Words by Eddie Dobbins.
Feature photo by Anggara Mahendra.
Peter Carey is quoted as saying, “the declared meaning of a spoken sentence is only its overcoat, and the real meaning lies underneath its scarves and buttons.” Underneath the scarves and buttons is poet Miles Merrill who combines poetry and theatre in spoken sentences, and is the driving force behind the spoken word movement in Australia. Coming from humble beginnings in Oak Park, Illinois (a western suburb of Chicago, Illinois), and now performing on stages across the globe, Miles uses poetry, stories, lyrics and monologues to assist communities’ voices to be heard.
His stage work is reminiscent of the great Whoopie Goldberg, whose career began on stage depicting characters who evoked social, cultural, political and economic inequalities.
It was a rare treat to sit down with Miles, a ‘brother from another mother’ (I too was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, the home of Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright and comedian Kathy Griffin.)
“Who was your influence?” I asked as he and I sat overlooking the vast valley Tjampuhan River in Ubud – far away from our shared experience at Oak Park River Forest High School.
“I thought I wanted to be an actor while in high school,” said Miles, “and I faced the harsh reality which comes after high school drama classes – I went for an audition, trying out for the role of Murphy in the play One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The director stopped me after a couple of lines and said, “What are you doing?” “I am reading the script,” I said. The director asked if I was reading for the lead – I said yes – and the director said that the lead was not black: the lead’s name was Murphy and he was an Irishman. “We have you listed as Janitor 1, Janitor 2, or the Indian Chief.” That’s when I realized that if I went down that path, there would not be room for me to grow as an artist – for I would always be typecast by the color of my skin.”
“My language is poetic; it’s the way I write” – Miles Merrill
Miles has experimented throughout his professional career, from being part of a musical band which allowed him to test his performance in between sets, to forming an arts organization called Word Travels. He is now on his way with a new medium, writing a novel for Random House to be out next year titled, My Short History With Guns, in which he borrows from his life experiences growing up in Chicago, and explores the death of Michael Brown, the 18 year old who was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
To peek under the scarves and buttons of a poet is to hear his/her nakedness through words; a rawness. In the piece below, the reader is given a sense of what Miles Merrill is all about:
The sky carries a cattle prod
that cracks like a ripped electric cable.
on a wet highway.
White light veins stretch across
the dark bosom of heaven.
Lightning and thunder
make me think the world’s ducks
are Quack Quack Quacking
The world’s hands are clap clap clapping overhead
The rain is a seventeen year cicada plague
gone kamikaze on my nylon A-frame.
A Ballina hurricane spins in my racing brain.
And I beg the sky’s bucket dumpers to stop!
Pommelling my weak shelter.
And charcoal clouds stroll on.
Mighty fists sucked back packed into
revealing the moon
and my sanity.
I unzip my tent poke my head to the sky.
And half the sky is stars.
Half the sky is stars.
Photo by Suki Zoe.