fletcher. We claim a good share of song­writ­ers as well. Miller died Jan. 1, 2015, at age 84.

• • •

The documentary series "Men & Women of Distinction" of the Arkansas Educational Television Network featured poet Miller Williams. The half-hour video was premiered in November 2010 at the University of Arkansas Global Campus auditorium in Fayetteville. Afterward, Williams was congratulated during a reception and posed for pictures. Here, Ben Pollock (from left), Christy Pollock, Miller Williams, Crescent Dragonwagon and Amy Wilson. Photo by Dwain Cromwell

In early 1999, My Beloved and I found our offer accepted on a 1961 house in Fayet­teville, under a mile north­west of the Uni­ver­sity. The own­ers, Jake and Carol, were mov­ing to a condo in town, he hav­ing retired as an agri­cul­ture pro­fes­sor. We came over to meet them. The women talked, and Jake led me out the front door. Lean­ing against the iron rail­ing of the nar­row porch, Jake pointed across the street. “Aren’t you a word guy, since you work in news­pa­pers?” Jake asked. “You ever heard of Miller Williams? That’s his house.”

• • •

A few weeks later, I’m climb­ing down from the attic, whose door is in the carport’s ceil­ing, where I’d been stor­ing now-empty boxes. A bald­ing man with a trim gray beard is stand­ing there. I jump. “I didn’t mean to star­tle you, I’m Miller. We live kiddy-cornered from you. Jor­dan thought you could use these. [It was a paper plate of home­made cook­ies and two cold sodas.] We didn’t know what you liked so I chose a can of Coke and one a Sprite. Come over any­time. We have wine about 5.”

• • •

Sun­days after 5 was the Williamses’ reg­u­lar “at home” (for a few rel­a­tives and friends). In recent years we always were served a mod­est pinot gri­gio, cold from the fridge, and gourmet crack­ers. We barely went a few times a year. It seemed more a time for them to enjoy their grown grand­chil­dren, and we were reluc­tant to intrude. We half-dozen filled their enclosed sun­porch. Miller would note for any new­comer that Jimmy Carter “sat in that chair” when he was in town for Miller to edit one of his early books, and “we always put Bill and Hillary on that sofa.” One long wall of Miller’s small study (I asked for a tour) was filled with books, of course, and a few knick­knacks. Turns out he loved tur­tles, like me, with a few fig­urines of them on the shelves.

A crib­bage board sat there. He too loved crib­bage, but we never played. But he rel­ished my John Cia­rdi story. The late poet, who taught along­side him at UA, had been a reg­u­lar com­men­ta­tor on NPR’s Morn­ing Edi­tion. On one of those I heard Cia­rdi say, “Life is only a game. It’s not like it were crib­bage.” I had inscribed that with a Sharpie on the side of my board, which I showed Miller the next time he and Jor­dan came over.

• • •

We enter­tain rarely. Yet the Williamses accepted every party invi­ta­tion, walk­ing over near the start and stay­ing a half-hour or so. Our other guests loved their com­pany. One time they came late. His daugh­ter Lucinda was fly­ing in for a few days around Christ­mas with her fiance, in between con­cert dates, and icy weather delayed her flight. Of course we invited them. She was fraz­zled and exhausted, essen­tially silent after the ordeal, but the four sat in our liv­ing room — Lucinda and her dad shar­ing the loveseat — and had wine with our guests for a lit­tle while.

• • •

After my Sep­tem­ber 2001 news­pa­per lay­off, I earned a master’s in jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas. Its require­ments included tak­ing courses in a related field. I chose the Pro­grams in Cre­ative Writ­ing and Trans­la­tion, which Miller co-founded in the Eng­lish depart­ment, so I could learn from Miller, Ellen Gilchrist and Molly Giles. I took his Form and The­ory of Poetry in fall 2002.

