Poetry Month, Day 12*: Deborah Ager Recommends the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series

April 12, 2013

What other poetry series shares its bug spray?

Every summer in June and July, poets come from the DC area and around the country to read in the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series. Past poets have included Kelly Cherry, Jennifer Militello, Stanley Plumly, Jericho Brown, Adam Vines, Brad Richard, Dan Albergotti, and Traci Brimhall. Readings have taken place in Miller’s Cabin, beside a stream, and inside a planetarium.

Washington, DC provides a home to many an important monument. Since 1883, Washington, DC has been home to Miller Cabin thanks to Joaquin Miller. And the city has been home to the Miller Cabin Poetry Series since 1978 thanks to founder Karren Alenier.

For this series, we have braved thunderstorms and bugs in order to listen to poetry. We have shared our food, our bug spray, and our disaster survival skills. When Luke Johnson read, a thunderstorm swept in fast. The audience ran for cover under a picnic shelter. With water swirling around our ankles—the rain was that heavy that fast—we moved to our backup location to finish the reading. While that all sounds dramatic, we’ve also spent many calm summer nights enjoying the company of other poets while listening to poets read from their recent works.

We call this series “Miller Cabin” for short, and the cabin has consistently played a large role. In fact, you can trace this series in its relation to the cabin.

· In 1883, Joaquin Miller built a cabin as a wilderness writing retreat. He built it in a place now known as Malcolm X Park (once known as Arlington Heights).

· In 1976, physicist Jim Beal persuaded the National Park Service to give permission to The Word Works to use the cabin for poetry workshops.

· In 1978, Karren Alenier started the poetry series and held it inside Joaquin Miller’s cabin (by candlelight!) until the audience became too large for that space.

· In the 1990s, I attended my first Miller Cabin reading in Rock Creek Park to hear Stan Plumly read his poems. Readings took place next to the stream by the cabin.

· In 2009—I can’t quite recall the year—I joined Rosemary Winslow and Kathi Morrison-Taylor as a co-director of the series.

· Around 2011, we traded in our space by the stream for the planetarium in Rock Creek Park around the corner. While everyone loved the cabin, few minded the addition of air conditioning or the proximity of horses.

· We became the first and only poetry series to begin with a planetarium show hosted by a park ranger. We learned a lot about stars while sitting in white spaced-aged seats (think George Jetson).

· In 2012, we projected a photo of the cabin onto a screen and held the reading in an auditorium downstairs from the planetarium.

Although the venue and people have changed over time, the cabin and nature have remained integral to this reading series.

The Word Works, a nonprofit literary and educational organization, hosts the series and shares this about the cabin on their website:

Joaquin Miller “stayed 10 years in the ‘woods’ where he was frequently visited by the curious. Disappointed at not being appointed as Ambassador to Japan, Miller went west to settle in the Oakland Hills of California. He gave his cabin to a friend, who soon gave it to the Sierra Club. In 1912, one year before Miller’s death, the National Park Service became its new owner. The Park Service disassembled, moved, and rebuilt it in its current location in Rock Creek Park. Meanwhile, Mr. Miller built a similar cabin in the Oakland hills. There he planted over 2000 evergreens and created an amphitheater where he produced his plays. He became known as the Poet of the Sierras.”

I, too, have been disappointed at not being appointed ambassador to Japan. However, we all must move on from such tragedies.

With this series, you never know what will happen next.

More about Miller Cabin and Joaquin Miller

Application Guidelines

Deborah Ager

*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems will use this space to praise presses, journals, and readings series that bring poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.

Deborah Ager is co-editor of The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry (2013) and Old Flame: Ten Years of 32 Poems Magazine (2013) and author of Midnight Voices (2009). She’s a founding board member of 32 Poems Magazine.

Previous post:

Next post: