These poems are of our world: they tread the line, as we all must, between containment and confinement, balancing freedom from institutions against loneliness. Ultimately, the speaker triumphs over her helplessness. Though alienated physically and socially, these poems stand as her expression of protest. In this collection – whether gleefully inciting moths to destruction or blazing out against climate change – Heinen uses language as power.
Nicki Heinen’s debut collection is half a lifetime in the making. The voice rings clear throughout every circumstance. Refusing to be dehumanized by medicalization and attacks on agency, it is exact about its locations and attentive to transformations. Clothing which should warm and adorn comes to life in a ‘soft strangling’. Fabrics are preyed upon by moths, yet the text throws up no defences but exults in the delicacy of the winged life forms and their appetitive destructiveness. Rosebuds and pearls, secrets and insomnia, lace this night-time book where the same poem, or line, can zoom in as small as an oyster or roll out as large as Zeus’s rape of Europa. Recording confinement in literally shitty places and ancillary roles, this collection ultimately chooses to sing a love that is simple and animal, and of astronomical proportions: “I cannot say how he is of the earth and of the sky, studded cloud in his paw and hailstorm in his pattering legs”.
Calling your cat Lebowski [in a poem, in life] is a sign that you understand how to put words at an angle to the actual, to experience. Some might call this confessional poetry but that term tends to privilege saying it at all over how it is said which is where the art is. These taut, lyrical but unflinching poems work because they find that angle on experience – just enough light to the dark and vice-versa.
Like the aforementioned cat- they are slyly referential; they soothe, they rend.
Pamphlet Itch published by Eyewear Press in 2017