Miller turns out to have been — in a for­mal class if not a work­shop for­mat — a tra­di­tional lec­turer, at least in his final years before retire­ment. He spoke pre­cisely from detailed notes, care­ful to not devi­ate from them, yet took all ques­tions, answer­ing con­cisely. He used his own Pat­terns of Poetry, 1986, as a text­book and handed out pho­to­copies of a wide vari­ety of poems. (Miller’s won­der­ful essay col­lec­tion Mak­ing a Poem, 2007, includes some key points of his lectures.)

The notes obvi­ously were honed from decades of fine-tuning, yet as with any pro­fes­sor sur­prises hap­pened. Essen­tially the entire class blew a quiz: we all made Cs or worse. He looked so dis­ap­pointed in us. I don’t know what hap­pened; maybe he skipped a sec­tion or two of his out­line and we resorted to guess­ing. I recall he then found an old test and gave it to us as a makeup. (My course grade was an A.)

• • •

Other than that, MB and I endeav­ored to be good neigh­bors of good neigh­bors and not neigh­bors of near-celebrities. A few times a week for 15 years, Miller and I would wave as we got the mail or brought out or hauled back our garbage and recy­cling. If we wanted to say more we had to meet in mid-street as our four ears were shot. He always rec­og­nized me, even this past year, but it was obvi­ous he didn’t nec­es­sar­ily remem­ber my name.

• • •

AT&T has not yet deleted the June 13, 2014, voice­mail from Miller on my cell (tran­scribed below for pos­ter­ity). He was respond­ing to my email announce­ment that days ear­lier the UA jour­nal­ism depart­ment had hired me as assis­tant direc­tor for its new Cen­ter for Ethics in Jour­nal­ism. Much later when the iPhone finally beeped me with the mes­sage, I dialed their house and got Jor­dan. Pre­sum­ing his infir­mity, I thanked her for Miller’s call.

It turns out he was hav­ing a good day. He then emailed me: “I know that you got my phone mes­sage, Ben; this one comes to tell you again how proud we are to know you and be your friends! Miller”

Yeah, I kick myself for not ask­ing for him directly on the telephone.

Because that was it.

Ben, this is Miller. I wanted to-to-to thank you for the email and to con­grat­u­late you. We’re proud of you. Have a good day. Bye-bye.”

Copy­right 2015 Ben S. Pol­lock Jr.

Miller Williams University of Arkansas Newswire Obituary

January 6, 2015

Miller Williams Remembered as Poet, Educator, Co-Founder of University of Arkansas Press

Wrote and read poem for President Bill Clinton’s second inaugural

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Miller Williams, photography by Don House.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Miller Williams, internationally known poet, University of Arkansas professor emeritus, former director of the U of A Program in Creative Writing, founder of the program in translation, and co-founder and first director of the University of Arkansas Press, died Thursday, Jan. 1, at the age of 84.

“Miller Williams was an icon among our academic community,” said U of A Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “He was an amazing teacher and extraordinary writer and poet. His presence was felt across campus and indeed the entire state. Our nation has lost a true talent and an incredible human being. We mourn the loss of this exceptional person who brought joy and light to so many.”

Williams wrote 37 books of poetry, fiction, criticism and translations. His work was highly regarded by his literary peers around the world, but his public fame came as the result of friendship and family. He first came to the nation’s attention in 1997, when President Bill Clinton asked him to write and read a poem, “Of History and Hope,” for Clinton’s second inauguration. Clinton and Williams taught together at the University of Arkansas, and Williams worked in Clinton’s first political campaign.

The father of three children, Williams also enjoyed a degree of celebrity as “Lucinda Williams’ dad,” after her musical career gained national success. He appeared with the singer/songwriter in several concerts, reading his poems between her songs. On her most recent album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, she adapted one of his poems, “Compassion” for the lead song. The album title is taken from the last line of that poem. She also held benefit concerts to establish the annual Miller Williams Poetry Prize.

