Heyen, William (Helmuth)

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HEYEN, William (Helmuth)

Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 1 November 1940. Education: State University of New York, Brockport, 1957–61, B.S. 1961; Ohio University, Athens, 1961–67, M.A. 1963, Ph.D.1967. Family: Married Hannelore Greiner in 1962; one son and one daughter. Career: English teacher, Springville High School, New York, 1961–62; instructor in English, State University of New York, Cortland, 1963–65. Since 1967 member of the department of English, professor and poet-in-residence, State University of New York, Brockport. Senior Fulbright-Hays Lecturer in American Literature, Germany, 1971–72; visiting professor, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, spring 1985. Awards: Borestone Mountain award, 1966; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1974, 1984; Guggenheim fellowship, 1977; Ontario Review award, 1977; Eunice Tietjens memorial prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1978; American Academy Witter Bynner prize, 1982; Lillian Fairchild Memorial award, 1996; National Small Press Book Award for Poetry, 1997. Address: 142 Frazier Street, Brockport, New York 14420, U.S.A.



The Mower. Privately printed, 1970.

Depth of Field. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1970.

The Fireman Next Door. Buffalo, Slow Loris Press, 1971.

The Train. Rochester, New York, Valley Press, 1972.

The Trail Beside the River Platte. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

The Pigeons. Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, Perishable Press, 1973.

Noise in the Trees: Poems and a Memoir. New York, Vanguard Press, 1974.

Mermaid. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1975.

Cardinals. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

Cardinals/The Cardinal. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

The Pearl. Pittsburgh, Slow Loris Press, 1976.

Of Palestine. A Meditation. Omaha, Abattoir. 1976.

Pickerel. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

Dusk. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

Eighteen Poems and a Story. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

The Trench. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

The Carrie White Auction at Brockport, May 1974. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Society, 1976.

XVII Machines. Pittsburgh, Sisyphus, 1976.

Ars Poetica. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

Mare. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1976.

Darkness. Derry, Pennsylvania, Rook Society, 1977.

The Swastika Poems. New York, Vanguard Press, 1977.

Fires. Athens, Ohio, Croissant, 1977.

The Elm's Home. Derry, Pennsylvania, Scrimshaw, 1977.

Son Dream/Daughter Dream. Ruffsdale, Pennsylvania, Rook Press, 1978.

The Ash. Potsdam, New York, Banjo Press, 1978.

Witness. Madison, Wisconsin, Rara Avis Press, 1978.

Lord Dragonfly. Ruffsdale, Pennsylvania, Scrimshaw, 1978.

Brockport's Poems. Brockport, New York, Challenger Press, 1978.

The Children. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1979.

Long Island Light: Poems and a Memoir. New York, Vanguard Press, 1979.

The City Parables. Athens, Ohio, Croissant, 1979.

Evening Dawning. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1979.

The Snow Hen. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1979.

Abortion. Ruffsdale, Pennsylvania, Stefanik, 1979.

Mantle. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1979.

The Descent. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1979.

The Shy Bird. Concord, New Hampshire, Rosemary Duggan, 1980.

Our Light. Syracuse, Tamarack, 1980.

My Holocaust Songs. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1980.

1829–1979: The Bells. Brockport, New York, Challenger Press, 1980.

December 31, 1979: The Candle. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1980.

The Ewe's Song. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1980.

Auction. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1981.

Bean. Concord, New Hampshire, South Congregational Church, 1981.

The Eternal Ash. Syracuse, Tamarack, 1981.

Lord Dragonfly: Five Sequences. New York, Vanguard Press, 1981.

The Bees. Syracuse, Tamarack, 1981.

The Trains. Worcester, Massachusetts, Metacom Press, 1981.

Blackberry Light. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1981.

The Berries. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1982.

Jesus. Syracuse, Tamarack, 1983.

Along This Water. Syracuse, Tamarack, 1983.

Ram Time. Roslyn, New York, Stone House Press 1983.

Ensoulment. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1983.

The Numinous. Salisbury, Maryland, Scarab Press, 1983.

Erika: Poems of the Holocaust. New York, Vanguard Press, 1984.

Wenzel/The Ghost. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1984.

Winter Letter to Dave Smith. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Palaemon Press, 1984.

The Cabin. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1985.

The Spruce in Winter. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1985.

At West Hills, Long Island. Roslyn, New York, Stone House Press, 1985.

Eight Poems for Saint Walt. Roslyn, New York, Stone House Press, 1985.

The Trophy. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1986.

