Josephine Miles.

Poetry, teaching, and scholarship : oral history transcript / and related material, 1977-1980 online

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University of California Berkeley


\ X


Josephine Miles

Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library


JULY 1974

Regional Oral History Office University of California

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California

University History Series

Josephine Miles

An Interview Conducted by
Ruth Teiser and Catherine Harroun
in 1977 and 1979

Copy no. /
Copyright (c) 1980 by the Regents of the University of California





INTERVIEW I 7 July 1977

High School 18

University 27

INTERVIEW II 15 July 1977 34

Study at Berkeley 41

Poetry Groups 48

Ph.D. and Los Angeles 62

INTERVIEW III 21 July 1977 76

Beginning to Teach 76

Courses and Students 95

INTERVIEW IV 28 July 1977 108

English Department 108
Publishing and Research

INTERVIEW V 4 August 1977

Public Contexts 139

Developments in Poetry 149

INTERVIEW VI 11 August 1977 170
Writing Poetry

Values and Standards 182

INTERVIEW VII 18 August 1977 194

Committees 194

INTERVIEW VIII 25 August 1977 200
University Professors, Readings, Journeys
Neighbors and Family

Arts and Other Ideas 236

INTERVIEW IX 22 February 1979 246

Winding Down 246


Excerpts from "Bibliographical Introduction to Seventy-five 262

Modern American Authors" September 1976. Gary M. Lepper

News Release from Office of Public Information, 1/24/73. 266

Josephine Miles awarded title of "University Professor".

Program: The Sixty-third Annual Faculty Research Lectures, 268

Lecturer for 1976, Josephine Miles. Subject, "Where Have .
Goodness, Truth, and Beauty Gone?"

Article from The Monday Paper, October 13, 1978. "Miles Honored 272
with Top Award for American Poet."

IMAGES OF CALIFORNIA. A Session with Josephine Miles, Poet; 273
A Report and Interpretation. By Jim Hughes, March 22, 1979.

List of Ph.D. Dissertations - Josephine Miles Director. 280

"A Profile of Josephine Miles", by Katharine Livingston, 1973. 281



INDEX Books by Josephine Miles discussed in the interview 344


Under a continuing grant from the University of California, Berkeley
Foundation, the Regional Oral History Office has been conducting a series of
interviews with persons who have made a significant contribution to the
development of the University of California at Berkeley. Many of the inter
views receive additional support from University departments and offices,
special alumni groups, and individuals who wish to honor a particular
memoirist. A list of University History interviews is appended including
an earlier group conducted in cooperation with the Centennial History Project,
directed by Professor Walton E. Bean and later by Verne A. Stadtman, Univer
sity Centennial Editor. The University History interviews have also
benefited greatly from the expert advice and assistance of Richard E. Erickson,
Assistant Chancellor, Development; and J. R. K. Kantor, University Archivist.

The oral history process at the University of California at Berkeley
consists of tape-recorded interviews with persons who have played significant
roles in some aspect of the development of the West. The purpose is to
capture and preserve for future research their perceptions, recollections,
and observations. Research and the preparation of a list of proposed topics
precede the interviews. The taped material is transcribed, lightly edited,
and then approved by the memoirist before final processing: final typing,
photo-offset reproduction, binding, and deposit in The Bancroft Library and
other selected libraries. The product is not a publication in the usual
sense but primary research material made available under specified conditions
to researchers.

The Regional Oral History Office is under the administrative supervision
of Professor James D. Hart, the director of The Bancroft Library.

Willa K. Baum, Department Head
Regional Oral History Office

Harriet Nathan, Project Director
University History Series

February 1980

Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California



Josephine Miles s academic career can be outlined briefly in this way:
B.A. University of California at Los Angeles, M.A. and .Ph.D. University of
California, Berkeley, Professor of English at the University of California
at Berkeley, and University Professor. Beyond that however, she is a teacher,
scholar, and poet of unusual success in each field of endeavor. The effec
tiveness of her teaching is indicated by the accomplishments and loyalty of
her students. The effectiveness of her scholarly work and her poetry is
indicated by the list of honors and awards they have brought her. Her biblio
graphy indicates the scope of her work and her remarkable industry.