Miller Williams was born in Hoxie, graduated with a degree in biology from what is now Arkansas State University, and earned a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Arkansas. He wrote poetry while teaching science, first in high school and later on the college level. He left teaching for a series of jobs while he continued to write, and later joined the English department at Louisiana State University. While teaching at Loyola University, he founded the New Orleans Review. He also taught as a visiting professor at the University of Chile and the University of Mexico, where he began translating the works of South American poets.

Williams came to the University of Arkansas in 1970, as a member of the Department of English in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. He joined the graduate program in creative writing and later launched the program in translation. In 1980 he joined with Rainer Schulte and Lesley Wilson in establishing the American Literary Translators Association.

“As a poet, a translator, a teacher, Miller Williams helped shape our creative writing program,” said Davis McCombs, associate professor of English and director ofthe program. “He established our degree in literary translation — still considered one of the most innovative features of our program — and he brought our university and our state to the national stage. It’s remarkable that this writer — a poet of the local and of the personal — came, in the course of his illustrious career, to speak for the nation. It confirms, I think, the humility and compassion and great resonance of his work to our daily lives. Our program, indeed Arkansas itself, owes much to Miller’s voice and vision.”

In 1980 Williams co-founded the University of Arkansas Press with history professor Willard Gatewood. Williams became its first director.

As a professor and publisher he nurtured hundreds of young poets, most notably former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. As director of the UA Press, Williams published Collins’ first book, The Apple That Astonished Paris. Collins has referred to Williams as a mentor, and “his first editorial father.”

The poet Jo McDougall was a student of Miller’s in the creative writing program, and he published two of her books with the UA Press.

“I was deeply privileged to have had Miller as a mentor, editor, and friend for over thirty-five years,” she said. “He was a genius teacher who articulated ideas about poetry that I use every day in my writing. He was also a truthful but sensitive editor. I think that, for a writer, having a good editor is second only to having good parents. I had both.”

Williams also became friends with former President Jimmy Carter, encouraging him in his writing of poetry, which led to UA Press publication of two books by Carter and one by his wife, Rosalynn Carter. More often, though, the books published by the press were in line with the traditional academic pursuits of Arkansas writers, who sought to explain the culture, place and history of Arkansas.

“As the founding director of the press, Miller made an enormous impact on our state and region, and the world of scholarship and literature,” said Mike Bieker, director of the UA Press. “I will miss him, and I know that sentiment is shared by many.”

“It would be hard to overstate the importance of Miller’s role in the establishment of the University of Arkansas Press,” added Roy Reed, professor emeritus of journalism and a long-time colleague at the university. “The ongoing success of the press is in some ways a tribute to Miller’s foresight. It might never have occurred to me, an old newspaperman, that I might be interested in writing books. Miller put the notion in my head, and I am grateful.” The UA Press has published four of Reed’s books.

William’s many honors include the Henry Bellman Award, the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Fellowship, a Fulbright professorship at the National University of Mexico, the Prix de Rome for Literature, the John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence, the National Arts Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing, given  by the Porter Prize Foundation.

Williams is survived by his wife, Jordan, and three children, Lucinda, Robert and Karyn.

Philip Martin’s New Year 2015 article

January 5, 2015

This from the 1/4/15 Arkansas Democrat Gazette

In The Twilight of the Gods, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Out of life’s school of war: that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” and self-aggrandizing egoists have been plucking it from context and pasting it on their locker room walls for glib inspiration ever since.

Never mind that, taken literally, it’s ridiculous: sometimes that which doesn’t kill you leaves you in a coma, or makes you a bitter old recluse unfit for human society. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you slaughters your whole family and leaves you bereft and vacant and yearning for that black oblivion you’re almost (but not quite) sure awaits you on the other side of some delicious razor.

