Tag Archives: Michigan Notable Books

Vande Zande’s ‘American Poet’ Gives Notable Nod to Poet Roethke

perf5.500x8.500.inddDenver Hoptner walks at night. The recent University of Michigan grad, jobless and without prospects, has returned home to live with his father while he regroups and considers his future.

Instead of opening doors, Denver’s fresh MFA in Poetry has left him open only to his father’s scrutiny, and worse, at a devastating loss for the words he longs to put down. Seeking solace, Denver routinely takes to the bleak Saginaw streets searching for a sign.

In Jeff Vande Zande’s  tight, coming-of-age novel American Poet (Bottom Dog Press $18.00), Denver’s sign comes in the form of late poet Theodore Roethke’s boyhood home. The prize-winning poet’s house, found smoke-damaged and in disrepair, gives Denver angry encouragement and fuels his commitment to both his craft and the preservation of a bygone poet’s brilliance.

“It was one of the few things that I didn’t hate about the town,” Denver says. “When I was in high school and thinking that maybe I wanted to write, I used to walk out to the Roethke House at least once a month, just to look at it. He was a pretty big poet in his day. Pultizer Prize for one thing, and it meant something that a guy like that could come from a place like Saginaw. He was a guide. A lodestar.”

Poet Theodore Roethke drew his words from the well of his Saginaw surroundings. Through Denver’s eyes, author Vande Zande also offers bright discovery in the gray and grit of this roughed-up city. Ultimately, it’s in Denver’s struggle to reconcile his future ideal with his present reality that his true poetry begins to emerge.

Jeff Vande Zande teaches English at Delta College and writes poetry, fiction, and screenplays. He was selected as the recipient of the 2012 Stuart and Venice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author for American Poet; his novel that was also selected as a 2013 Michigan Notable Book.

– This review can be found in the January, 2013 issue of Hour Detroit. For Hour subscription information, link here.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under American Poet, Authors, Book Reviews, Jeff Vande Zande

Heffernan Offers Humor, Allusions, and Exotic Locales ‘At the Bureau of Divine Music’

Cover ImagePoets Michael Heffernan and Thomas Lynch are teaming up for a few appearances in northern Michigan this week. The dynamic literary duo will kick off their Notable Books Tour on Monday, May 16th, 2011, at Petosky’s McLean & Eakin as part of their Yellow Chair Series, followed by several other stops dotting the northern part of the state.

While I happen to love poetry, honesty forces me to admit that I’m not the most able when it comes to its interpretation. Therefore, I have happily turned to fellow blogger Maggie Lane (Poem Elf)* to share her views on Michael Heffernan’s latest work, At the Bureau of Divine Music. Heffernan’s book was published in March and is part of the Wayne State University Press’ stunning Made in Michigan Writers Series.

At the Bureau of Divine Music by Michael Heffernan

– review by Maggie Lane

If one morning travel guru Rick Steves woke up bitten, in spite of the mosquito netting on his hammock, by the poetry bug, and upon finding himself unable to write a single sentence of his usual clear and cheerful prose, decided to give over to his new muse, what he’d write might sound like this:

Never fail to go as far from home

as you can find the means to get

or even

. . . I had to move,

at least to put new things in front of me

if not to make another kind of home

if home was what I wanted in the first place

The lines are from Michael Heffernan’s new collection At the Bureau of Divine Music. Heffernan, like Steves, is a world traveler, a restless spirit for whom “home” is not a refuge but a place which must be left behind.  The urge to inhabit new spots on the ever-alluring space-time continuum is too great for Heffernan to stick in one locale or even one gender for long in this entrancing new collection of poems.

And move around he does, from a café in postwar Paris to boyhood days in Detroit to Russia to Macedonia to Shreveport to a place, perhaps imaginary, with the lovely name of Kittythorpe.  Always his imagination is flitting back to the past and jumping ahead to the future. Restlessness is a trait he shares with many of his characters, some of who appear in masterful dramatic monologues:  travelers, dreamers, unfaithful lovers, embezzlers, and a man who aspires to be the neighborhood Gaughin.

His travels, real or imaginary, pack his poems with references and asides that had me chasing to keep up.  The allusions in the poems can be challenging, but well worth every Google search. If you’re the type of person who thrills at a conversation with someone smarter and wittier than you, you’ll get charged up reading Heffernan.  And if you are also the type of person who’s fantasized about being married to a smarter, wittier person, here’s a little scenario for you from “Consecration of the House”:  Heffernan sits upstairs in his bubble bath, quite the Diogenes, thinking about big questions and quoting Yeats, and calls down answers to his wife’s crossword puzzle.  He calls down more information than she asks for, just because he knows it:

’It’s also the word for being as in L’Etre et le Neant by Jean-Paul Sartre.’

Pretentious, oh yes, but he’s playing a part and doesn’t take himself too seriously.  Clearly he knows that no man sitting in a bathtub can be judged as anything but silly.  The poem, through Heffernan’s deft maneuvering, becomes a meditation on the soul (on being, the crossword clue), and ends with an unforgettable image of Kennedy moments before his assassination.

Just how seamlessly Heffernan travels through time and moves from drollery to tragedy and from matters mundane to the metaphysical, is evident in a favorite poem of mine from the collection, “Morning Mail.”

The poet in his bathrobe, aimless and alone in the house on a Monday morning, gets a letter from a friend in Boston.  The friend asks for reasons to keep on living from those of his friends who took the time to soothe him where it hurt/in the exhausted tissues of the soul.  The poet, as he considers his friend’s pleading for reasons to be vertical, reclines on the couch, which is funny but also dark, as if his friend’s despair entices him to try on death himself.

