Sometimes Michael Heffernan rhymes: “the idiot” (2013) – night with fright – next with unperplexed. And has for a long time: “Lines from the Interior” (1988) – numbers with slumbers – motivated with exasperated. (And later in this poem, he impishly rhymes rime, as in frost, with rhyme, as in poetry.) But he doesn’t always: “Country” (2013) – As one leaf trembled, then another one/and Queen Anne’s lace kept tilting onto itself. Rhyme, he says, is an instrumentality, and must be judged in the context of the poetry, and not in its own right for mere tradition’s sake.
Michael Heffernan, the well-known Fayetteville poet and UA English professor, author of a dozen books and widely published in the United States and Ireland, will read as the Featured Writer at the June meeting of the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective, 7 p.m. on June 25 at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street. The event is free and the public is invited.
Heffernan’s path to Fayetteville began in the 1950s in Detroit, where he attended the University of Detroit High School, an all-boys Jesuit school and where he began to write poetry, initially as an assignment of punishment for acting up in class. He completed his Ph.D. in literature at the University of Massachusetts, taught for two years at Oakland University in Michigan, moved on to Pittsburg State in Kansas, came to Arkansas initially as a visiting professor in 1986 and has been here since.
While Heffernan enjoys life in the Ozarks, his heart, he says, resides in Ireland. He visits often, frequently publishes there and often writes about the Emerald Isle. For instance, in “blade on a sill” he writes: O’Grady thought he was nobody’s fool/and the smoothest gangster Ireland ever gave air./He tried not to do it on Sundays when God was looking/or his wife in her apron all day making roasts/or shepherd’s pies or fries with eggs and rashers.
The construction of a book of poetry, Heffernan says, is as much about the ordering of the poems as it is about the internal composition of each individual poem. He’s looking for a good, coherent tone, not so much a book-long message, but an interaction from one poem to the next. The book, in the end, though made up of individual pieces, takes the reader through a course of thought, an experience of the whole.
At the outset, I did not do justice to “the idiot,” Heffernan’s rhyming poem in “Walking Distance,” his latest collection. It begins thusly: It must have been the middle of the night/I could not tell. I walked around in fright/truly appalled at what might happen next./I thought I should grow gradually unperplexed/but this was madness still.
Join the OPWC at seven on Tuesday to hear Michael Heffernan read from “Walking Distance,” and perhaps from his next book, too. Before and after his reading there will be an open microphone where writers are invited to share four minutes of prose, poetry or non-fiction with a friendly and encouraging audience. New listeners and new readers are especially welcome. The usual caveat applies: the OPWC does not censor and the language is, on occasion, both rough and irreverent. Join us.