...and the poem will not care that some walk past/afraid of the words we try out on our tongues/ hoping this finally is the language of God, /that he might hear it and respond. Kei Miller, from 'Speaking in Tongues'.
About Kei Miller
“Raise high the roofbeams, here comes a strong new presence in poetry,” wrote Lorna Goodison when Kei Miller burst onto the poetry scene with his 2006 debut Kingdom of Empty Bellies. Miller was born in Jamaica in 1978 and read English at the University of the West Indies, before completing an MA at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has said in interview with Nicholas Laughlin, that the title and the themes of his first collection, stem from his belief that “so much of what is beautiful [in the Caribbean] comes out of depression and emptiness.” In 2007, he edited Carcanet’s New Caribbean Poetry Anthology – a sparkling showcase for a range of Caribbean identities and experiences.
Kei Miller’s second collection There is an Anger that Moves, begins with the sequence ‘In This Country’, which explores an incomer’s experience of moving to the UK. First there is alienation: “In this country you have an accent; /in the pub, a woman mocks it.” then made exotic :”In this country on a Saturday night / you are usually the best dancer; /it was not so back home.” and finally celebrated: “they say – / you are like ointment in a deep wound. /They say your dance is like a cure.” Olive Senior lauds this collection as “radiant utterance that speaks of island experiences and gender politics from a deep well of understanding, with empathy, humour and insight.”
Also an acclaimed short story writer and novelist, his first collection of short fiction, The Fear of Stones, was short-listed in 2007 for the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. There are evidently important conversations between the forms he uses; in one interview Miller has said that he “started writing poetry to become a better fiction writer,” while at University, and then he “started drumming to become a better poet.”
In A Laureate’s Legacy – a Radio 4 programme about the Poetry Archive, Kei Miller says that for him, poetry is a kind of music, going on to say that “the Archive is perhaps reminding us that words are sounds…and a poem that doesn’t rise off the page…is in fact a dead poem.” Of Miller’s stage presence, Laughlin writes: “…then he looked up at the audience, began to speak…his powerful voice was more like a preacher’s, or a prophet’s, and his words were electric, unsparing and soul-piercing music.”
This Archive recording is strong evidence of how Miller’s poems inhabit sound, and his speaking voice brings to life beautifully, the warm music of the Jamaican English of his homeland.
Kei Miller’s Favourite Poetry Saying:
“Write down the vision, make it plain, so that he who readeth may run ” – Old Testament
This recording was made at the Audio Workshop, London on March 27th 2009 and produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by Kei Miller
Featured in the Archive
Books by Kei Miller
Kingdom of Empty Bellies
Heaventree Press, 2006
There is an Anger That Moves
A Light Song of Light
Dear World and Everyone In It