(A word about Night Light Revue: if you’re looking for summer reading material, Shaffer always has excellent suggestions. She’s also a passionate promoter of Michigan writers and the local literary community.)
I’m grateful for the review assignment because I loved the book and probably would never have found it on my own. Or stuck with it. While the book houses plenty of poems that can be digested on a first reading and some mighty entertaining monologues that read like short stories, some of the poems were difficult. And because I was tasked with reviewing the whole book and not just the “easy” poems, I had to read what I usually would skip over. Slacker that I am, I’m drawn to poems that don’t initially require much effort, and some of Heffernan’s poems required not just effort, but commitment. But the payoff, as with any long-term relationship, was huge.
Reading poetry, I’ve found over this past year of blogging, is a completely different reading experience than we get in school or on the beach. Whereas a book of prose is read from beginning to end (or if you’re a cheat like me, beginning to end back to middle) and then shelved or returned to the library, books of poetry offer freedom from linear structure but demand more of your time. You dip in at any point, you read, you don’t understand. You try a different poem. You like it but you still don’t get it. You re-read dozens of times. You think about it while you’re walking the dog and fall asleep with a line in your head. What does it mean? Why does it affect me like this? Why can’t I just end the relationship and forget about it? Reading poetry requires an imaginative leap and a commitment of time we aren’t accustomed to with our steady diet of Janet Evanovich and girls with dragon tattoos and other distinguishing features.
Just to give you a taste of Heffernan’s work, I’ll post the last poem in At the Bureau of Divine Music. It’s a sonnet that I kept thinking about weeks after I read it, experiencing as I do many unnecessary anxieties about my health:
by Michael Heffernan
I lay down in my bed and went to sleep
but only after worrying that the pain
that came up in my chest, seemingly deep
inside it where my heart was, was a plain
signal that I might not survive the night
and could be lying cold beside my wife
when she got up, as she does, with the light,
to start another day in her own life,
while mine was over, unbeknown to us,
including me. As I was worrying,
I went to sleep and woke up in four hours
to use the bathroom. Birds had begun to sing.
Two dogs were barking. Nothing perilous
had come to find us. What was ours was ours.
What was ours was ours is my new anti-anxiety mantra.
On a side note, why not buy a book of poetry? Poetry makes a beautiful, thoughtful gift and looks impressive in guest bathrooms. The covers are usually arresting and artistic, and visitors will flush your toilet musing over what an interesting person you are and marveling over your previously unknown complicated interior life.
And so I hereby proclaim the next few days National It’s High Time to Buy a Book of Poetry Couple of Days. And remember, as Night Light Revue blogger Megan Shaffer always says, Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters!