Book Review

Eschaton by Michael Heller, published by Talisman House, is a collection of largely philosophically discursive poems, many of which are, perhaps, rendered in too much of a conversational tone for a thorough appreciation of them. There are, however, many poems that are more poetic in register, and these should be emphasized. They include: “About the Capitals,” “Creeks in Berkley,” “At Word Brink,” “Florida,” “Events Sporting,” and “My City.” “My City” is particularly interesting, it initially concerns itself with the entropic apparentness of phenomena but later hints at an underlying unity. The poem opens with:

This constellation is a name
before words

no god has a hand here,

and distillates of memory

crystallize then reveal
structural flaws

unplanned as cells
gone wild in a tumor

Here the initial observation of chaos is expressed. There is no beginning or end, for to have these, the “constellation” would, indeed, require a name before words—a command or program to precipitate its actuality; but it does not have this (“no god has a hand here”). However the lexis used, here, appears to belie this, with the words “constellation,” “name,” and “words” being redolent of the biblical passages relating to creation, and the statement at the beginning of the Gospel of John:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:14, New King James Version]

Instead of “creation,” we have “distillates of memory” crystallising to reveal “structural flaws.” Here, memory, rather than being characterized as a permanent connection to a tribal past and thus forming a continuity with present traditions, is seen as initially ephemeral until it “crystallizes,” or is made stable and significant by human perceptions of them, to reveal “structural flaws;” a condition, again, with biblical resonance, in this instance, that of “the fall of mankind.”

However, a turn in the poem occurs with, “but now a morning dove / coos on the window ledge,” again, biblically resonant of the return of the dove to Noah’s Ark after the flood, symbolizing a new beginning, or order arising after chaos. Even the sky, now, takes on a new significance:

The hole in the downtown
sky is of another order,

purchased from the fractals,

Even the damage to the ozone is now seen as inextricably linked to a sense of order and design, alluded to, here, by the word “fractals,” which are geometric patterns that are repeated at every scale and so cannot be represented by classical geometry, but rather, as some experimental mathematicians have suggested, imply an underlying intelligence sustaining their operation. These fractals are

made one with the incalculable
past tense about to conjugate a future

Here, we see the poem’s earlier disjunction between the tribal past and present traditions now resolving through allusion to a temporal unity whereby the past and future are seen holistically in almost theistic terms. Heller has been described as a “latter-day Jewish Yeats,” and from what can be gleaned from this and other poems, one can see why.

About the Reviewer

Jeffrey Side studied English at Liverpool University and Leeds University and has had poetry published in Poetry Salzburg Review, Underground Window, A Little Poetry, Poethia, nthposition, eratio, Ancient Heart, Blazevox, Lily, and Jacket, among others. He has reviewed poetry for New Hope International, Stride, Acumen, and Shearsman. He edits The Argotist Online and is the author of two poetry collections, Carrier of the Seed (Blazevox) and Slimvol (cPress).