Because of her outstanding career, suggestions that Professor Miles be
asked to create an oral history memoir came from many sources within and out
side of the immediate University community. The idea was mentioned to her
some years before actual discussion of such an interview began early in 1977.
At first she considered delaying it until after her retirement from the Univer
sity English Department in 1978, then agreed to make time for it during the
summer vacation period in 1977. Consequently, the primary series of interview
sessions was held weekly beginning on July 7 and ending on August 25, of that
year. To those eight sessions was added a ninth on February 22, 1979. Between
the eight and ninth sessions she had retired from teaching, had an illness,
won a major national poetry award, and had experienced some change in routine
and circumstances, as she indicated in the interview.

The interview sessions were held in the living room of Miss Miles s home
near the University campus, a comfortable and hospitable room reflecting
Josephine Miles s own attitudes. The interviewers had known her for some years
and welcomed the opportunity to interview her. As can perhaps be deduced from
the interview, they admire her and enjoy talking with her. Nevertheless, Miss
Miles s attitude toward the interview was entirely professional, and she shaped
it, through her taped conversation and her editing of the transcript, to the
final result that she considered proper. Her candor, her intellect, and her
wit are evident throughout.

In editing the transcript, Miss Miles deleted a few passages, added
several, and made minor word changes, but it remains in general, close to the
narrative and discussions as taped. Some rearrangement of the sequence with
in two sessions was necessitated, however, by a recording error which required
Miss Miles s recapitulation of one section of her reminiscences. And, dis
satisfied with the section headings made by the interviewers in editing the
transcript, she made those which are used here.

Many of Josephine Miles s friends contributed informed suggestions for
subjects to be discussed, among them Geraldine Knight Scott, Mel G. Scott,
J. R. K. Kantor, and Robert Hawley. Marilyn White of the Regional Oral History
Office undertook bibliographic and other research and checking, Lee Steinback


transcribed the tapes and final typed the manuscript, and Mr. Kantor, Univer
sity Archivist, proofread the final work.

Individual friends and admirers of Miss Miles joined a number of organi
zations in making this interview possible.

Ruth Teiser
Catherine Harroun

January 1980

Regional Oral History Office

486 The Bancroft Library

University of California at Berkeley



James S. and Mildred Ackerman

Associated Students of the University of California

The Bancroft Library

Robert E. Beck

California Association of Teachers of English

Arthur W. and Finette Foshay

Catherine Harroun

Dr. James D. Hart

Stephanie Opid Holton

Helen Schevill

Geraldine Knight Scott

Mel Scott

Ruth Teiser

Luella Winkler Topping

Katherine Towle

University of California, Berkeley Foundation

University of California, Berkeley, Department of English

Names listed as printed on checks











B.A., University of California, Los Angeles campus
M.A., University of California, Berkeley campus
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley campus

Instructor, University of California, Berkeley
Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Professor, University of California, Berkeley
University Professor of English z *

University of California

1958-60: Chairman, Campus Committee on
Prose Improvement, Berkeley
1963-64: Member, Committee on Research,

Academic Senate, Berkeley campus
1968-71: Member, Committee on Privilege
and Tenure, Academic Senate,
Berkeley campus
1968-71: Member, Chancellor s Committee

on the Arts, Berkeley campus
1970-71: Member, President s Conur.ittee
on Search for Chancellor,
Berkeley campus

Administrative Service:
Professor Emeritus

Honors and
Awards :


Phelan Felloe in Writing, 1937-38

Research Fellow in Literature, American Association of

University Women, 1939-40
Guggenheim Fellowship, 1948-49

Judge of National Monroe Award for Poetry, 1950
Judge of National Shelley Award for Poetry, 1951
Judge of National Gauss Award for literary scholarship,

National Institute of Arts and Letters Grant for Poetry,


Blumenthal Award for poetry, 1959

Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 1965
D.Litt., Mills College, 1965

Fellowship, National Foundation on the Arts, 1967-68
Commendation, California Association of Teachers of

English, 1970
Fellowship, Academy of American Poets, 1978

James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Assn.,, 1975

American Society for Aesthetics

American Academy of Arts and Sciences

American Society for Aesthetics and Art History

Linguistic Association

Modern Language Association

Phi Beta Kappa

INTERVIEW 17 July 1977


[begin tape 1, side 1]

Teiser: You were born in Chicago, June 11
Miles: Nineteen eleven.

