Monday, February 21, 2011

Phil Miller, Poet, Literary Activist, Educator (1943-2011)

Phil Miller reading one of his poems. Photo by Bonnie Walker.


On Valentine's Day, February 14, 2011, Phil Miller died in rural Pennsylvania where he had retired with his wife, Nancy. Many of you who read this and live outside of Kansas City will have no idea who he was, but all the Kansas Citians will recognize his name. I counted him a friend, as did so many poets and other writers in the area. He gave me my first public poetry reading a long time ago when I only had a few poems published in scattered magazines.


Phil was a fine poet himself with several collections of poetry published and a number of anthologies that he had edited or co-edited. But it's easy to forget that, because he poured so much of his time and energy (which often seemed boundless) into building the public poetry community in Kansas City and later in Pennsylvania. With no funding, Phil co-founded the Riverfront Reading Series in Kansas City in 1987 and ran it for decades. It continues to this day as one Kansas City's major reading series. Later, he and I were part of the founding board of The Writers Place in Kansas City, which is eighteen years old and still going strong. I remember when Ben and I got married at The Writers Place the year it was founded. Phil organized the reception entertainment--Riverfront Reading at the Wedding. Later, Phil became president of TWP's board. He taught at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College and mentored many working class and minority poets through the years.


None of this gives a true sense of the man, however. Phil was a really sweet guy, and he could be funny as hell, wry and sardonic and witty. He was a great ally to have when you were struggling to try to create something for the community. He was a hard worker. He was the kind of person who was loved by scores in Kansas City. He was also a fighter when he had to be. He had been fighting cancer for several years and refusing to let it knock him completely out of the community or out of poetry. He continued writing to the very end. His newest book, The Ghost of Every Day and Other Poems (Spartan Press), is forthcoming.


We will--I will--miss him. I suspect we'll not see his like again soon. I only wish more people could have been blessed by knowing him. I would wish him to rest in peace, except I know wherever Phil is he is raising hell and trying to get some readings started and persuade someone to write poetry and more to read it. Phil was never a man to rest in peace. He was always too alive for that.

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