Traveling Poetry Man: Michael Heffernan to be OPWC’s Featured Writer

Traveling Poetry Man: Michael Heffernan to be OPWC’s Featured Writer
Courtesy of Russel Cothren Michael Heffernan

Courtesy of Russel Cothren
Michael Heffernan

Fifty years ago was 1965. Think Berkeley and Selma, Berlin and Saigon. Think The Beatles, the Supremes, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Love beads on the way in; penny loafers on the way out. Fifty years ago. And there was the young Michael Heffernan, grad student in English, hitchhiking around Europe from Ireland to Greece and back.

Michael Heffernan, much-honored poet and professor of English at the University of Arkansas, will be the featured writer at the monthly meeting of the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct, 27, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. There is no charge, words and refreshments will be available for purchase, and the public is invited to attend.

Heffernan is a well-known and well-regarded poet who will be introducing his latest collection, “The Night-Watchman’s Daughter” (forthcoming in 2016 from Salmon Poetry of County Clare, Ireland).

It is hard not to see his travels reflected in his writing. Having begun to read Joyce at 20, Heffernan was drawn, on that first European adventure, to Ireland, where he found his way to a pint of cider at a pub called Heffernan’s. And, Jesuit-trained, drawn to the monks and monasteries. But he was young in ‘65, and, as much as Ireland might put a hold on his writing, it could not, then or now, hold his person.

So he wandered south, through Paris and Rome and eventually to a cave on the Island of Kos in the Dodecanese, off the coast of Turkey. (He can still relate, with remarkable precision, the itinerary and the events of that summer. Catch him some day in Nightbird, buy him a cup of tea, get him to talking about the trip and listen to the stories; it will be well worthwhile.)

I had heard a rumor somewhere that Heffernan the poet does not read prose, but of course it’s not true. How could it be? He was a precocious reader as a high schooler. He read Virgil in the original and translated passages into English. He read early on — and still re-reads — Joyce, Tolstoy and Proust. (How many people do you know who have read “Ulysses,” “War and Peace,” and “Remembrance of Things Past”? OK, so this is a college town, so maybe several. But still … have you? Not me.) And he’s teaching a course this semester in the Beats, so of course he reads prose.

But poetry is his life’s work. Consider “They Always Say He Marks the Sparrow’s Fall” (2008):

“It seems I must have gone into a tailspin / brought on in part from madness already there / compounded with much that came on by the minute / and found myself on top of a high curb / that felt to me like a bridge or a cliff edge / on which I rocked and then quite literally / emptied myself like a chamberpot into l’Abîme.”

Or “Nightfall” (2001):

“What have I done? I said to my own self. / Who have I come to be? I said again. / My own self answered me in her own words. / She told me things I could not understand. / She watched my eyes move when she told me this.”

Heffernan’s books will be available for purchase and signature. Before and after his reading, the microphone will be open for any member of the community to share four minutes’ worth of poetry or prose with the audience. As always, the mic is both open and uncensored, the themes can be adult and the language a little rough.

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