Bachelor of Arts (Honours)
Linguistics and World Languages (French, Spanish, German), Queen's University
I am Jay Miller, an editor and writer residing in Montreal, Canada. I have rigorous experience in advertising copy, corporate communications, and translation. I also possess 10 years of firsthand WordPress experience, backend and frontend.
Editing poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction for The Lit Quarterly since June 2019
I translate French-to-English, English-to-French, German-to-English, and dabble in more
I have hands-on experience writing copy for consumer electronics, home goods and tourism
Linguistics and World Languages (French, Spanish, German), Queen's University
Award-winning science, math and arts student with four years regional theatre experience
Intensive business pitch program leading to internship as Scrum Master at BlackBerry
Writing standard operating procedures, user guides, creating flowcharts, proofreading and translation
Canadian Down & Feather Company, PrimeCables.ca, Living.ca, 123ink.ca, Localfoodtours.com
Editor, reader and webmaster for The Lit Quarterly journal for poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction
a review of Mr. Funnyman, Shawn Berman, by Jay Miller
The joy of watching made-for-TV movies alone in the dark, the rose-coloured self-pity of nostalgia, the fleetingness of id: this is Mr. Funnyman, Shawn Berman’s chapbook début (independently published, 2021), in a nutshell.
Mr. Funnyman is what you get when you cross improv, automatic writing, and what I can only describe as a drunken karaoke Bo Burnham impression vis-à-vis a Bob Dylan acid flashback, with leitmotifs of Adam Sandler and Guy Fieri struck wholesomely throughout.
His brand of humour feels quintessentially New Yorker millennial: sardonic, wry, self-aware, deadpan, and maudlin, composed like text messages left on read, like voicemails left on the message machine of a quarter-life crisis that can’t come to the phone right now because it’s screening calls from you.
Some of my favourite titles include: I’m All About That GTL Life: Gym Tan Love Me for Who I Am, Kinda Jealous that Shrek Still Managed to Get Married Despite Only Taking Mud Baths His Whole Life, and Question: Is Nic Cage My Favorite Actor of All-Time?
Remember that Homerpalooza episode of the Simpsons where the disaffected hipsters go “oh, here comes that cannonball guy,” “he’s cool,” and then the first one responds to the second one “are you being sarcastic, dude?” and he retorts, defeated, “I don’t even know anymore”? Yahtzee, baby.
I can’t really make it any clearer than that.
If you’re unfamiliar with Berman’s verse, here’s a DIY breakdown of how to write your very own Shawn Berman poem, or Bermanet (a poetical term I just coined based on the familiar term “sonnet”):
Nevertheless, within this illusive framework, Berman manages to expand upon his formula and add inspired flourishes with every poem in the book. I don’t know how to explain it exactly but every page is perfect. In the way that enduring literature is described as generous, enlightening, vindicating. This is it.
With the amount of work he’s curated through his Daily Drunk lit mag, it’s hardly surprising that his wordsmithing comes out so rich and taut. Between the daily publications, the anthologies (A Drunken Midsommar and Nostalgic AF), his social media presence, podcasting and Zoom readings, he has in short order become the people’s de facto keeper of zeitgeist during this pandemic. And with his commitment to comedic writing and poetry, served alongside his signature cocktail of slice of life and pop culture references, it shows. I cherish the moment I can reopen this book in a decade from now and enjoy it like fine whiskey, have a solitary laugh and a humble moment of reminiscence.
Berman puts the pedal to the metal then hits cruise control for cool. Pop quiz, hotshot. He’s a smooth operator, and his work, much like the bus in 1994’s Speed, shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a gas.
Style and tradition are fostered in Erín Moure’s newest book, whose full cover title, The Elem:ents (Nam:loz), instantly engages my Derridean sensibilities. It is a book that substantially dredges up the subjective experience and objective facts of her genealogy into a compelling synthesis of her self-identity, with a poignant focus on her father’s dementia through the lens of Derrida.