The Chestnut Rain. New York, Ballantine/Available Press, 1986.

Brockport Sunflowers. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1986.

The Amber. Manchester, New Hampshire, New England Reading Association, 1986.

The Bells. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1987.

Mother and Son. Dallas, Texas, Northouse and Northouse, 1987.

What Do You Have to Lose? Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1987.

Four from Brockport. Dallas, Texas, Northouse and Northouse, 1988.

Brockport, New York: Beginning with "And". Dallas, Texas, Northouse and Northouse, 1988.

Americans. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1989.

Falling from Heaven: Holocaust Poems of a Jew and a Gentile, with L.D. Brodsky. St. Louis, Timeless Press, 1991.

The Shore. Roslyn, New York, Stone House Press, 1991.

Pterodactyl Rose: Poems of Ecology. St. Louis, Time Being Books, 1991.

Two Poems of Ecology (broadside). Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1991.

Brockport Milkweed (broadside). Brockport, New York, Challenger Press, 1992.

Brockport Snow (broadside). Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1992.

Ribbons: The Gulf War. St Louis, Time Being Books, 1992.

The Tower. Drayton, England, Magpie Press, 1993.

The Host: Selected Poems 1965–1990. St Louis, Time Being Books, 1994.

Owl Winter (broadside). Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1994.

Blackberries (broadside). Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1996.

Crazy Horse in Stillness: Poems. Rochester, New York, BOA Editions, 1996.

Windfall (broadside). Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1997.

Diana, Charles, & the Queen. Rochester, New York, BOA Editions, 1998.


Vic Holyfield and the Class of 1957. New York, Ballantine/Available Press, 1986.


From This Book of Praise: Poems and a Conversation with William Heyen, edited by Vince Clemente. Port Jefferson, New York, Street Press, 1978.

With Me Far Away: A Memoir. Roslyn, New York, Stone House

Press, 1994.

Pig Notes & Dumb Music: Prose on Poetry. Rochester, New York, BOA Editions, 1998.

Editor, Profile of Theodore Roethke. Columbus, Ohio, Charles E. Merrill, 1971.

Editor, American Poets in 1976. Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1976.

Editor, I Would Also Like to Mention Aluminum: A Conversation with William Stafford. Pittsburgh, Slow Loris Press, 1976.

Editor, The Generation of 2000: Contemporary American Poets. Princeton, New Jersey, Ontario Review Press, 1984.

Editor, with Elizabeth Spires, The Pushcart Prize 15, 1990–1991: Best of the Small Presses. Wainscott, New York, Pushcart Press.1990.

Editor, Dumb, Beautiful Monsters: Long Island Poets. Northport, Birnham Wood Graphics, 1996.


Bibliography: "Nothing We Do Is Ever Lost to the Light: William Heyen, A Preliminary Bibliography" by Ernest Stefanik, in Bulletin of Bibliography (Boston), summer 1979.

Manuscript Collections: Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University; University of Rochester Library, New York.

Critical Studies: "The Swastika Poems" by Sandra McPherson, November-December 1977, "Chapter and Verse" by Stanley Plumly, January-February 1978, and "One Man's Music" by Dave Smith, March-April 1980, all in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia); "The Harvest of a Quiet Eye" by Michael McFee, in Parnassus (New York), spring-summer 1982; John Drury, in Critical Survey of Poetry edited by Frank N. Magill, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Salem Press, 1983; "William Heyen" by Patrick Bizzaro, in Critical Survey of Literature edited by Frank Magill, Pasadena, California, Salem Books, 1992.

William Heyen comments:

Often when I was a boy, alone at ponds or in the woods of Long Island, I seemed to fall into a sleeping wakefulness, into trances within which I felt an all-encompassing sense of the beauty of reality and the "impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day," as Whitman says, that poets of primal consciousness sometimes embody in their poems. I of course had no language for these states of trance, and had not read any poetry, and feel only slightly more able to express them now, but they were times of mystical duration, and I sometimes still experience them. Maybe because I had no special awareness that such experiences were extraordinary (and I did not impoverish them with phrases like "mystical illumination" that have become clichés), I was not split from the natural world, observing it, but was part of its being, its essence and spirit. Far from the Nesconset kitchen where my mother was fixing dinner, far from the Smithtown woodworking shop where my father was operating his ripsaw, far from them and at Gibbs Pond and other ponds in a trance, I lived the life of primal mind, if only for a few minutes at a time, that the Lakota boy who would later receive the name Crazy Horse lived. A lily pad trembled; a black head poked up in the stem notch. The mud was warm to up over my ankles, the water to my genitals. I was completely there, wordlessly, part of place and eternity. This, I think, was full consciousness in the truest sense, the life lived without the qualifications and diminishments of language. The Lakota boy must have known instinctively that words were at once sacred and helpless. Crazy Horse apparently spoke less than others. He sought visions more often than others. In my best poems, it may be, I approach the reverberations of those trance states. How to use words and story to get beyond words and story? Sometimes, somehow, maybe by way of the fusion of rhythm-music-image-idea, it can still happen. And once we are there, and not before, our world means.

*  *  *

When William Heyen began to explore his Long Island past in Noise in the Trees, later expanded into Long Island Light, he became a visionary poet. In his Long Island poems he balances formal control with emotional openness. Ever in dialogue with his spiritual father, the great Long Island poet Walt Whitman, Heyen goes on his own version of the journey outlined in "Song of Myself." In the spirit of Thoreau, who "travelled much in Concord," Heyen stays at home and descends within himself into various layers of the past. The spirits of American literary forefathers, above all Whitman, accompany him. Heyen ascends with fragments of his local, regional, and national heritage. He suffers pain over the loss of the land, which he dares to equate with the loss of young love, but he grows spiritually as a result.

The emotional openness of Noise is paralleled by an experiment in form. Between the two sequences of poems, Heyen places a prose memoir, "Noise in the Trees," a series of twenty-five vignettes from his youth, sketches, prose poems, dreams, fantasies, legends, excerpts from histories, journals, even a geological dictionary. The poems and prose are fused by the author's obsessive retrieval of what he calls his "island of the mind."

Long Island Light is an expansion and deepening of Noise. Some thirty-one new poems and ten prose pieces, written with increased authority, intensify the return to origins, extend the search for heritage into the present, and clarify the timelessness of the vision. The new poems about his life as a husband and father in his "second home," Brockport, New York, add a maturity and progression that suggest that Heyen has the resources and dedication to enlarge this ambitious collection.

Heyen's continuing obsession with his Long Island past and the poems it produces remind one of Whitman's ever expanding Leaves of Grass. The depth of Heyen's emotional and spiritual commitment, the steady growth of his technical skills, and the intensification of his vision have elevated the people and places of his Long Island—the farmer Wenzel, Gibbs Pond, Lake Ronkonkoma, Short Beach, St. James Harbor, Nesconset, even the Jericho Turnpike—to the status of myth. To quote a line from his first book, Heyen has indeed found in his Long Island past "detail that deepens to fond symbol."

Heyen's deepening rootedness in Brockport has also yielded the superb poems in Brockport, New York: Beginning with "And." In the spirit of the great Chinese poet Li Po, evoked in several poems, Heyen lifts his "local" Brockport, on the Erie Canal, to the cosmos beyond and connects his life and that of his small town contemporaries to the continuities of life in any place and time. From within his cabin, located behind his Brockport house, he discovers that "all the ground is window." The universe pulsates in the backyard.

Heyen's obsession with family heritage drives him into the darkness of the Holocaust in The Swastika Poems, later expanded into Erika: Poems of the Holocaust. Poems addressed to his German uncles, both of whom died in World War II, emerge as part of Heyen's dialogue with the darker side of himself. When he tells his Nazi father-in-law, "I have a stake in this," he speaks for all moral beings. The first five poems in the book establish Heyen's personal "stake" in the subject as he confronts the ghosts of his family's past and retells their stories, which intersect with the larger and darker stories of the war and the Holocaust. In the central prose piece, and in the best poems in the collection, the simple but powerful language compels us to revisit and reflect on the tragic dimensions of the Holocaust. This is a difficult, courageous, and redeeming collection. Such poems as "Simple Truths," "The Riddle," and "The Children" will outlast the age in which they were written.

Nowhere is Heyen's affection for Whitman more evident than in the book-length The Chestnut Rain. Like "Song of Myself," it contains fifty-two sections that tenderly carry the reader along on a journey that flashes back and forth from past to present as it spirals in and out of the self, incorporating and documenting the age in which it was written and both lamenting and celebrating the poet's America, past and present. And like "Song of Myself," it is a love poem, but it is filled with more darkness and sorrow. In the outstanding "At West Hills, Long Island," Heyen re-creates the sacramental moment of the birth of American's greatest poet and, in an image that echoes "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," consecrates "the float forever held in suspension." No poet of our time has demonstrated more profoundly than Heyen how essential Whitman's vision is to our spiritual survival and salvation.

—Norbert Krapf