In this debut collection of lyric poems, self-doubt becomes sacrificial offering. Through recurring dreams of grandeur, self-sabotage, and defeat, Benjamin Miller’s collection Without Compass explores the desert margins between faith and emptiness, between “desire and its counterfeits.” Carved down, elliptical, the poems seek “the perfect flaw” with which to “cruel you to thought.” From behind the “veil and doubt” of the lyric voice, they lead us in pursuit of the possibility of belief.
“Desert,” from Without Compass:
What have I been doing? Nothing, nothing.
Look: the blue couch scraped the floorboards
Where we pushed it flush. The empty wall.
The parquet’s little screaming.
In a dream all afternoon I dredged the ocean,
Pulling razor clams and wedding rings.
One-eyed crabs clung to my fingers,
And I named them. This is wait. This, delay.
I found the perfect flaw and brought it home.
Like falling kites, the night came in a rush.
“In these imagistic, shimmering, often enigmatic poems, Benjamin Miller meditates on the ways love and mourning both empty and purify us. Here, figures from the Bible express their fears whisperingly into our ears, and images–a folded bit of paper, blinking lights reflected on an airport window–are described with electric clarity. Seen through a car window, a fence becomes a zoetrope that ‘speed has all but made transparent, / the empty space revealed beyond: a flipbook life’ and the landscape outside a tent is ‘the desert, / and outside the desert, sand.’ Benjamin Miller’s work is nuanced, discomforting, and filled with a fascinating spiritual awe. This is a very fine and thoughtful book.” – Kevin Prufer
“Both as it saunters with the prophet’s stride and traipses with the acolyte’s hurry-up, Ben Miller’s precise debut is a work of forceful imagination and elegant verve—a masterstroke of approach and echolocation. These deft, Escher-like poems appear like magical tricks, yet there’s no gimmick to their studied resonance. As he reveals the significance of transitional spaces—borders, twilight, doubt—Miller shows us how we might think, if not more clearly about our lives, then more fully.” – Lytton Smith
“Much like Louise Glück, Miller creates a calculus of ordinary life ‘riden by static,’ absorbed by the ‘echolalia’ of glances, interviews, communion with nature, with presence, with the self. And from this rigorous attention to dailyness, he charts—without compass, without North Star—intensities of surprise, unexpected visits, encounters, attempts at speech. These gorgeous, painful poems map the unpredictable weather of the psyche: torrential, scorching, cold or calm. We would be lost without them.” – Tom Healy
“Through delicately woven motifs, the poems in Miller’s debut collection echo and build off one another cohering in central themes of navigation and orientation (and its inverse, disorientation).” Read the full review.