She elicits Derrida’s lecture, Comment ne pas parler, “how to avoid speaking,” in yet another lyrical treatise of her trademark mixture of language, identity, and plurality. In Moure, intertextuality usurps literary allusion, and often verses appear as if in conversation with literature more so than superficially alluding to it. Moure’s favourites make an appearance here, too: Camilo José Cela and Paul Celan, Giorgio Agamben, Aristotle and Heidegger. You could stop reading this review now and know Erín Moure is not simply a poet’s poet, she’s a reader’s reader.
Her poem “Purpose” in this collection addresses her poetics in a word. She writes of drawing text as one would draw water from “beneath the house.” The imagery of the house remains prevalent in my reading of Celan and feels similar here. Then, she is conversing with her work through her monologue: “To articulate all the texts of life, as they arise. / Not separating them into poems and essays.”
True, her work has frequently striven to meld the two forms together: essays that are poems that are a chapbook that are an art object. She seeks unconventional coincidences by exploiting the conventional processes, such as making sure the typesetting results in a poem with its ultimate line on an otherwise blank page, pairing translations side-by-side, only to reveal the deception of translation through footnotes, and a malicious compliance to source text wordplay, even when the pun doesn’t translate.
Her word is not le mot juste of Flaubert, but le mot fruste, worn by the aging (and not the act) of translation, which has lost its sense, nearly erased by time. Aptly, then, “Purpose” concludes: “Sun on the wall. Just / sun.”
Her father’s dementia is what she explores on the next page over, intimating in the poem “Free Speech”: “now that the simultaneous translator is assigned to me to hear my English and make Spanish (Castilian) for you, I can’t empezar de falar en galego, et je ne peux parler en français non plus.”
She empowers her voice by versifying her vulnerability, her inability to speak his language. The nameless pain we share, of losing touch with a dying parent, foregoes mother tongue and fatherland; it survives in the exile of grief. In this light, I find Moure’s latest work bolder and more enduring than her last. In the search for our own meanings, we are nothing more than just sun on the wall.
John Wall Barger’s work has always been lyrical and inventive. His latest, The Mean Game, builds on these strengths, delivering an evocative and challenging book. Perhaps a little less straightforward than his previous publications, the poems in The Mean Game perform more dramatically, more surreally, and more vividly than ever before.
To further clarify my understanding of the text and the author, I enrolled in his Montreal poetry workshop Fable and Fabulation. He and co-leader Stephanie Yorke took the time to guide the audience through writing prompts, involving a quasi-philosophical approach of treating everything from life to death as a portal or passageway of sorts. There is certainly a Jungian undertone to his new verse, as though death itself were a myth—so why not life and poetry, too?
His poems odyssey through Scandinavian and Hindu mythologies, interspersed with such imagery as “a Manhattan-sized / chandelier shimmering” (“A Scorneful Image”). He even evokes both Ezekiel and Darth Vader in one poem, “The External Lung.”. Beyond the pages, this poetics of the mind really lends itself to dramatization, and the reading he gave following the workshop was equally intimate and enrapturing.
Heady yet uncouth, there is a touch of the eschatological in his works, as well. In his poem “I am a Cell,” for example, he describes a Plato’s cave type existence akin to a psychedelic trip, where he is a cell and the world not only overwhelms but swallows him. Later in the poem, on a mountain symbolizing wisdom and isolation, he and his unnamed bride perceive that “From the amphitheater / of mountains / Death steps out / like a traveler.” He lets go of her hand and narrates this as perhaps a passageway between living and lived experience, ending with his first-grade teacher whispering through memory “Don’t go out / in the snow / without your jacket.”
At any given moment in John Wall Barger’s poetic process there are many rotating levels of creative energy. “I am a Cell” fluctuates between narration of childhood and adulthood, bigness and smallness, togetherness and isolation, corporeal and ephemeral, life and death, inside and outside, altitude and levelness, presence and present tense. The nucleus of his work is quantum but the exterior so complex, there is beauty in his near scientific demeanour (as in “Chernobyl” and “The Problem with Love”) in describing fantastical scenes and fleeting surrealist narrative arcs from poem to poem throughout the collection.
