Between the Lines: The Poetry of Black Lives

Dec 18, 2015

The cover of the new poetry collection "Core"
Credit Denise Miller

Denise Miller seems to be at the core of all manner of creative endeavors around greater Kalamazoo. She's an instructor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, a visual artist, a poet, and a spoken word artist. She's also a community activist and professional chef. And Miller is a co-founder of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative in Kalamazoo, and launched Creative Justice Press.


Now, Miller is the author of Core (Willow Books, 2015), a collection of poetry based on the true stories of African- American sharecroppers during the "Great Migration," a journey north to find the American Dream, only to find more hardships instead. The poems chronicle the odyssey from a Mississippi plantation, to an Ohio Valley coal mine, to an iron foundry in Saginaw.

Denise Miller
Credit Freshwater Photography

Collaborating with Miller in several of her endeavors is Michelle Johnson. For part of the poetry collection, Miller worked with Johnson to adapt oral histories that Johnson has collected for a project called “Community Spaces of the Industrious.”

Miller says, “After reading these oral histories, I asked Johnson to begin a series of interviews with coal miners in my hometown of Cadiz, Ohio. The poems reflect the worker’s relationship to place and to their spouses or significant others. They show the effects of race and place on African- Americans in rural Ohio in the mid-1930's. These poems and the entire collection seek to tell the stories of the intersections between race and industries and their effects on children, adults and families through form poems, persona poems and free verse.”

Core has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for the American Book Award. Miller is also the artist who created the book's cover.

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.