“since love can always bear
another testing, can even crack
into strange new strengths”
I’ve said this of short stories but it’s even truer of poetry – I don’t read it enough. In fact I hardly read it at all. When I read it I enjoy it, how authors play with the language in a totally different way than you can with prose, but I think when I pick up a book I’m generally looking for a story. As it turns out, Steven Heighton’s poetry collection is full of stories.
Many of his poems are prefaced by a brief anecdote on the historical origins of the forthcoming poem. “Ribs” for instance, one of my favourites in the collection, begins with an excerpt of Dave Bidini’s Around the World in 57 ½ Gigs. It tells how those in the Soviet Union gathered discarded X Rays from hospitals, because they were the perfect plastic for DIY records in the days when Western music was hard to come by. Heighton takes that fact and turns it into a lyrical tale, pairing patients with tunes.
“Edith Swan-Neck” is Heighton’s take on a story from the more distant past, when the lover of England’s King Harold II was forced to identify his mutilated corpse on the battlefield. Written from Edith’s perspective, the poem reinterprets the events, having Edith falsely identify the King.
Heighton’s retellings give a feel for the events rather than a complete picture, often prompting me to learn more about his historical allusions. After reading “Thar He” I put down the book to read up on the short life of Emmett Till. Despite the furor his death caused in the 1950s, and its apparent influence on the civil rights movement, I’d never heard of him before Patient Frame.
It wasn’t just the based-on-a-true-story poems I enjoyed – “Another June & Journey” and “Sky Burial, the Scholar” numbered among my favourites, as well as “Some Other Just Ones” which praises, among others, “Anyone whose skeleton is susceptible to music” and “those who sit on front porches, not in fenced privacy, in the erotic inaugural summer night steam.”