Dorothy W. Millner '67, MA '69

Dorothy MillnerA Long Way Traveled

Poet Dorothy Millner refers to Sarah Lawrence as “the place where life began!” And for her it truly did—in 1962, at the age of 44, as a continuing education student.

Millner speaks of her pre-Sarah Lawrence years in, for her, rather monochromatic tones: grew up in Port Chester, New York; graduated from high school in 1934 with little money and no prospects for college; worked as a typist for the W.P.A., then for the Lend Lease program during World War II; met her future husband, a student at George Washington University on the G.I. bill.

In the late 1940s, Millner took a few courses at G.W.U. and discovered Ralph Waldo Emerson, who became her “life-long love.” But the butterfly that was to become “poet Dorothy Millner” remained in the cocoon for years; the art that touched her soul lay dormant.

And then, one day in 1962, Millner spotted an article about the newly opened Sarah Lawrence Center for Continuing Education. She applied, was accepted and enrolled in a course. “Before Sarah Lawrence, I lived a totally unthinking kind of life,” she confesses. “Then, I found heaven, a whole new world. I can’t imagine what my life would have been without Sarah Lawrence.”

A paper Millner wrote after taking a sculpture class from Norberto Chiesa, drawing parallels between creating a work of sculpture and a piece of literature, exemplifies, for her, the Sarah Lawrence philosophy. “The created form, unlike a literature paper, at first seemed remote from me. In observing the work of the other students, I could see relationships and connections that were characteristic of the students themselves. Analyzing their work helped me to understand my own creation and, through it, to know myself a little better.”

As Millner changed, so too did her journey’s course. She earned an SLC master’s degree on the topic “Ideas in America,” taught poetry and literature at Pace University, and parted ways with her husband. Not able to support herself on an adjunct professor’s salary, she moved to Washington in 1975 to become a writer/editor with the F.D.I.C. When a position as a management analyst with the F.D.I.C. later opened up, she was offered the job. “I asked why I was hired, having had no ‘management analysis’ experience, and my supervisor said, ‘We could have hired an M.B.A., but we wanted a fresh approach, and you have had so much experience analyzing literature.”

After a fulfilling career—and a Ph.D. in medieval literature from City University in 1984—Dorothy retired in 1988. She started a book club that continues to this day, and began writing poetry in earnest, joining a monthly poetry workshop. Asthma issues prompted her move to Palm Beach, Florida, in 1999.

In a typical day, Millner, now 87, rises early, takes her coffee and newspaper out on the terrace and watches the clouds roll by. She usually lunches with a friend, and then devotes her afternoons to writing.

“I begin a poem by writing down a few lines of an idea on a piece of paper. Then I leave it on the table for a while to think about it. Then I write. Then I rewrite and rewrite until I get every word just right. I want no extra words, not one.”

If you ask Millner “Why poetry?” you might as well be asking her “Why breathe?” “Poetry has a soul,” she says, “It speaks to me when nothing else does. With poetry, I can get close to the heart of something and say so much in just a few words.”

In October, 2004, Dorothy Millner published a book of her poems entitled The Journey.

—David Treadwell


I embark the journey
as if out for a stroll
thinking only to begin

caught up
with the imagery
of times past
I travel a long way

envision many marvels
scenes of war and peace
men long dead speak to me
become friends

years rustle away
like fallen leaves
before a wind
the journey ends

I am more than I was

My Mother in Her Green Sweater

When she was old
she wore a faded green sweater
across her shoulders
to ward off the chill.

But then, even in summer,
she wore the faded green sweater
just in case
there might be a chill.

Now, I think
that faded green sweater
was a measure of security
against that colder cold to come.

My sweater is blue gray.