Sunlit Imagery, Heartfelt Lament: Two Chapbooks by William Heath

Reviewed by David Salner

Genre: Poetry
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William Heath’s distinguished writing career includes scholarly books plus crime and historical novels. With these two new chapterbooks Heath shows us what he can do as a poet, from sunlit imagery to heartfelt lament. The reader would expect a mastery of setting in a volume titled Leaving Seville. But Heath’s lines contain an emotional resonance that takes them beyond simple poetry of place:
This is called
falling in love [ . . .]
a shared place
in the summer
a quaint pueblo,
flowered balconies,
whitewashed walls,
nearby mountains,
and an easy
walk to the sea.

A narrow imagistic focus delivers poignant meditations on the human drama unfolding around him. In a family restaurant, he observes the operatic shouting of a father and son—followed by the delicious details of a Mediterranean meal. Tucked into these poems is a vision of how the world shimmers into language, for example when he describes how he lives “on a street named/consolation/near the corner/where water meets life.”

The language of Night Moves in Ohio is less constrained, but filtered nonetheless, through memory. Self-effacing humor is balanced against the sadness of time past. This book is a lament, not only for “the brutal lost beauty” of a steel producing area but for the images of growing up, from a paperboy snipping the wire on his bundle of papers so that “the wire girding the stack/snaps back and the papers/fluff up as if in relief”—to adolescent dreams of basketball stardom and romance. Even the poems on serious topics, like “Mom’s Final Days,” are delivered to us with a bite.

After the fire goes out of the steel valley—what remains is no sorry tale of loss. Important memories linger, and they should be recorded, as Heath has done here, triumphs, each and every poem in this volume.

The deft imagery of Leaving Seville lingers in our minds. Night Moves is plain-spoken, often funny, but with the subtle rhythms and narrative ingenuity of damn good hindsight. Heath is a poet for those of us who have grown tired of the showy, poetic language and self-centered perspectives so familiar today. He is more modest, more self-deprecating, a poet whose insights give us a refreshing hint at a worldly, intelligent persona.

About David Salner

David Salner’s latest collection is The Stillness of Certain Valleys (Broadstone Books, 2019). His poetry has appeared in many journals including Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other magazines. You can visit him on the web at http://www.DSalner.wix.com/salner

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