Nicki Heinen has been sectioned and hospitalised under the mental health act on several occasions during her late teen and early adult years. As such, her debut collection contains vivid descriptions of hospitals and her incarceration in them.
‘… rotting plaster, the cracked tiles erupting weeds, a summer gone bad in the crater of today, yesterday, tomorrow, every day the same but for the occasional bath.’
She has also experienced long periods of freedom, often chaperoned as it is, by its evil twin brother, loneliness. At times, freedom can be an incarceration of its own.
‘…I ask my lovers if they will say my name, gently, as you did; / they cannot. They take the mirror and hold it up to my face. / Look, they say, you are alone.’
It is no exaggeration to state that, in this astonishing debut full collection, Nicki shows time and again that she has the imagination, the wit and the craft to be able to move almost nimbly beyond all these restrictions. She has produced a book of great power and invention, with imagery you can practically taste! It is poetry of some power that can raise you up and out through the roof of the cage and into the air!
in a bracing debut that fully faces up to difficult experience without flinching, it is to Heinen’s great credit that what also comes through, time and time again, in the ravenously actual: tactile and sensuous, stubbornly real- the ‘piece-of-shit radiator, The King of Cats, spandex pants, Turkish coffee, Power Energy Sonia’. The hope being, of course, that one retrieves a measure of grace from the other.
Like dancing in front of a Rothko
There isn’t a woman anywhere who wouldn’t have intense flashes of both recognition and profound empathy with the themes and subjects of these poems. They are erudite, elegant, linguistically creative and contain a world of their own, which is the world of women around the world today. The constant presence is of violation, violence, all beneath the surface, all threatening to engorge. And there is the very necessary detailing and transcribing of the reality of loneliness, which is often more of a taboo subject today than we like to think. There is a dual sense both that the poems are holding their subject together and that the subject is perfectly in control of the poems, of the inner world that cannot be intruded upon in the same way a body can.
Melissa Lee Houghton
The astonishing poems in Nicki Heinen’s new collection have an exceptional diamond clarity and a richly self-aware sense of humour, transmuting dark matter into intense beauty. This is brilliant and haunting work.
Nicki Heinen’s poems deal with extremes of experience, but are composed with cool determination, loving patience and a Keatsian delight in the material and tangible world.
Published with Verve Poetry Press