Yet it’s true that surviving bad events can be a catalyst for growth. Some of us remember the sense of community that enveloped the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In Little Rock last year, the murder of a beloved member of the live music scene–Terry “Tc” Edwards–spurred a beautiful outpouring of love sufficient to dissolve any and all cynicism. People can and do care about one another, it’s just that most of us are too insecure to make ourselves vulnerable to being moved by anodyne human distress. In a real way, we need these examples of how awful we can be to one another to know how gracious and self-sacrificing we can be.

Every year encapsulates all that is sad and brutish, tender and noble, about our nature. Not only are human beings imperfect, but aside from a few silent saints, generally uninterested in becoming better than they are. As dissatisfied as we may be with the world as it is, we are a pretty self-satisfied lot. That’s why the whole New Year’s Resolution thing is generally perceived as a joke. (By the end of January, the only people who will be in the gym at 6 a.m. are the same ones who were there last October. And the October before that.)

Still, this is a convenient time of year for inventories (moral and otherwise) because there’s really not so much going on. Most of us are still in holiday hangover mode (in the interest of transparency, let me say I am writing this column on the eve of New Year’s Eve; it is nearly my final project of 2014 and I am eager to get it done so I might have a few days free of obligation) and not much is expected of us. The office is quiet this morning, it feels as though the world has reached one of those still moments at the top of the cycle. The wheel’s still in spin, but we have mutually agreed to pretend we’ve reached a good point to take a break.

By a lot of measures, 2014 was a horrible year. But it’s always a horrible year if you are poor and black in America, and things could be better if you’re middle-class and black in America. Because you are by default suspect, because there are plenty of people who consider themselves to be very good people who, in certain circumstances, can be made nervous just by your presence. And some of these people who consider themselves to be very good people also happen to be black people.

I sometimes allow myself to think that things are getting better, that maybe even sad accidents and atrocities can contribute to some kind of deeper understanding. I sometimes think that maybe the killings of people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, are not completely in vain, that maybe each one brings us incrementally closer to acknowledging the universal sacredness of human life. All lives matter.

And maybe some of us begin to realize that not everyone has had the advantages we take for granted, that our background has a tremendous influence over the way we think and that these ingrained prejudices can only be overcome by conscious effort. What otherwise might seem as a senseless tragedy can have social utility if it causes people to consider the problems faced by people superficially different than themselves. I get it–we want to make the best of things. We can’t go on; we go on.

On a personal level, I cannot complain about the just-concluded year. I am fully adult in that I’m old enough not to expect a month to go by without learning of a friend or relative who has suffered some grievous loss. I understand disappointment is inevitable and that on a good day I’ll only fail in half a dozen ways. I am happy enough to worry that I might jinx myself by saying more.

Still, I am looking forward to 2015, even if I do not expect to improve myself. I don’t make resolutions, but I am hoping to do some things I haven’t in a while–my first book since 2001 is coming out this year; so are two others to which I’ve contributed. I’ll do what I can to promote them. I will try to be a better Twitter follow. I want to drink better wine and better whisky. Maybe we will travel more if fuel prices really do hold down airline fares. I will try to be more patient with nice Republican ladies from Bentonville who tell me I’m going to hell for writing tacky things about Angelina Jolie’s Billy Graham-approved movie Unbroken.

And maybe I should be less patient with unreconstructed racists who snarl warnings (veiled and otherwise) and epithets that I thought lost currency in the late ’60s on the phone. (I’m a journalist, son. With Caller ID. It took me about 15 seconds to assess the credibility of your threat and find out all sorts of things you probably wouldn’t want me to know.)

But mostly I should remember that I enjoy a pretty cool relationship with those holdouts who look at newspapers. So I will try to relax, even when someone monkey-wrenches my mood with some easy platitude.

If you are reading this, you have survived 2014. Perhaps congratulations are in order.

Do you feel any stronger?

Miller Williams – AETN Men and Women of Distinction

January 4, 2015

Excellent 30 minute production from Arkansas Educational Television Network on an Arkansas Treasure! Go here!