In poet David Middleton’s newest book of pub­lished poetry, “The Fiddler on Driskill Hill,” he has a brief poem hear­kening back to the first book of poems he ever pub­lished. He speaks of despair staring from blank pages “Until the courted muse released her grace/ And words flowed into verses like a prayer.”

And that is how Middleton’s work often seems — a poetic prayer.

Mid­dleton will be vis­iting Hillsdale College Oct. 28 and 29. He plans to read to stu­dents from his poetry and give a lecture on the life and poetry of Wilmer Mills. Both events will take place in the Dow  Lead­ership Center, rooms A and B.

This is the first official installment of the vis­iting writers program’s “Wilmer H. Mills Vis­iting Writer” series. Pro­fessor of English and Director of the Vis­iting Writers Program John Somerville said Mills’ per­sonal friend and fellow poet Jeff Harding, was tech­ni­cally the first vis­iting writer to pay tribute to Mills during his Hillsdale visit, but the fall program had not been offi­cially named the Wilmer H. Mills Vis­iting Writer at the time.

Mills visited in the fall of 2010, staying only a short time but making a marked imprint on stu­dents and faculty through his poetry and lecture. He died the fol­lowing summer after a brief, coura­geous battle with liver cancer.

“It’s odd for having known a person all of about two days and one hour of my life,” Somerville said, “But the con­nec­tions were just amazing. We decided to do this in honor of him, in a large part because of the impact he had here and his early death.”

Mid­dleton is spe­cially equipped to speak on Wilmer Mills and his poetry, having written a memorial essay on him that was pub­lished in Modern Age mag­azine. The piece was titled “Singing the pieces back in place: The life and verse of Wilmer Hastings Mills.”

“I first heard about David Mid­dleton from a student, Alex Meri­gaglia (’13),” Somerville said. “He went to a con­ference in South Car­olina in the summer after his junior year and heard David Mid­dleton read. He came back raving about it.”

Mid­dleton knew of Hillsdale through Imprimis and various inter­ac­tions with Hillsdale pro­fessors like Pro­fessor of English Michael Jordan, who pub­lished some articles in Modern Age, and he was happy to receive the invi­tation from Somerville.

Mid­dleton said he knew he wanted to be a writer in the fall of 1963, when his ninth-grade English teacher gave a writing assignment based on  Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera “Amahl and the Night Vis­itors.” She told the stu­dents to image what adven­tures Amahl and the three wisemen had on their way to Beth­lehem. Mid­dleton hurried the trav­elers journey on a bit by intro­ducing Superman into the story. His teacher loved it.

“She told me that I had talent and I caught fire,” he said. “Who wasn’t going to believe some­thing like that at age 14?”

He said he quickly realized he was not good at fiction and started writing poetry.

Now he serves as the poetry editor for two lit­erary journals, including Modern Age, a journal founded by Russell Kirk that has accepted poems from Hillsdale professors.

He has pub­lished mul­tiple books of poetry, the most recent being “The Fiddler on Driskill Hill.”

Mid­dleton said while many poets have influ­enced him over the years, the top two texts that have affected his work are the King James Bible and the poetry of Robert Frost.

“I don’t write free verse,” he said. “I’m not against free verse, but I find I do better when I have a set form with rhyme scheme and a certain number of syl­lables per line.”

He added that Frost’s work is clarifying.

“‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is like looking through a clear window,” he said.

Frost wrote poems in a par­ticular place — New England — and Mid­dleton said his poetry, grounded in Louisiana, has a sim­i­larly rooted location. He was born in northern Louisiana, which he described as “protestant and rural,” but moved to Cajun, swamp-filled southern Louisiana later in life. He now lives in Thi­bodaux, La.

It was Middleton’s childhood in Northern Louisiana that famil­iarized him with the King James Bible.

“I was raised a Southern Baptist, although now I am an Epis­co­palian,” Mid­dleton said. “At breakfast every morning my father read a chapter from the Bible to my mother and me. Every morning until I left for high school I heard those beau­tiful poetic rhythms of the 23rd Psalm, the first chapter of Genesis, etc.”

Senior Ethan Showler, a student familiar with Middleton’s work, said that inter­woven through the southern framework of Middleton’s poetry is a deeply litur­gical, spir­itual sense of the world; ref­er­ences to the incar­nation, the Eucharist, and espe­cially the Father’s cre­ation of the world through speech.

He added that Mid­dleton is unafraid to use images of sen­su­ality, despair, destruction, and “vis­ceral signs of the Fall.” This darkness is answered by the litur­gical thread lacing Middleton’s work.

“He’s always writing with a view to the end of things; this stuff has all already been redeemed, so he can look at it head-on and see it for what it is,” Showler said.

Showler’s favorite poem of Middleton’s is titled “For an Artist with Parkinson’s.” The poem is a tribute to Middleton’s father, exam­ining the struggle of an artist cut off from artistic inter­action by disease.

“It is haunting, but redemptive at the same time,” Showler said. “This is our world and Mid­dleton cap­tures it perfectly.”

Middleton’s status as the first official Wilmer H. Mills Vis­iting Writer is a sig­nif­icant one for many stu­dents, including senior Ian Andrews, who had the oppor­tunity to spend time with Mills when the poet visited campus in the fall of 2010.

“I enjoyed his poetry immensely,” Andrews said of Mills. “His visit seemed to me to set the tone for the few that have fol­lowed, as the majority of the vis­iting writers have immersed them­selves in culture of the student body, and lent to us their own mature affir­mation of our love for poetry. It seems fit that the writers to come should bear his name.”

Showler never had the chance to meet Mills per­sonally, but he said he has fallen in love with his writing and thinks it fitting for the fall Vis­iting Writer Series to be named after the beloved poet.

“It’s a little strange to say it, but because he visited here and made such an impact, when Wilmer died he just instantly became a legend for the poetry com­munity here,” Showler said. “I don’t know how it hap­pened, but it most cer­tainly did, so I can’t think of anyone better to honour in this way than Wilmer Mills.”