Eighth in the Mountain West Poetry Series, edited by Stephanie G’Schwind & Donald Revell

The poems in Derek Henderson’s Songs are “translations” of a film cycle of the same name, shot by American filmmaker Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) to document his and his family’s life in Colorado in the mid-1960s. Where Brakhage’s films provide a subjective visual record of his experience bewildered by the eye, these poems let language bewilder the space a reader enters through the ear. Henderson tenders the visual experience of Brakhage’s films—films of the domestic and the wild, the private and political, the local and global—into language that insists on the ultimate incapacity of language—or of image—to fully document the comfort and the violence of intimacy. Songs expresses the ecstasy we so often experience in the company of family, but it just as urgently attests to ecstasy’s turbulent threat to family’s stability. Like Brakhage’s films, Henderson’s poems carry across into language and find family in every moment, even the broken ones, all of them abounding in hope.

“These Songs are poems that telescope in scale, that look at fireflies and then the whole night sky, or at pictures of mountains right next to mountains. Derek Henderson’s eye—which is a window I love looking through—discovers that it matters very little whether what we’re looking at is the drop of water in the canal, or the canal itself, or the whole ocean. Everything he sees is holy, holy, holy.” —Kathryn Cowles

“Part prophecy, part history. Part eulogy, part protest. Songs is/are both dead and alive, not-songs echoing and outpouring entropy, ecstasy, proliferation, and containment. A rich fusion and frisson of contraries—an oracular riot of history contained in the instant. Water, war, sex, and God play over and play out. Still lifes burst into bloom, film frames scream ecstatically. What we see in these little lenses is seeing itself: ‘Eyes zoom constantly in all these songs.’ Henderson’s frantic vision is personal and multiple, an opening of the field, a bombardment.”  —Martin Corless-Smith

“To open Derek Henderson’s Songs is to unlock euphonies of several storied light: O: let the sound out, stories and the force of them out through the window. Here is a poet who welcomes us into a house wrought from window, sand gone clear song, song gone clear shine. Open this poem and one open window is song. Turn the page and all turns are messages. Through Henderson’s capacious gaze and attentive ear, we witness window and world and how their joint holds us alongside the sill-caught leaves; we perceive how all at once God breaks everything always into song. Pull the bell-ropes! Raise high the roof beams! Look through these mullioned windows on a world spied in all its tender parts, margins, and partings—even in all its cut-glass breakage—with this singular poet’s grace. ” —Julie Paegle


Derek Henderson is alive and well in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he lives with his kids, cats, and pug. He is the author of Thus & (if p then q, 2011) and co-author, with Derek Pollard, of Inconsequentia (BlazeVOX, 2010). He teaches English at the Walden School for the Liberal Arts in Provo, Utah.

Read an excerpt from Songs.