Another Part of the Island
Salmon Publishing / Dufour Editions ($12)
by Will Clemens
Another Part of the Island is the sixth book of poems from Michael Heffernan,
whose Love's Answer won the 1993 Iowa Poetry Prize. With 31 poems comprising 43 pages, Another Part of the Island may look and feel like a chapbook. Published overseas, where Heffernan co-directs the International Writers' Course at the National University of Ireland, Galway, it could be as difficult to find as a chapbook. But this small, unassuming book reads more as a complete collection of poems, several ranking among the strongest in Love's Answer, which poet X.J. Kennedy hailed as "the best book yet by one of the very best poets we have."
As readers might expect with a book of poems published in Ireland, Another Part of the Island evokes Irish settings in superb auditory and visual imagery, as in "Another Story,"
when the robe of sky droops heaviest
over the gray-blue slopes
and the black choughs come coughing out of the wind
Yet poems set in different places establish a belief that travel not only enriches the intellect with other cultures and geographies but has the power to heal a bored, grief-stricken, or wounded psyche. In "Garbology," a voice from Greenbriar Avenue in Elkins, Arkansas, where Heffernan lives, half-humorously announces:
Most of our excitement
here in the Subdivision
happens on Wednesdays when the garbage truck
hauls off the stuff we don't need anymore
The three-part "The Night Breeze Off The Ocean" tells the story of a man who, grieving over his mother's death, discovers a moment of solace with a Belgian girl on a spontaneous trip to Dar-es-Salaam. In "Liberty," a slightly rhymed sonnet, a man deals with the end of a love affair by leaving the State in his car.
There are other moments when Heffernan journeys through the landscapes of dream-states and memory, as in "The Land of the Blind," where "the one-eyed man is invisible," "asking directions to the road out of town," or "Detroit," where the speaker, younger, tries to understand what Patsy Doherty's breasts are thinking, and concludes "The mind is its own place."
Another Part of the Island is, finally, even more than a collection of poems about the importance of these physical and imaginative travels to places for healing. It is a book that builds a bridge between the literary writer and the people's poet. Heffernan pits his insightful thoughts on Dante, Shakespeare, Henry James, and others against his valuable experiences with friends and family, discussing, for example, "the hearts of even the old ones at the bar," "his wife and children sleeping in," or, as in a handful of minor poems like "Forecast," "nothing but the weather."
With his senses tuned to all these different kinds of people, places, and things, not to mention his mastery of the best language to render them in a range of forms (from the Petrarchan sonnet "Two Solitudes" to the ghost of meter in the title poem), Heffernan gives us a slim book that is as the "mud on a boot" it so vividly portrays.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2000 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2000