Saturday, March 26, 2022

Good Harbor by Max Heinegg


Good Harbor by Max Heinegg, Lily Review Books, Whitman, MA, 2022, 55 pages, $1800.

Review by Ed Meek

Just as art is not necessarily beautiful, poetry is not necessarily eloquent. To write poetry that’s eloquent, the poet must first have an ear for what sounds good. Many of our favorite poets have a great ear for sound. Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost, W.B. Yeats. But poetry that is eloquent is rare. That’s Roethke territory: “I knew a woman, lovely in her bones.” Or Dylan Thomas: “I sang in my chains like the sea.” Or Emily Dickinson: “Hope is the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul. “ Max Heinegg writes poetry that is a pleasure to read, in the same way that it is a pleasure to view an Impressionist painting or movie made by Terrence Malick or Jane Campion. In Good Harbor, Heinegg writes about his family, love, school, the places he has been.

The writer William Kittredge once said that in good writing, the writer juggles a number of balls at the same time. In “Cassiopeia,” Heinegg draws from astronomy, myth, and his relationship with his daughters.

Over a dock in Islamorada, winter shows us

the Hunter’s badge of stars,

his shield & cudgel raised, but not needed

against the mortal Scorpius, whose tail

sleeps in summer skies.

Heinegg goes on to recount the story of Cassiopeia who “only boasted once that her girl/outclassed the holy spirits of the sea/rousing their father to revenge.”

Here is the last stanza where he refers to his daughters:

The night sky should be the end of hubris

& the jealous possession that rules us,

but this is one of the last times

their inseparable youth and beauty are ours entirely,

before they quit their rooms & cleave to others.

Now I know silence is a safer vanity, & why

she had forgotten what the world is

ready to take away. Yet

a ruinous secret, I too

love my daughters more than I fear the gods.

In this and other poems in the book, Heinegg captures that fierce love we feel for our children. The musicality is of course due to the choice of words, the richness of the language and the song-like quality of the poem.

“Triptych After Golding” describes his love of teaching in the diverse environment our urban schools have become pointing out the irony of the Americanized names of his students when their family names are so beautiful.

In the public high school diaspora

the Sarahs walk, Egyptian, Haitian, Brazilian;

their mother tongues still sing in their middle names:

Esmael, Nehemie, Pinhiero

The title poem “Good Harbor” is about a trip to the beach of that name in Gloucester. The title also doubles as a metaphor for family and safety. The poet is there with his family. “Sandbar to sandbar on the last day of August/we walk Good Harbor—” They get a text that a niece is in the ER having eaten poison berries. “The waves rock and collapse/with the weight of our worry…Eventually all of us/see that shame is pointless and self-inflicted.”

Although the poems in Good Harbor range from Maine to Florida, their scope remains within the boundaries of home, family and school. In the last poem of the book, the poet is picking blueberries in Acadia.

We take no pictures. Leave joy


for others to discover

summer’s pride

in the ephemeral.

While hikers above

talk of the good salt

air resting in panorama,

we offer each other

all we have in our hands.

Notice how the last line slows the reader to take in the importance of what he is saying. Lucky for us that Max Heinegg deigns to unlock his verse to provide us with joy and appreciation.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Red Letter Poem #103 Moira Linehan

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner




Red Letter Poem #103




To salute Women’s History Month, I bring you a poem from Moira Linehan’s latest collection entitled & Company (Dos Madres Press) – and its subject matter couldn’t be more timely (even though it’s rooted in fin de siécle Paris and Boston.)  While I write this, the first Black woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court is undergoing interrogation in Congress by some who still have questions about the nature of women’s work.  Moira’s book, though, focuses on history – personal, familial, international – and the ways it becomes a tangible presence in our daily lives.  Situated at the heart of the collection is her maternal grandmother, a dress designer and seamstress who made her way from France to America to start a new and more independent life.  But the portal Moira chose, in order to immerse herself in that woman’s experience, was the artwork of the age, specifically the paintings by figures like Cassatt and Morisot whose works are rich with that granular visual and social detail in which imagination can take root.  And, of course, they depict the very sorts of clothes her grandmother might have worn and fashioned.  Featuring lyrics, narratives, elegies, and ekphrastic poems, her collection is a consideration of the tension between social stricture and freedom as women sought to assume some control of their work lives (dreaming, perhaps, of much more.) 


Today’s poem is built around a kind of interwoven repetition of word and idea; we can feel how hemmed in these lives (our lives?) might be.  And yet, within this pattern, the spirit that moved these women continually asserted itself, found a way to make from the microcosmic vision of domestic life an opening, a passage into vast possibility.  Hard to miss, though, that the piece ends where it began, a warning, perhaps: how fragile our dreams really are – and how resistant to change, actuality.  As with the fading of certain pigments, the fraying of textiles, the raveling and unraveling weave of word and sound – artists and poets acknowledge the ephemerality, and yet attempt nevertheless to clothe our ideas and emotions with something more enduring, with a style of our own making. 


Moira is the author of four poetry collections and has published widely in journals like Agni, The Georgia Review, Poet Lore, and Prairie Schooner. Her poem "Entering the Cill Rialaig Landscape" was chosen as the Grand Prize winner in Atlanta Review's 2016 International Poetry Competition.  Her exploration of her Irish ancestry has led to numerous writing residencies, including ones at the Cill Rialaig Project in Co. Kerry, Ireland; the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co. Monaghan, Ireland; and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  A Connecticut native, she has lived her adult life in the greater Boston area.  It is my pleasure to have Moira make a return appearance to the Red Letters.



Before Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot




Fugitive, the materials of their art,

art made quickly in small notebooks, on wove paper,

paper that goods might have been wrapped in. In pencil.

Pencil sketch, sometimes pastel, a wash of watercolors.

Colorful little pieces of the confines of home.

Home where they made their art. Never alone. Sisters,

sisters-in-law, female cousins, ever close by.

By sofa, tea table, garden bench. No farther.

Far from boulevard, café, studio. The off-limits.

Limited, every aspect of their lives. Mirrors

mirrored rules for stepping out to dine, to dance. Be seen.

Scenes men painted in oils on large canvases. Framed.

Framework for the holding pattern till they married.

Marriage, or at least the arrival of children, the end,

ending their artwork. Art going, gone fugitive. 




–– Moira Linehan





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