Teiser: You said that you had worked out your family background at one time
in a family tree, was it?

Miles: My father was the youngest of nine children, and the eldest, or the
second to the eldest, named Herbert, when he was retired had nothing
else to do. He went over New England reading gravestones, and he
worked this out. So he sent me a copy, and I copied that down onto
a small piece of paper, which I periodically lose and then find
again. So I do know a little bit about what he discovered. Would
you like to have me tell about that?

Teiser: Yes.

Miles: Well, the two names in our background that connected were John Chipman
and Hope Rowland. They met on the Mayflower. [Laughing] Then Chipman
was the main line that my uncle traced down to where I think it was
Sarah Chipman married William Odber Smith. (I don t think you re
supposed to switch like that, from masculine to feminine line, but
that s what my uncle did.) This was after maybe, I don t know, four
or five generations.

After the Mayflower, they lived in Providence and they were
merchants, I m sure the very worst type of sugar-triangle merchants.
Then they were Tories, and when the Revolution came they all went up
to Canada. So they were Canadians, and William Odber Smith was a
druggist, a pharmacist in Saint John, New Brunswick. My father,
though American, was very loyal to Canada.

Miles: Then, Ella Victoria Smith, who was something like Smith s daughter

or granddaughter, married somebody by the name of Frederick Billing,
who was I think recently over from England another English visitor.
But my grandmother married I m getting this mixed up, I guess.
[Pause] My great-grandmother it must have been that married four
times. One of her other husbands named Miles adopted Frederick
Billing, and so from this my grandfather s name was Frederick
Billing Miles.

They had nine children. The eldest stayed in Toronto and was a
minister, and then Herb, the one that did the research, lived in
North Carolina, was a businessman. There were three daughters, one
of whom was married to somebody by the name of Todd. My father was
the youngest and always felt a little weighed down by this family
lineage. He lived around the corner from my mother around somewhere
the street names I remember hearing about are Thirty-second and
Calumet and Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago; those are familiar names,
anyway. He used to pursue her to school and stick her pigtails in
the inkwells, and there are many long stories about how obnoxious my
father was through the years. [Laughter]

Teiser: What were your parents first names?

Miles: Reginald Odber Miles and Josephine Lackner Miles. They I guess had
a very nice group of friends, and I guess he went with one of her
friends. They knew each other for maybe twenty years and were
engaged for maybe five, because he had no money (he never went to
college he never even finished high school) and he was out looking
for work. He finally got some little money as an insurance agent,
and then they were married. My mother, meantime, had been teaching
school in a private school in Cleveland. She had had a career in
education. She had got a scholarship from school, a scholarship to
the University of Illinois, but my grandfather wouldn t let her go
there because that was oil money, Rockefeller money. So she finally
went to the University of Chicago, which is [laughing] Rockefeller
money too, but it was near home. I think the fact that she was
going to be nearby made a difference.

Teiser: Was that grandfather given to acting on principle?

Miles: Very much so. My mother s side of the family were Germans from

Bavaria and Prussia who left Germany at the famous time when they
were rebelling against too much dominance. They were, while not
related to Carl Schurz, they were part of the Carl Schurz group that
came over. I think four brothers named Lackner came to Milwaukee,
and they were coppersmiths; they had been coppersmiths in Bavaria,
so you can guess what they did in Milwaukee. That was sort of fun;
apparently they just all worked for one of the big beer barrel

Miles: My mother s relatives, I m not sure I guess they came a little

later. They seemed to just quietly come to Chicago or Wisconsin.
Their name was something like Grossenheider; Julius Grossenheider
married Matilda Hoevener. I remember my great-grandmother s name
was Matilda Margareta Dorothea Hoevener Grossenheider! My grand
mother, Louise.

