UPDATE: Six years after father’s tragic death, West Seattle native to publish poetry book in his honor
Update for Aug. 12, 2013
Teresa K. Miller, a West Seattle native and accomplished poet (who you can read about in detail below), has a book reading from her work "sped" at Elliot Bay Book Company on Aug. 24.
Here are the details, shared by Teresa:
West Seattle native Teresa K. Miller appears on Aug. 24 to read from her debut poetry collection, sped, published in a beautiful edition by Sidebrow Books, a west coast independent press. sped consists of three poetic sequences, one of which was inspired by the 2006 accident in which her father was struck by a car and killed while riding his bicycle on Highland Park Way.
"Weaving these individual threads into a single plait, Miller's form highlights her expansive entanglements, as well as her singular focused journey through mourning ... What a gripping debut Sidebrow Books in San Francisco has recently released."
- Katrina Roberts, Los Angeles Review of Books
The Elliott Bay Book Company
1521 Tenth Avenue
7:30 P.M., Aug. 24
Original story on April 12, 2013
When the West Seattle Herald first reported on Teresa K. Miller it was 1997. She was a 14-year-old who Herald reporter Don Nokes described as “a gal with a lot of gumption,” and with good cause. Teresa, with the help of two good friends in Erin Evetts and Kristen Tjerandsen, had collected over 550 pounds of food and $160 for the Junction Community Food Bank.
At one point, as Nokes wrote, Teresa got a bit nervous after soliciting donations in front of the Admiral Safeway because people just started handing her cash instead of food. As the green bills piled up and Teresa became increasingly unsure of what to do, “our heroine got on the horn to dad, who rode to the rescue.”
Teresa’s dad was Marvin Gene Miller, a West Seattle native, Boeing engineer and avid cyclist.
Nine years later, in 2006, Teresa was only two weeks away from graduating with an MFA in Poetry when tragic news arrived.
According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer report from the time, Marvin and a friend were riding their bikes along Highland Park Way S.W. when a 17-year-old Seattle teen driving a red Ford Thunderbird came careening around the corner at an estimated 80 miles per hour. The teen lost control of his vehicle and jumped a curb, striking Marvin who was 58 years old. He died later that night at Harborview Medical Center.
Teresa would later say Marvin’s death “stunned and paralyzed my mother and me.”
Six years later, Teresa, 30, is married and living in Oakland where she teaches children with autism while making plans to move back to Seattle. She is also on the verge of publishing her first full-length poetry book entitled “sped,” built of three poetic sequences that deal with “the death of a parent by vehicular homicide, the difficulty of meeting the needs of children with severe autism, (and) the dissolution of identity and relationship in an era of unending genocide and terror by war,” according to Sidebrow Publishing, who will release the book on May 1.
The book weaves in and out of seemingly disparate topics with the common thread of the “recursive process of grieving,” and Teresa said the work has been an integral part of her healing process, as well as an “open letter” to her late father.
Poetry and grief
For the first year after Marvin’s passing, Teresa said “I was trying to write during that time, but I think that when you are in the most acute part of grief, it is just too debilitating in a lot of ways to have enough perspective on it to create something that other people want to read.”
After that first year, Teresa and her mother, Sylvia Duff, took a trip together to Portugal. Teresa wrote in a travel journal, and found memories of her father and scars from his death surfacing in the words.
“The first section of the book actually kind of dips in and out of that trip and processing the grief,” she said. “It’s mostly in English, but it does dip into sort of the tourist Portuguese that we were using and it does draw from a lot of images around my father … overlayed against thinking about him while we were abroad.”
She published that poetry as a smaller work in 2008 before moving back to Seattle and working at the New Holly tutoring program. She kept writing and eventually moved to California with her husband to-be (they got married in West Seattle a year and a half ago) where she became a special education teacher for children with severe autism: an experience that informed the second section of “sped.”
“It became this experience of teaching and looking at being a couple years further out from losing him, and the resonances that I thought working with children and their families and thinking about him,” Teresa said.
Remembering Marvin Gene Miller
One of Teresa’s strongest memories of her father is taking walks with him from the Genesee neighborhood down to Alki and back from a very early age. He would always pick up litter along the way and, as daughters looking up to their fathers tend to do, she joined right in.
Teresa still takes those walks today, whether in the Bay Area or Seattle, and she can’t help but pick up other’s litter.
“It’s something that I learned, but is it is also something that I feel is like a gesture of respect in his memory because he was definitely someone who left places better than he found them, and not because he wanted recognition. I feel like he had a lot of integrity and really cared about being a good steward of the environment.”
On another occasion, Marvin was walking along Alki when he saw a dog on the loose. Marvin approached the animal, who appeared ill and hungry, and noticed a collar with the a phone number. He called the owner who said, “Stay there, I’ll come grab him and take him to the pound.” Knowing the pound likely meant euthanasia, Marvin said, “I’m sorry I have the wrong number,” and hung up. He took the dog home, nursed it back to health, and it became the Miller family pet.
Teresa remembers her dad as “extremely shy” with a close-knit crew of friends. He was boundlessly supportive of his daughter who was taking a far different path from his own. “We were very different in a lot of ways,” she said. “He was very much sort of the analytical brain. I got a masters in poetry, he got a masters in math.”
One of Marvin’s favorite hobbies, besides riding his bike, was extensive genealogy work. Teresa said he had amassed a tome of 30,000 names linked through the Miller family past. It was a project, she said, her dad did in honor of his mother who passed away at an early age.
So now, it has become Teresa’s turn to honor her father.
“What I found is (writing ‘sped’) was a really integral part of being able to process what I had gone through and kind of find a place for that and then have it, instead of being just a loss, you know, here I have this person in my life that I was extremely close to and loved so much just be gone,” she said. “Not that a book can in any way replace him, and it’s not meant to, but it was something that I could create that could then be, in a way, a kind of memorial … or an open letter to him in some ways: This is what has been happening in the years since …
“It was something positive and constructive that ultimately came out of that loss.”
Teresa K. Miller’s “sped” will be released by Sidebrow Publishing on May 1. It is available for pre-purchase from the publisher at a discount at www.sidebrow.net, will be available on Amazon, and also available for face-to-face purchase from Open Books in Wallingford, a book store specializing in poetry.
We leave you with an excerpt from her upcoming book:
“They are so still you can pet the fuzz, but they shudder// I turned the desk on the slant to roll toward it instead of away/ only the corner of the corkboard stayed on the wall// Portuguese acres of gnarled brown trees/ bark peeled off in wide black rings// In every storefront a church and a man who wants to walk me home to my boyfriend because my skin is so soft// Except there is no cure, only desperate offerings/ oxygen therapy, elimination diet, blood transfusion, chelation// We speak in tongues, writhe on the ground/ broken headed//”