Galbus on Ethelbert

Galbus on Ethelbert


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Miller watches his father die and says goodbye, knowing any comfort he

offers his mother and sister will be inadequate.


Books by E. Ethelbert Miller


How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love  /  Fathering Words  / In Search of Color Everywhere


First Light: New and Selected Poems Where are the Love Poems for Dictators?  /  Whispers, Secrets and Promises


Beyond The Frontier: African-American Poetry for the 21st Century  / Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain


Synergy: An Anthology of Washington D.C. Black Poetry


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By Julia A. Galbus

How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love (2004)


E. Ethelbert Miller is a poet and literary activist. Recently, Mr. Miller was one of the American authors selected and honored by Laura Bush and the White House at the National Book Festivals in 2001 and 2003.  The director of the African American Resource Center at Howard since 1974, he has devoted his career to promoting the arts.  His beginnings are humble, working class.  Born in 1950, his Panamanian father was a postal worker, and his mother was a seamstress. He grew up in the Bronx in an ethnically diverse neighborhood with his older sister, Marie, and his big brother, Richard. He loved to play baseball, and didn’t discover poetry until he attended Howard University, beginning in 1968, when the Black Power and Black Arts Movements were in full flower. Haki Madhubuti, Amiri Baraka, John Killens and Sonia Sanchez were popular then, and on Howard’s campus, he was influenced by Stephen Henderson, Sterling A. Brown, and Leon Damas.

Poetry, he believes, is meant to be read, but also to be heard by an audience, in person or on the radio.  This is one of the reasons why he began the Ascension Poetry Reading Series in Washington, when there were few publishers for African American writers. The series lasted from 1974-2000, with more than one hundred readings, and included Puerto Rican, Asian and Arab American poets.  

Miller has always believed that poetry serves a variety of roles. It can provide healing or catharsis, laughter or correction. It can bring abstract ideas down to the circumstances of one individual’s life, or an event or choice in a person’s day. His work can be poignant and comedic. It covers a range of topics including sports, jazz, politics, love and family. For further reading besides the poems posted here, I recommend  readers find First Light or Whispers, Secrets and Promises. For a glimpse of some of the ways he has supported the lives of other poets, there are his two excellent anthologies. In Search of Color Everywhere is a gorgeous volume assembling a variety of poets who write with love and affection on various aspects of African American life. It is the kind of book Miller wished he could have been introduced to when he was growing up.  The other, Beyond the Frontier, features African American writers who are some of the strongest voices in the generation after Miller. Both volumes group poetry thematically, rather than by the dates of the authors’ lives or their arbitrary place in the alphabet.   

His latest volume, How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love (Curbstone, 2004) traverses perennial territory of love, loneliness and desire, but also breaks new ground.  Miller writes powerfully about grief and loss. Included here are several poems that address that theme using personal events from Miller’s own life. In “New York: St. Vincent’s Hospital Miller watches his father die and says goodbye, knowing any comfort he offers his mother and sister will be inadequate. That sense of insufficient offerings is echoed in “In Shadows There Are Men ” when the speaker speaks for men who cannot please their women: “Our lives interrupted / by what others/ wanted to see.”  The sentiment culminates is a beautifully rhythmic, haunting piece where the son sees “All that could go wrong composed of tercets that stall time as the speaker realizes melancholy parallels between his father’s life and his own.

Whether examining moments in his own life, or creating a voice for someone else, E. Ethelbert Miller often portrays fragments of our global culture through the lives of characters. Some are ordinary folks, mothers and girlfriends, or kids at school. Others are famous, like Alexander Calder. “A Poem for Richard” imagines Richard Wright in France being visited by Langston Hughes. 

To hear Ethelbert read is to witness what sometimes seem to be contrary attitudes: exuberance and respect for every aspect of the arts and for us, the public that artists address. That is a glimpse of what the “E” stands for in E. Ethelbert Miller’s name.

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What Does the E Stand For?

                                       By E. Ethelbert Miller



Each eye exists embracing exceptional emerald evenings

Evolution explains Eden’s evil

Earth’s ecology equates exploitation evaporation

Errors ending evergreen elms

Escort elephants eagles elks eastward

Enlightenment echoes Ezra Ezekiel

Enlist Esther Eugene Ethan Edward Ellington

Enough English explanations ecco

Exit eternity

Elucidate Ethelbert elucidate

E evokes every ecstatic emotion

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Julia A. Galbus, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English / University of Southern Indiana

posted 20 November 2003

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The 5th Inning by E. Ethelbert Miller

The 5th Inning is poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller’s second memoir. Coming after Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer (published in 2000), this book finds Miller returning to baseball, the game of his youth, in order to find the metaphor that will provide the measurement of his life. Almost 60, he ponders whether his life can now be entered into the official record books as a success or failure.

The 5th Inning is one man’s examination of personal relationships, depression, love and loss. This is a story of the individual alone on the pitching mound or in the batters box. It’s a box score filled with remembrance. It’s a combination of baseball and the blues.

To see a clip of Ethelbert reading The 5th Inning click here:

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 2 August 2008



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