An evocative new collection of literary-minded verse from the winner of the 2006 Chelsea Poetry Prize and the 2011 Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America.
Written during Heisler’s (Drawing Water, 2013, etc.) nine years living in Iceland, these poems draw fruitfully from her experiences navigating a deeply foreign land. The majority of the entries are seemingly autobiographical prose poems that read almost as memoir and that feel truer for their inclusion of surreal, sharply rendered details. Heisler writes, for example, of “a face with eyes like fists of gray silk” and a “yellow house that careened above a bog.” Returning frequently to translations and reflections, the collection gradually becomes a subtle exploration of identity and expression and of how the two interact. Best of all are the sections that veer into metapoetry, as the narrator relates her difficulties negotiating language differences and, especially, the translated works of Emily Dickinson: “The wish,” Heisler writes, “as noun, has a specific shape that I will not describe.” The collection has its flaws; in particular, the straightforward, declarative sentence structure that many of the poems rely on can become repetitive, as can the narrator’s ongoing tribulations with her Icelandic lover. The end of the collection, which strays significantly from the form and style of its earlier sections, is also a little jarring in context. On the whole, however, the collection is vibrant and insightful, offering careful readers an intimate look into the complex business of remembering and relating things past. “To ‘spend a life’—as if a life, its years, were currency,” one poem asks, “What does one buy with a life?” For readers interested in such questions, Heisler’s latest will be an immersive delight.
A vivid setting, fresh imagery and a heartfelt search for meaning easily make up for a handful of minor flaws.