The Other Half; Land and the Brier in Jim Wayne Miller’s Poetry

The Other Half; Land and the Brier in Jim Wayne Miller’s Poetry

This paper explores how Jim Wayne Miller seeks to break down dualistic thinking concerning humanity and the environment in his poetry. Miller’s persona character, the Brier, often obscures the distinction between land and body while functioning as a spokesperson for both. Negative depictions of strip-mining and logging come as affronts to the Brier’s identity and when the land is abused the Brier too experiences bereavement and personal loss. This paper will describe how Miller depicts the connection between the land and the traditional mountain populace, how this relationship plays out in the persona of the Brier, and how modernization has changed the way Appalachian people, and Americans more broadly, think about the connection between their identity and the land. In the poem “Bird in the House,” Miller writes that “fields and buildings / turned their backs on one another,” thus showing a widening separation between ecology and humanity (16-17). This paper will exhibit evidence from Dr. Miller’s archives at Western Kentucky University, and connect his work more deeply to the landscape ideas forwarded by other poets such as Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, and John Crowe Ransom. Though the persona of the Brier has seen scholarly treatment, little is published concerning the direct impact of the environment on the development of his sense of place. This awareness is essential to any understanding any of Miller’s themes throughout his cannon.