Prose on Poetry
Email this review


 A poet's playful prose miscellany. Heyen (Crazy Horse in Stillness, etc.; English/State Univ. of New York, Brockport) is a contemporary Whitmanian, inclined to look for rapture in the mysteries of hogs, grubs, sycamores, and silver maples. As with Walt Whitman, too, Heyen's sense of humor helps to form what he sees: ``Not one grub is a bishop, mullah, or rabbi, so far as we know. . . . Not one is a rock star,'' he observes. But his sense of the droll is more wry and less loving than Whitman's. As someone who is living in a time of ecological decline (one of Heyen's preferred subjects, along with poetry), perhaps he can't afford to be expansively affirmative. His monologues, essays, diatribes, tales, and asides are at their best when he has chosen a very specific subject and has adopted a singular means of approach to it. One of the most striking and effective pieces, ``Tongues,'' leads Heyen to gather a swirling catalogue of facts and questions (Ö la Whitman) about the origins of tongue, the once popular meat derived from buffalo, whose population is now greatly diminished. Though succinct, the essay builds an uncanny momentum based on the drama of the writer's curiosity about the topic. We come to believe in his ecstatic respect for nature; in his conditional affection for human whims and his criticism of human error; and in his rage at unnecessary destruction of animal beauty. To mingle such different perspectives convincingly is no small success. But elsewhere, Heyen too often engages trivially with the trivial in arch and noncommittal prose mementos. His shrewd and delicate touch seems easily distracted, with the result that the range here is uneven. Still, how can one complain in good faith about a writer who would dub his first purchase of an ``Elvis on Velvet'' artwork with the moniker ``Synonym in Gauche''?

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1998
ISBN: 1-880238-56-X
Publisher: BOA Editions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997