Lying there he remembers an old lover, a woman in a café in France who would just as soon be back in Worcester.  They both seem to wonder why we were doing this, a phrase that connects the vignettes in the poem, but the couple continues the doomed relationship in long travels through the Balkans on ships and uncomfortable trains.  In Greece they watch three women in black dresses step into the sea.  Two of them are daughters bathing their blind mother, who is crying. The image is indelible to him and to the reader.

From the pain of this reverie he comes back to the present as the letter drops behind the couch.  The time had come to rise up and occur, he says.  (I’m going to store this line as a useful antidote to indolence.)   In typical fashion for writers, this resolve to action leads him to stare out the window.  There he watches three blackbirds on a neighbor’s roof.  The blackbirds become the three Greek women and then transform into black angels come to make him face uncomfortable truths.  Why are we doing this? they seem to ask as they tumble from the roof and swoop up again.  His friend’s existential question has reverberated through his past and through the past of the two women who forced their mother unseeing into the sea and now into his present.  Why are we doing this?  And once we realize the futility, how do we stay vertical, how do we stay aloft?

Heffernan’s humor, allusions, and exotic locales form a viewing platform from which he hopes to catch sight of the unseen.  His restless spirit seems always in search of permanence, which some would call, especially those with Heffernan’s Jesuit education, the divine.

Heffernan, a Detroit native, teaches poetry at the University of Arkansas and is the two-time recipient of the Pushcart Prize, among other awards.  At the Bureau of Divine Music is Heffernan’s ninth book and, as noted, part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series by Wayne State University Press.

– If you can’t make it to those readings, click here to listen to Garrison Keillor read “The Art of Self-Defense,” a poem from this volume set in Detroit.

*Maggie Lane lives and writes in Beverly Hills, Michigan where she hosts the blog site Poem Elf. You can find her at http://poemelf.wordpress.com.

Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

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Filed under At the Bureau of Divine Music, Authors, Book Reviews, Michael Heffernan

More from Michigan With 2011 Notable Books

It’s that time of year again! No, I’m not speaking of the warm fuzzy holiday season, but rather that time of sensational selection when the Library of Michigan annually decides on 20 Michigan Notable Books that have been published during the year.

As stated on the Notable site, The Library of Michigan annually decides on 20 of the most notable books that “are reflective of Michigan’s diverse ethnic, historical, literary, and cultural experience.”  Such works feature “high-quality titles with wide public appeal” and are either penned by a Michigan resident or written about a subject related to our state.

The Michigan Notable Books for 2011*

1) “Apparition & Late Fiction: A Novella and Stories” by Thomas Lynch

NLR Comment:  If you have the chance to hear Mr. Lynch read in person – grab it!

2)“Blues in Black and White:  The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals” by Michael Erlewine and photographer Stanley Linvingston

NLR Comment: For anyone who loves black and white photography, these pictures are not to be missed.

3) “Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation” by Steve Lehto

4) “Detroit Disassembled” by Andrew Moore

5) “The Detroit Electric Scheme:  A Mystery” by D.E. Johnson

6) “Eden Springs: A Novella” by Laura Kasischke

NLR Comment:  I highly recommend this work by Kasischke. Though fictional, it is based on fascinating Michigan history. You can link here to NLR’s review, “Kasischke Shines in Eden Springs.”

7) “Freshwater Boys: Stories” by Adam Schuitema

!) “The Hanging Tree: A Starvation Lake Mystery” by Bryan Gruley

NLR Comment:  The Starvation Lake series is well-written and a ton of fun. Make sure you don’t forget to read Gruley’s “Starvation Lake” which is the first in the series as well. You can link to NLR’s reviews of both: ‘Starvation Lake’ is a Trip Worth Taking and Gruley Turns it Up in Starvation Sequel ‘The Hanging Tree’

9) “Lord of Misrule” by Jaimy Gordon

NLR Comment: As this year’s National Book Award winner for fiction, I am absolutely twitching as I try to patiently wait in the library queue for Gordon’s “Lord of Misrule.”  If anyone feels compelled to send it to me as a Christmas gift, feel free!

10) “A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks: A War Memoir” by Godfrey J. Anderson

11) “Mine Towns: Buildings for Workers in Michigan’s Copper Country” by Alison K. Hoagland

12) “Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan” by Michael R. Federspiel

13) “Reimagining Detroit:  Opportunities for Redefining an American City” by John Gallagher

14) “Sawdusted: Notes From a Post-Boom Mill” by Raymond Goodwin

15) “Sixty to Zero: An INside Look at the Collapse of General Motors and the Detroit Auto Industry” by Alex Taylor III

16) “The Sweetness of Freedom: Stories of Immigrants” by Stephen Ostrander and Martha Bloomfield

17) “To Account for Murder” by William C. Whitbeck

18) “Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams” edited by M.L. Liebler

NLR Comment: This work is published by Coffee House Press which I recommend as a solid link. Do yourself a favor and check out their site www.coffeehousepress.org.

19) “Wounded Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Michigan Governor John Swainson” by Lawrence M. Glazer

20) “You Don’t Look LIke Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face-Blindness and Forgiveness” by Heather Sellers

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

*List information taken from Free Press article 2011 Michigan Notable Books Winners Explore Regions Lively Diversity

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Filed under Bryan Gruley, Laura Kasischke, Whimsy