What I’m Reading: “Graft” by Helen Heath
I feel it’s been too long since my “Just Arrived” or “What I’m Reading” posts have included a book of poetry—so today I’m delighted to tell you that I’m reading Helen Heath’s debut collection, Graft, recently out from Victoria University Press.
One of the aspects that immediately interested me with this book was what I call the “history of science” poems, focused around such seminal figures as Sir Isaac Newton (Night’s Magic), Marie Curie (Radiant), astronomer Beatrice Tinsley (Spiral Arms) and Galileo Galilei (And Yet It Moves.) The poem Making Tea In The Universe, which won the inuagural ScienceTeller Poetry Award in 2011 is also part of this sequence—possibly, given my own interest in both history and science, my favourite in the collection.
Having said that, there are several other very fine sequences, around the life and death of the poet’s mother, what I think of as the Fairytale commentary sequence, with the prose poem Fairytale iv: O Brother possibly my favourite. I particularly liked the way it linked the traditional Hansel & Gretel fairytale with more contemporary experience of the same themes. As those who know me also know, so called “prose poetry” is generally “not my favourite”—but in this case I really have to make an exception.
The other very strong section in the book is titled Ithaca, but unlike the legendary history that informs my own Ithaca Conversations sequence, this is again a more contemporary version of ‘odyssey’—exploring the return journeys of emigrant children to the ancestral earth. The sequences Postcards and the title work Graft, both explore these themes.
I am finding Graft a strong, well crafted collection overall, but with some outstanding individual poems as well. I am looking forward to interviewing Helen Heath for Women on Air this coming week and also—with her agreement—bringing you a Tuesday Poem feature.
'Newton was not the first of the age of reason He was the last of the magicians...' – John Maynard Keynes
When Isaac closes his eyes
he is hanging, arms outstretched
only faith keeps him
from falling – a magic trick.
In his left hand is the Book of Revelations
in the right, the Book of Nature,
written in geometry.
– from Night’s Magic
(c) Helen Heath, Graft, Victoria University Press, 2012