One of the brothers, Joseph, was the father of my grandfather,
whose name was Ernest. Ernest went to the University of Wisconsin,
studying to be a doctor. The story is that he was drafted to come
down to Chicago to inoculate people after the big fire. There I
guess he met my grandmother. (This may be a fusion of incidents,
but just so it gets to be in the story.) He settled down in Chicago
as a doctor. Their parents stayed with them, and the parents were
very dominantly German and didn t want the children even to learn
English. So my mother, at the age of five, ran away from home in
order to learn English. [Laughter] She went to the local
kindergarten. So her portrait is one of general independence and
quest for knowledge and curiosity, and so forth. My father s
portrait is one of enjoyment and teasing and love of sports and
general humor, and a kind of independence not related to academe
(which he always made fun of) . They were very much in contrast as a
couple. So that s where I got born. [Laughter]

My father was then doing pretty well in insurance and was sent
by the Connecticut Mutual to start an office in San Francisco, and
manage an office in San Francisco. So we came out on the train when
I was nine months old, and we lived up here on Le Conte, rented a
nice old brown shingle flat on Le Conte. We were here for four
years. The second two years we had a house on Claremont Court, and
my two brothers [Richard and John] were both born here. A lot of
our nice early childhood memories go back to those four years.

But then they sent my father to a supposed promotion to be head
of the office in Detroit. That didn t work out so well because by
that time I had really harrowing arthritis, and so I didn t do very
well in Detroit. I had been born with a dislocated hip, and they
hadn t known about this. One of the bones of contention in my
family was that my grandfather, who was a pediatrician, didn t
notice it for nine months. So it was set here by a method called a
Lorenz method, which was experimental, I guess. I guess it would
have worked all right, except that I got a cut an intern gave me a
cut when he was changing a cast, and he covered it up with a cast
and it got infected. That supposedly though nobody really knows
is where I got the arthritis, and that developed here [in Berkeley].
But apparently, maybe at least, the cold of Detroit made it a lot
worse. So then I had a really bad time when I was, say, four and
five and six and in there.

Miles: Then we did go back to Michael Reese Hospital, where my grandfather
was working, and we went to other hospitals and so on and so on.
Finally, they said there s nothing to do but let me be happy in a
warm place, and we could go to either Miami or San Antonio or Palm
Springs. My parents didn t know any of these three, so they just
closed their eyes and chose in the dark. I ve always been glad they
chose Palm Springs. So that s where we went then, when I was about
six and my brothers were four and two.

Teiser: My, that was a responsibility to uproot a family and

Miles: Very hard. But because they said I wouldn t possibly live. So that
there was no point of saving a life, but just letting me be
comfortable. Yes, it took a lot of nerve. I think it was very nice,
in the sense that my father had turned from being a really big-shot
businessman, overworking, to being with the family a lot on the
desert. We had a very good, quiet half-year on the desert, and the
hot springs did me a lot of good. But the sad part was that nobody
had very much good sense about what to do after that. So my
arthritis did go away, and I rode all over the desert on what would
be politely called today a tricycle, but in those days unfortunately
was called a kiddie car. Do you remember when it was called a
kiddie car?

Teiser: Yes.

Miles: A little wooden contraption. I loved that independence, and I would
just scoot between the mesquite bushes out on the desert and get
lost, and had a really fine time. But I got stiff to the shape of
that kiddie car. Then they decided I was okay, and we went back to
another office insurance job in Chicago. When the winter came, I
got stiff again, and then also I couldn t get unbent from this
position. Then we had to start all over on how to unbend me, and
then I went through, until I was about twelve, a series of casts and
operations and various drastic methods because the doctors there had
just got out of World War I, and what they d learnt about orthopedics
was very drastic, not very adaptive to a small kid. We had to pull
up again very sad and come from Evanston to Los Angeles. We
rented a house in Los Angeles. My father took up a new and
relatively minor insurance job for him, and we struggled along for
a while. I didn t get any better.

After a summer at Balboa, we came up here to a specialist named
Sherman, and I got a huge floor to ceiling cast. Then we went and
lived in L.A. , a very charming little house on a street called
Latona Avenue, which is a wonderful little street. It was a one-
block street, and it turned out to have on it the most amazing group
of people. My father just found it because the house cost I think
$1500. It had a beautiful view of the Pasadena Hills. Just a
beautiful place in general.