Between metempsychosis and apocatastasis, John Wall Barger embodies poiesis, poetic license. His chief textual influences seem to correspond with Don McKay (whom he acknowledges from his time spent at Banff Writing Studio) and Kevin Spenst (whose Joycean affinities seem obvious, even if there’s no real relation). Sure, there’s grittiness and lyricism in Barger, but I would venture further than that to say there’s a faintly glowing hope deep within the heart of his writing, possibly best expressed by his choice Louise Glück epigraph: “The master said You must write what you see. / But what I see does not move me. / The master answered Change what you see.”
he tasted like cigarettes and dunkin
poster child for the sort of burned out
apathy you can only get when you
get back from vacation needing
another vacation and your agent calls
you before you’ve had a chance to sit
brings up the batman thing and
the economy is shit but you don’t
give a damn money keeps burning
the world keeps turning and february
is a lovely time of year for vegas
your shoulders fall defeated
carrying all the unclaimed baggage
of every intercontinental flight
that ended in heartbreak the subtle
defeat of forgetting the sun setting
and the paparazzo loitering in the
riviera country club parking lot
behind your house takes a telephoto
shot as you light up eyes a tragedy
and all you hear between that octane
burn crisp white paper from red hot
ember down to dirty yellow filter and
the jet plane plateauing on the horizon
is the sweet sombre sounds of the poet
the blastmaster krs-one and scott la rock
the drums you’ve been running from
heaven and hell is on earth
20th century steel band
warm heart cold steel
and the tune that takes you back to 2002
The Fervour of Youth
These handymen above my head,
must get paid by the hammer swing!
I type quite dastardly,
as though I myself got paid for hammering.
The nail in the coffin pings.
My discarded drafts rest on the sofa,
softening the blow.
I am William Carlos Williamsing,
hoping to sprout myself a harrowing,
if not at least some sort of eulogy thing,
I can turn into an ode.
The hearses pass by my window,
our apartment on the hill,
looking out below.
and there is no glow.
Only a light emanating from the chapel
beneath my window sill,
where I sit clacking away
with the typewriter plugged in,
a hot mug of cacao on the go.
Old men talk in quatrains.
I don’t aspire as much but tend to
gravitate towards aging
every keystroke I finger.
The feeling always lingers,
the hunger on my palate,
another new ballad
or sonnet, or prose.
I’m not one of God’s children,
Big God is like Big Brother to me.
But every Sunday I am Ron Padgett.
I live by a cemetery, by the way, no big thing.
Perhaps it shows.
I’d never know.
Next year I’m twenty-eight.
There is so much in me yearning to grow.
I forgot what I was rhyming for,
these notes to self like grocery lists,
we hammer out autobiographies like blacksmiths,
collecting plastic bags in the cupboard for later.
We meander, it’s all right.
The seasons change and so did night.
Here’s little cause for leitmotif:
harping’s for musicians, I keep things light.
Lean into me and you’ll feel warm and safe.
My arms feel huge holding your little face.
Your eyes shrink when you close them
and your eyelashes are the perfect length.
I’ll never forget the time you told me,
beginning Jay, I think I have something
to tell you. I said shoot.
I think I’m in love with you.
Now this pandemic has kept us two
worlds apart, you in Europe,
me in America.
You know I worried we’d go sour. Like grapes.
It’s been a long year yet
the old adage rings true:
absence makes the heart
grow fonder and I love you, too.
Let’s say I relive my past life.
Occasion to rhyme,
but nothing lasts right?
That’s the persuasion of time.
Always best to start at the age of five:
you wake up, greet the sun in bare feet,
naked as a statue on the silage by the drive-
way, the bright light bores upon your fair cheek.
Nobody knows what happens in the crucial moment
where the five-year-old kid suddenly snaps in-
to his former existences, discovering the spiritual component
tying his prebirth to his afterlife, and saddens.
This is how you rule the world: beyond knowing.
What a glorious solitude, that state of being;
above the desire for power, no joking,
possessor of nothing but ancient teachings.
Perhaps my karmic self envies me not in adulthood.
This inner child that never got to reincarnate?
I don’t know what I’m saying, I’m sure I still would
consider my alter ego happy, regardless of state.
This parallel universe, collective unconscious,
metempsychosis rigmarole to me is all the same.
I am simultaneously reading and writing in this inventive darkness:
both our world and our ignorance follow a conscious aim.