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The Address Book

by Steven Heighton

The poems in Steven Heighton’s fourth collection cover subjects from mixed tapes to dreamy landscapes, but all are painted with introspection, and all worthy of slow digestion. The Address Book is a portrait of an artist as an older, more experienced man, whose stories teem with enough stirring ferocity to stamp a lasting impression.

In many poems, questions reveal a curiosity that sparks mental and physical journeys. That restlessness is often addressed directly, such as in the attack on complacency in “Gravesong.” The poem asks, “Why will you stall till the stalling’s your life?/It’s wake yourself now or never be woken.” Heighton has a knack for quickly moving from the blunt to the lyrical, depending on the tone needed for the piece. Whatever construct he chooses, the ideas drip with emotion. There is clear anger in a critique of CNN, self-realization in the title poem, and sorrow over the blighted ecology in “Lost Waterfalls.”

“Mixed Tapes,” one of the collection’s more memorable poems, examines the symbolism of a peculiar cultural trend. Heighton hints at order within a chaotic mix of songs that has the fragile singer-songwriter Nick Drake “opening” for the more mercurial Nina Simone: “you pick tracks of singers scattered/ in time, and temper – yet bound by the way/they overheard your heart, and pinched/ its unformed lines….”

The last third of the book honours long-dead poetic masters – Rimbaud, Sappho, Rilke – but in doing so sacrifices emotional intensity. Heighton’s nod to the greats acknowledges influences, but it lacks the nuances that shape this otherwise exquisite collection.