DIANOIA by Michael Heller Reviewed in Chicago Times

DIANOIA by Michael Heller Reviewed in Chicago Times

Michael Heller's preoccupation with spiritual contemplation through poetry is fiercely intellectual, as it is cautious: "No one can safely say where the sacred leaves off, where the profane begins," he writes in "Mappah," the collection's opening poem. The word "safely" may strike the reader as odd if not accidental, but it isn't: in every new spiritual foray, Heller both reaches upward and instantaneously shrouds himself with doubt, skepticism, and a promise of reason. As he puts it:

… And I guess if one can call it 

a belief, then mine was, if nothing else,

the Holy One had gone missing, and I was left 

to raise other thrones from the now abandoned 

languages of observation and objection.

Dipping into language of Judaism and Buddhism, hedging his bets, Heller does not only tease out the philosophical underpinnings of his position, but in fact, recalling, enacts the actual experience: "No place to hang one's lonely stuff. Who can be home / to this homeless light?"

Yet, perhaps, Heller arrives at his most lyrical, transcendent moments in poetic commentary on the works of other artists. Studying Picasso's "The Shadow," which depicts a dark silhouette across a painting in the studio, Heller writes: "Artists cast shadows, and those who come after / pour light into the darkness of their opacity." A profound response to "The Shadow," its symbolism and significations, Heller's lines stand on their own — memorable, esoteric, haunting observation on the nature of interpretation and artistic inheritance.