Josephine ("Jo") Miles, 1915

Jo and her brothers

Keniston Avenue, 1926 or 1927
standing from left: Richard, Jo,
Josephine, John; seated: Reg


Miles :



Miles :



On that street lived one of the editors of the L.A. Record, which
was a really fighting liberal paper, by the name of Reuben Burough;
and Madeline Ruthven, who was a scenario writer; and Francis Beebe,
who wrote the Tarzan stories for the movies; and the cartoonist of
Krazy Kat , and various other

Oh, one of my heroes I

Really? I should have known. He never spoke to us, see; he never
became a friend. But we admired him very much. And also very nice
assorted kids, especially Welda Dower who became a very good friend
of mine. We roamed the hills. I had by that time a wheelchair, and
this great little character pushed me all over the hills in return
for my telling her stories. We d push the chair off the tops of the
hills and roll down after it. It survived. So everything got very
happy around that time. We lived there for about four years. Do
you want me to go right on from there?

Yes. How old were you then?

We left there when I was twelve. There was a school right at the
end of the street the Latona Avenue School. A lovely place. My
brothers went there too. The L.A. school system sent home teachers
up to teach me. By that time I couldn t sit, but I could stand or
lie. My mother couldn t teach me how to write; I read all right,
but I had to have a teacher to teach me how to write. Then
gradually I got a wheelchair and they let me come down there to
school I mean, a very broad-minded principal, a lovely woman by the
name of Mary Nagel, and lovely teachers. I can emphasize this
without sounding Pollyannish because when we moved to the Wilshire
District, the school there said that I couldn t possibly come; it
would be too much trouble. The Latona Avenue School really was rare.
I did get an education from ten to twelve.

Let me go back and come back up to this point. How old were you
when you learned to read?

I was probably around four.

How did you happen to, do you remember?

To learn to read? Well, I looked at the page and I said, "Hmra. I
know what this says. It says Chicken Licken (or Little?) says the
sky is falling 1 ." And, sure enough, that s what it said. [Laughter]
I ll put parentheses to this: Two years ago, when I was in
Riverside, which was a very favorite stamping ground of ours when
we were a little older, I had a real memory binge, and I wrote down
a lot of these little things in poem form. They re not good poems,
but I might show them to you some time if you wanted to see them.

Miles: As you say, you re not interested in anything that s already
written down, but this was one of the things that I started
thinking about and I wrote down I must have written down about
fifteen or twenty remembrances of my youth and my past

Teiser: I didn t mean that we weren t interested in anything that was

written down. I meant that you needn t say anything that s on the
record, in print.

Miles: Yes. But anyway, another thing that I remember this was in Detroit.
Well, in Berkeley, when I was four, I still remember being very
excited with some books called The Twin Books, the Dutch Twins and

Teiser: When you were four?! Had anyone read to you?

Miles: Oh, of course I couldn t read those. They were read to us.

Teiser: When did they start reading to you, do you know?

Miles: I must have been three or four. My mother, see, was very I didn t
mention all about my mother s education. She worked with John Dewey
in Chicago. After she got her B.A. in Chicago, she went to Colonel
Parker s School, which was a liberal, permissive education Deweyan
school, and Dewey was there. Dewey lectured and she went to his
lectures, but actually it was Colonel Parker that made the school
structure. So she was very gung-ho about methods of teaching and
learning and stuff, and I m sure she read to us just as soon as we
had ears. She wasn t fond of poetry, but she did read things like
A Child s Garden of Verses and ballads. There was one book she read
out of called Poems Every Child Should Know, which was the source of
my poetry. Then these Twin books she read to us. That s all I
remember, except I loved to have those read to me.

Then in the East, in Detroit, when I was so really very sick,
she read to us a lot of [laughing] Bible stories. I guess she
thought it would be good for me to have a little religion before I

Online LibraryJosephine MilesPoetry, teaching, and scholarship : oral history transcript / and related material, 1977-1980 → online text (page 1 of 33)