Peter Miles (1921 - 1998)
The Vanishing Poet.
In 1950 H.M (and Dorothy) Green were ready to call Peter Miles one of the ‘Poets of Today’, praising his ‘individual and striking images’ and his ‘strong feeling for rhythm’. But by 1961, the same authors noted that Miles ‘had not found very much to say as yet’. In fact, by then Miles had published almost nothing for 10 years, and had disappeared from the literary scene. What happened?
It all began conventionally enough.
Miles was born in Toowoomba in 1921. He was educated at Downlands College and progressed to the University of Queensland, where he edited the University’s literary magazine Galmahra. His poetry appeared in the early editions of Meanjin Papers, and soon gained wider recognition: Wind, republished on this site, appeared in Australian Poetry 1942, and he shared the 1942 Meanjin Poetry prizes with Dorothy Hewitt.
But of course nearly all poets in Australia must earn a living at something else. Miles worked in the Queensland Main Roads department, before taking a job as a teacher at Toowoomba Grammar School in 1944. He quickly immersed himself in school affairs, chairing the Debating Club, the Magazine Committee and the Library Committee, at a time when the well known poet Peter Porter was a student.
He also found time for literature, serving as the Queensland editor for the Jindyworobak Annual, and contributing to the early editions of Paul Grano’s Catholic periodical View.
His book of poetry, Pacific Moon, appeared in 1945. The 27 poems in the book show a relatively wide variety of themes, a willingness to experiment in non-traditional forms, and a good number of earthy, non-literary images coupled with an occasional urge to use expensive words:
The boom of the surf again in rising wind…..
For a long while now I have been remembering
The stark sweet music in continuous
Crescendo on the lonely beach, deep leit-motif
Of something old, old as wandering
Rack misted moon –
From Pacific Moon
Curiously, the book contains almost no war poems. Brown out, a poem set amid war time electricity restrictions, was anthologized as late as 1959, but is really a love poem:
....you are the lights
of my vanishing home and my desperate heart’s
last, ultimate houselights.
In fact, the exploration of the idea of romantic love dominates Pacific Moon. He wrote that the ‘ideal of romantic love .. is the central idea in most thought about human passion’. But it seems that the romantic love which inspired the book may have ended:
Here lies –there won’t be many epitaphs-
My love. It’s dead.
And all the valedictions
Have been said.
From In Memoriam
Relatively few Queensland poets published love poetry before 1945, and male Queensland love poets of this time are rarer still. But something seems to have gone wrong in Miles’ life not long after the publication of his book. He continued to publish poetry for a while, but only one of his poems appears to have been published after 1946. He left his job at Toowoomba Grammar School mid-term in 1949. After that, he seems to have disappeared from view, and to have found life a struggle. A last published poem appeared in The Bulletin in 1954. A brief mention of a court appearance later that year is the last that we hear of him until he resurfaced as a teacher at Clairvaux Mackillop College in Brisbane, some time in the 1970s.
Best book to buy: Miles, P. Pacific Moon, Melbourne, Georgian House, 1945.
Green, H.M. ‘Fourteen Minutes’ New and Revised edition revised and brought up to date by Dorothy Green, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1950, pp192-190.
Green, H.M History of Australian Literature, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1961, p 1064.
Poetry Competition, in the Courier Mail, 18 April, 1942, p4.
Email from Denise Miller, Toowoomba Grammar School Archivist, 5 September 2012.
Miles, P. From Beatrice to Betty Grable in View, Vol 1, No1 PRIL 1946, P2.
‘Nuclear Fission by Moonlight’ The Bulletin 27 January 1954, p 27.
 Courier Mail, 20 November1954, p7 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/50628588?searchTerm=peter miles scholar&searchLimits=
Accessed 7 March 2014.