In Outskirts, Heathen continues the life-long praxis to realize Rukeyser’s vision of poetry as a harnessing of human consciousness to change the world. From the lived personal experiences of the author embedded in places of war and genocide, the trauma of violence and rape known firsthand both within and outside of the delineation of conflict zones, they write in concert with fellow outcasts in communal resistance to nationalist and authoritarian impulses both in history and now on the rise around the world and in the United States. With references to punk rock, sacred texts, partizankas in Yugoslavia, painters, and other writers, Heathen summons from the ouija of a larger-than-human ecological consciousness, the connections between past and present, the self and others, (other creatures, other lives, other landscapes) living and dead, enacting this desire through a poetic language that will never cease its longing. Outskirts embodies the call to fuck the patriarchy and to never stop fighting for a better world through the enlargement of love and community beyond man-made borders.
About the Author
Heathen (Heather Derr-Smith) is a poet with four previously published books, Each End of the World (Main Street Rag Press, 2005), The Bride Minaret (University of Akron Press, 2008), Tongue Screw (Spark Wheel Press, 2016) and Thrust (Persea Books, 2017). Outskirts is their fifth book. Heathen is also the founder and director of Čuvaj se/Take Care, a nonprofit supporting writers in conflict zones and communities affected by trauma.
Advanced praise for Outskirts
“When the girl dies in martyr stories her head goes on singing or testifies,” Heathen writes, and indeed, in this ravishing collection there is both singing and testifying. These poems sweep us up in their lavish intelligence, transformative imagination, extremity of witness, and wounding beauty, and we are changed. Heathen manages a fusion of history and the scorching present tense, and experience, both mythic and embodied. The poems arrive from the outskirts and from the interior, from the dead, and from death itself and its “gradations of dark.” The scope of Heathen’s diction is masterful, from the reportage of arresting detail: “On the front line we ate black bread stained with cuttlefish ink,” to the hallucinatory: “the azalea of sex opening / and closing its bloom between your legs,” to concrete wisdom, “ History has a way of changing your mind, when you’re in the middle of it,” to the visionary: “How between snipers on the front lines, / a beautiful horse appeared, her mane and tail / blowing in the wind, snowflakes / gathering on her eyelashes.” Outskirts is what happens when a writer of rare lyric gifts is willing to put their body on the line, and lives to sing of it.
Outskirts is a summons from the vivid, living margins, a whirl across countries that share the same war-colored sky. With precision and emotional depth, Heathen locates the tender bruises and the living highs found “in extremis,” naming and linking the existential reality of “women’s bodies, all history, migration, and broken lands.” Invoking Pilate’s wife who declaims, “I want no country, least of all / this one,” Heathen critiques empire while leaping for the throat of misogyny. Yet their hold is tender, compassion threaded as a needle and pulled through these poems. Outskirts’ pages burn with an irrepressible fire, its lines the burning coals the poet heaps with love and ferocity.
In Heathen’s Outskirts, boys man “daisy-cutter bombs, burn bags, hellhounds” while women, worldwide, endure war in their litany of daily indignities. The effects resound through the collection, from the middle of war when “neither one of us could remember, even things we knew by heart” to the post-war in which the narrators learn to “forgive God his violence.” The poems careen across the globe, through endless tragedy and moments of light like “amethyst in the river’s beach,” arriving at a silence and a re-arming that portends an endless loop of what we have all just endured. Heathen is a poet full of quiet observation, of grace and beauty found even in moments of extreme terror. The silence they leave us with is not unlike a children’s choir singing at the site of a former atrocity—chilling especially in what it projects for the future.
Outskirts is a combustion engine of desire & violence, a punk devotional to the fringes that Heathen once again masterfully maps with voracious honesty & a sure vision, intricate & blunt. This book roars like a “girl with kerosene in her mouth”—each poem handing you a lit match to guide your way through the torn terrain, from the siege in Sarajevo to The Troubles in Northern Ireland to former rock idols revealed in their harm. On every page, Heathen honors & loves the women witnesses she looses upon us—women who deeply understand that war stories are at heart survival stories, even in death—“When the girl dies in martyr stories her head goes on singing or testifies.” The spirits this ecstatic collection of poems calls forth will inhabit you, take root in you as “both the trick and the belief in it.”