An Interview with Michael Miller, winner of the Open Community Poetry Contest, January-March, 2011
by John Winn
Known as michaelmiller.ic to contributors and visitors to the website hennensobserver.com, Michael Miller Jr. is as mysterious as the allegories he employs. With little more to go on that an arm tattoo as his online avatar and some vague geography as his location, the Maryland resident is a stereotype of the reclusive artist—amorphous but accessible, ephemeral yet grounded in a larger truth. Shielded behind a computer screen, Miller has spent a career channeling these contradictions into art that are at once provocative and revealing, insightful and inspiring. Oh, did we mention he's a filmmaker?
Following his award for winning our Quarterly poetry contest (see the front page), I sat down with Miller and tried to decode what makes the bon vivant tick.
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JW: Where did the concept for “ER” come from?
MM) About 9 months ago, I realized that even “artists” at community college were a tad pretentious and self entitled; I wrote “ER” in response to that. Although, I admittedly can't really consider myself a poet. I feel like I lack the intense knowledge of literature and the English language in general to use such a title, but like the last few lines state, I think I have the larger concept down.
JW: A lot of the characters in your poems are allegorical—Lady Nicotine in “A Cup of Kool Aid” or the anonymous lover in “The Waking Dream.” Is there a benefit to approaching subjects euphemistically?
MM) A benefit? Sure. Without making them over-convoluted, I try to add a certain depth by characterizing certain objects and figures. For instance, I talk about nicotine as if it were a woman, because that’s how my relationship is with cigarettes. It all helps me convey a better message about a subject’s relationship to the speaker or myself personally.
JW: In addition to poetry, you’re also a filmmaker. Has your work on Hennen’s ever influenced your movies?
MM) Absolutely. I’m currently working on something with the idea of the poet as a vagabond, a warrior with no master. I’ve used similar themes in my poetry, and the idea of the pen BEING the sword always intrigued me.
JW: What is it like to be making movies in Maryland versus other locales? What do you enjoy? What frustrates you?
MM) Maryland is a really diverse area; there are mountains, huge cities, lush suburban areas, forests, white water rapids, beaches, etc. It makes a perfect place for filming because you’re not limited by your surroundings, you actually have more options and that makes the actual filming process that much more amazing. Directing and being behind the camera are experiences you’ll want to remember—you might constantly bitch at your actors and retakes are annoying, but you’re enjoying every step of the way.
Editing and planning on the other hand are horrid, horrid experiences. Think about it. The movie you are sitting down and watching had to be watched hundreds of time to smooth out every single last detail. It’s a process where you HAVE to be a perfectionist.
JW: Final Q: Who is the woman in the tat photo? Did you design her yourself?
MM) Haha. The woman on my arm is just another euphemism for my love life, faceless, unfinished, and beautiful. The design itself was not mine; a coworker had doodled this and was going to throw it away. I felt it was a brilliant piece of work and it meant something to me, so I took it from her and had it put on the very next day.■