Newswise — Readers seeking the poetry of Michael Heffernan of the University of Arkansas have their choice of two renowned poetry journals on the news stands this fall. The September issue of Poetry offers three poems by Heffernan at the same time that the summer issue of Southern Review features two other Heffernan poems.
Heffernan describes his current crop of poems as "having a feeling about the issue of time and the past. Place is part of that, and with travel we're moving in space and time."
"Cattle Seeking Shade" posits an idealized Patagonia in contrast to the familiarity of a cherry tree, pepper plants and the inflated yellow dinosaur in a neighbor's pool. It was written at the time Heffernan was leaving his home in the country to live with his new wife in town.
"The word Patagonia is so exotic that it conveyed the idea of going to some very different place," Heffernan said. "There is the notion of the back and forth between the current location and the exotic other place called Patagonia and the question of whether I was already there."
In the poem "At the Bureau of Divine Music," Heffernan merged elements of the past with memories of flying like a contemporary Marco Polo over the Eurasian land mass, along with jet-lagged observations of Beijing. Heffernan asks in the poem:
"What is the object of going but to bring back / free toothbrushes, peachbloom porcelains and colorful boxes / of sandalwood soaps from marble-tiled hotel baths / with the only water pressure in Datong or Yingxian?"
The poem answers the question on many levels. His "old friend Ray" counsels him to value memories over photography, and the memories seem to "ramble down the long path" as the poet did in Beijing. The title, referring to a pavilion on the grounds of the Temple of Heaven, is echoed by unheard voices "fluttering out to us on the swell of wind" and in the remembrance of a cabdriver's repeated tune as they leave the temple. The poet's experience of the exotic in another land is tempered by memories of Ray and by his description of the temple's "mote," a spelling from medieval Irish architecture for a medieval Chinese moat.
Heffernan calls Southern Review "the best of the magazines associated with universities that started 70 years ago as a major voice of a new poetry" and one that remains an important regional voice. In the poems in Southern Review, Heffernan's concerns with time and place are centered on old friends in Detroit, where he grew up. Still, "Lovestruck" ends with a line that travelers in space and time understand: "and I stood there waiting, wondering why I'd come."
Heffernan's work was first published in Poetry with two poems in September 1969, an important milestone for a young poet.
"The feeling of being part of something that had that importance — of being part of the art that I wanted to be part of — surpassed everything, including the 50 cents a line they paid," he recalls.
One of the poems, "The Table," was reprinted in the magazine's 65th anniversary retrospective anthology. Over the years, he has had 10 poems and half a dozen book reviews published in Poetry, a 40-year relationship he values.
Heffernan is a professor of English in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. He won the Iowa Poetry Prize in 1993 for his fourth book of poetry, Love's Answer, and his work has been published in many American poetry journals in addition to Poetry and Southern Review.
He has been awarded three Literature Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the maximum number of such fellowships that the NEA awards to any one writer. In the 40-year history of the Literature Fellowship, the NEA has honored 2,756 fellows with the award. Only about 40 individuals have won the fellowship three times.
The September 2006 issue of Poetry included the poems "At the Bureau of Divine Music," "Legends of Old Castile," and "Cattle Seeking Shade." The poems "And Puffy Little White Clouds Everywhere" and "Lovestruck" appeared in the summer 2006 edition of Southern Review.
PHOTO: Photos are available for download at http://dailyheadlines.uark.edu/ .
AUDIO: Sound files of Heffernan reading his five recently published poems are available at http://dailyheadlines.uark.edu/ .