When Washington poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller and Denise King walked down the aisle of Rankin Chapel on Saturday, their friends applauded. When Miller kissed his bride before the words, "I now pronounce you . . . ," everyone laughed. And when, at the end of the wedding ceremony, the couple christened their 5-month-old daughter, the friends chanted her name--Jasmine-Simone. Giving their daughter a gold ring, Denise Miller said, "We are all getting married today."
Love, friendship, creativity, family and purpose were all celebrated at the Millers' wedding, which brought out a cross section of Washington's cultural community. Through energy, insight and generosity, Ethelbert Miller, 31, has become one of the most popular personalities in local literary circles. He is best known for the Ascension Poetry Reading Series, a forum for both known and unknown poets, his vigorous work in building new audiences for poetry through anthologies, poetry cassettes and literary journals. Denise King Miller, 31, is an administrator for the American Psychological Association.
Not only did the wedding reflect their personal worlds but it also illustrated a contemporary view of the family. In the chapel at Howard University Bernice Reagon sang in her a cappella style, which has marked occasions from civil-rights marches to marriages. Ethelbert Miller, formerly a student at Howard, is now the director of the Afro-American Studies Resource Center..
The vows, mainly borrowed from books, Denise Miller said, had an air of pragmatic tenderness. " . . . To cherish and care for your fulfillment as an individual through all the changes of our lives," pledged the couple to each other.
That same kind of open-eyed responsibility and caring was applied to the christening. Jasmine-Simone wore a gold dress and bonnet to match her mother's gold dress, which had a small train and was accented with turquoise jewelry and a rope belt. The parents and godparents pledged "to share with her our concept that the family is more than an economic, social, legal and moral unit, it is also a transcendental force."
Among the 150 guests was Elliott Skinner, a respected anthropologist, who found the ceremony heartening at a time when the destruction of the black family is a widely accepted theory. "The inclusion of the child is very supportive and I find it fascinating that despite what people say about the black family there is tremendous support for it." Ethelbert Miller had aimed for that feeling. "We had been living together for four years, so in a sense we weren't getting married. It was public vows," Ethelbert Miller said. "But the ceremony occurred at a time when people are separating or trying to raise a family alone. This showed people can do it. It was really healthy."
At the reception, held at the Mary McLeod Bethune home, which received congressional approval last week as a national historic site, several poets, including Ntozake Shange and Thulani Davis, were expected to read. Only June Jordan, a nationally known poet and lecturer, and also the godmother of the Millers' daughter, was present. She read two love poems and two about the massacre in Lebanon. There are "less and less living rooms/where are my loved ones?" was one poem Jordan included because, she said, "I don't think we have done enough as black people to identify with non-European people. God forbid something like this should happen to us and people would have this silence."
Among the guests were publisher Hamilton Fish, writers Julian Mayfield, Eleanor Traylor and Acklyn Lynch, and filmmaker Haile Gerima . Eric Abrahamson, a poet and fiction writer, had come from Rapid City, S. D., for the celebration. "I moved away from Washington three years ago, yet Ethelbert stays in touch. He makes sure I am working, makes sure I am publishing," Abrahamson said. Speaking of the Millers on their special day, Lorne Cress, a senior producer at WPFW-FM, said, "They did so much for all of us."