Miriam Vermilya

In the last photo taken of Miriam Vermilya, she is sitting in her red dining room, smiling for a photographer from a local newspaper. With her are the members of the Greenville Poetry Group, who have gathered for their monthly meeting. During the meeting, the members planned for an upcoming reading, critiqued manuscripts, and discussed the layout of Miriam's book manuscript, Heartwood. Late the next afternoon, Miriam died suddenly of heart attack late in the afternoon.

In the weeks following Miriam's death, the members decided to complete the layout of the Heartwood manuscript and to submit the book to several publishers who had expressed an interest in Miriam's work. When Texas Tech University Press accepted the manuscript as the winner of the Walt McDonald First Book Contest, the members knew that this book had found the best possible home.

Miriam Vermilya was a remarkable poet. She came to poetry late in life, but she approached this art as she had many other endeavors. She studied hard, learned the craft, became an exacting critic, and was rewarded with publications in some of the finest literary journals. Her work shows not only fine craftsmanship, but also a remarkable, unwavering eye. She discusses the inevitability of death with a sly wink, remarking upon the condition of Socrates' toga, and wondering if her dentist should be invited to her funeral.

Miriam's writing process was largely mental. She rarely sat down to write a poem without having already thought out its content and form. She read extensively and often retyped works that she admired, in order to understand another writer's technique. She was the proverbial "lifelong learner," assuming that anything could be learned if you persevered. She stopped painting when she began writing poetry, saying that she couldn't concentrate on two art forms at the same time, but much of her art work is still on display in the Greenville area.

Miriam was born in Albany, Indiana (Her father, Sam McGregor, died in surgery before she was born.) and lived with her maternal grandparents until she was five, while her mother went to "normal" school to earn a teaching degree. When her mother remarried, to Ernest Mannring, Miriam and her older sister, Jane, moved first to Muncie, Indiana, and then to Cleveland, which she considered her childhood home.

After graduating from Miami University, Miriam taught in both the Brookville and the Greenville School Systems. She retired from teaching in the late 1970s. She and her husband, Jack, were married for 55 years. They have two children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

As a young wife and mother, Miriam developed tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanitarium. This year, apart from her family, was difficult. Since her family was not allowed to visit, Jack often drove the children to the sanitarium grounds where they could wave to their mother through a window. Miriam developed several intimate friendships with other women in the sanitarium, friendships that sometimes ended abruptly when the women died. However, in later years, she spoke of the positive aspects of this year, rather than focusing on the negative, a quality which seems evident in her poetry today.