A landmark volume gathering 45 years of work by one of our leading poets
Collected Poems 1965-2010
From his early spare poems written in Spain to the recent ruminative work exploring language, tradition (often Jewish and diasporic) and the self, this book collects four decades of Michael Heller’s “tone perfect poems” as George Oppen described them. Enriched with the detailed landscapes of the phenomenal world and mind, This Constellation Is a Name confirms Michael Heller’s place at the forefront of contemporary American poetry.
If any readers of poetry doubt that eros and ethos are opposites that can only exist in each other’s mutual embrace, then Michael Heller’s This Constellation is a Name will come as genuine revelation. Seldom has the erotic gift of intimate portrayal coincided so fully with the ethical gift of objective attention. Heller knows that poetry has its stake in the world and the world’s construction; he also knows that inquiry cannot forsake the human scale. These poems are written “in our human need,” and that marks their deep sympathy, their real generosity. Such need drives through the body its fervent longing; such need forces through the mind that increment of attention that seeks the world’s very fact. These poems could only be written by a poet who heeds that most ancient command: to exist. Michael Heller is such a poet. He can see into the myriad complexities of that human condition to seek through the poem itself “just the real, and a wild nesting /of hope in the real.
What a collected poems like this offers is the revelation of a life of poetry and what such a life can mean in discovering and creating the details of a world too often hidden from us by its legislated realities. In this pursuit Michael Heller takes his place alongside “Objectivist” predecessors like Williams and Oppen, to emerge here as the conduit of personal and historical memories and visions that make a rich and needed composition for his time and ours. He stands in this with the very best among us.
“To conceive otherwise,” says Michael Heller, is the poet’s essential task, to which he has apprenticed himself for nearly fifty years. No matter if the poem is brief or extended, the line long or short, the setting Manhattan or the Colorado Rockies, a lost Bialystok or an imagined Tibet—what arises from the page is an action of mind, an asking, questing trajectory, tracked with uncanny surety by movement of the poetic line. This is no language-locked adventure, but an impassioned, ethical listening to the mind—and the world—at work in words.
Full-throated praise for this remarkable accomplishment, a generous tome of over a half century’s life and astute consciousness in poetry. Michael Heller is one of our best poets and thinkers who has carried Oppen’s dictum that poetry embodies “precise information on existence” forward. His erudition and scope astound: Jewish mysticism finds company with Baudelaire and Tibet. His sense of an inter-generational friendship in eulogy and elegy in the work of others is inspiring. Indeed this book, this myriad body, a continuum is a constellation of powerful naming and names also our complicated humanity. “I explore the white times, the undefined space, cutting/through stages and resting place of this incarnate adventure.” (“Yak Blessing”) Adhesiveness to minute observation, witness and wit to both darkness and pleasure, love and place, dream and dharma through an activist poesis, where poetry is a call and response to awaken the world to itself. His modes are various and true, and constellate fully realized an experimental/ philosophical/profound Lyric.
An expert on the Objectivist poets, Michael Heller is himself an exemplar of the tradition. Clear, precise, and grounded, his poems display adamantine form and inscrutable technique.
Michael Heller has published over twenty volumes of poetry, essays, memoir, and fiction. Among his recent books are This Constellation Is A Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010, Beckmann Variations & …