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The best poetry book I read this year was To the House of the Sun (S4N Books, 2015), Tim Miller’s epic poem about the travels of an Irish-born Georgian seeking revenge against his own father during the Civil War. Miller contacted me back in the spring because he found me online and thought I might like his work. He was right: To the House of the Sun is a sprawling, strange, deeply moving poem inspired by the the world’s great religious texts and definitely in conversation with them. It’s a difficult, harrowing, inspiring, incantatory book, and I’ve never read anything like it.
Tim is the author of the American Civil War epic poem To the House of the Sun, which I have been fortunate enough to read. It isn’t just a work of literary pulchritude, but in addition, a work of scholarly dedication to a variety of traditions, myths, histories, traditions, of literature & the humanities generally. It stands apart from today’s fast food literature, which i am not criticizing, but merely illustrating that Tim shows us that the epic form is far from worn out.
I recommend you support his ten year endeavor to produce such a mammoth text by getting your mitts on it. It is a piece of literature that you must live with, just as you’d live Homer, Dante, Milton or Blake.
Book 31, and audio reading, available here.
Review at Pittsburgh City Paper
(review also available here)
To the House of the Sun ranks among both the most curious and the most ambitious literary products to come out of Pittsburgh this year. The 360-page epic poem set during the Civil War is both strikingly original and, by author Miller’s enthusiastic acknowledgement, grandly derivative.
It’s the story of a young man named Conrad, Irish-born son of a slaveholding Savannah, Ga., clan, who in 1862 strikes out on what becomes a cross-country quest of sorts. As it begins, with the Civil War in full swing around him, he’s nominally in search of his long-gone father, to fulfill a promise he made his recently deceased mother. One complication is that Conrad is bereft at the death of his fiancée, who was killed by that same father.
The narrative is stream-of-consciousness, picaresque, told through Conrad’s eyes as he heads first north, as far as New Jersey, then cuts across the Midwest to California. The language is lush, sometimes metaphysical, in free but incantatory verse. Early sections grapple with destiny, slavery, grief, rage and the lure of the sea. “& the new recruits are all confidence,” Miller writes, describing Conrad watching soldiers shipping out, “& even if some of them know they’ll never again behold mother or sister or land, they turn away with fugitive grins to wait intently for the train, & some great glory.”
A key distinction of this fat and fascinating paperback is that its final 260 pages are all appendices and footnotes in which Miller obsessively documents the sources and inspirations he drew upon for ideas, images and phrases in his text, from the epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible to Irish folklore, Civil War diaries and the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Yet while To the House of the Sun is quite accessible, and wholly its own work, it is dense and sophisticated enough to be worthy of its copious source materials.
In addition to reviews, over the past few months I’ve been thrilled and moved to receive good words from a handful of authors and scholars I sent copies of To the House of the Sun.
Many thanks to:
Keith Bosley, translator of The Kalevala
James MacKillop, author of The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Cyril Edwards, translator of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival
George Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the Civil War
Jean Erdman Campbell, widow of the late mythologist, Joseph Campbell.
Many thanks to Ronald Schuchard and Stephen Larsen, for their good words:
An “impressive and monumental work.” — Ronald Schuchard, Professor of English Emeritus, Emory University, and General Editor of the Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot
“A book like this is absolutely unprecedented in our time. Like the Iliad, it uses poetry, solemnly and beautifully, to capture the most tragic era in American history, the Civil War. There is an exquisite, terrible and very human beauty woven throughout all its pages. We walk with Orpheus, with Odysseus, with Dante in the Inferno of soul-immolating tragedy, in the immortal search for spiritual meaning in world that often drifts toward nightmare—yet the poetry, the paradoxical seal of immortality redeems us all. This is a redemptive book. Read it thoroughly and well, and your life will be ennobled and enriched.” — Stephen Larsen, co-author of A Fire in the Mind: The Life of Joseph Campbell, and director of the Stone Mountain Center
Review at Small Press Book Review
Thanks to the Small Press Book Review for the following:
“As the product of a union between a minister and an elementary school teacher, my childhood was steeped in ancient literature – everything from Bible stories to European myths and African folk tales. Add to that my teenage fascination with medieval English literature and my resulting foundation in classic texts made it possible for me to appreciate the massive scope of Tim Miller’s research for To the House of the Sun, a novel-in-verse set in America’s Civil War era.
“Miller’s book-length poem opens with Conrad mourning the murder of his wife at the hands of his father. The image-rich language flows easily as he decides to walk away from Savannah, all but shaking the dust off his proverbial sandals when he leaves. Miller’s poetics twist around the mind like his character winds around the South, allowing the reader to experience visceral textures of language and perspective…
“And just as the Bible opens with straightforward narrative and ends with surreal images too fantastic for the mind to absorb, so does Miller’s tale. As Conrad continues wandering across the whole of the continent, he first encounters the divine, then absorbs it so fully that he radiates it–like the biblical Moses whose face shone in blinding fashion after a mountain-top conversation with God. Once this transformation takes place, Miller’s language transforms as well into a driving expository force…
“To the House of the Sun will take you on a journey from the south to the west, from the sea to the sky, all the while peeling flesh off spirit until all that’s left is the echo of one man’s imagination.” — Small Press Book Review
Review at Midwest Book Review:
“An incredibly well executed epic saga in a poetry format, To The House Of The Sun is complex, with manifold characters, plot developments, and internal rhythms. Simply stated, To The House Of The Sun is a literary phenomena on a scale with the Iliad or the Odyssey. A critical success, To The House Of The Sun is especially appropriate for academic library Literary Studies and Poetry Studies reference collections and supplemental studies reading lists.“
The book has also officially been released. Find it at any of the stores/websites below. More outlets will be added soon:
Also, four hours of recordings I did for the poem can be downloaded for $5 here.
If you’re a member of Goodreads, go to their Giveaway section and enter to win one of ten copies I’ll be signing and giving away.