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Friday, 13 April 2007

Poem by Steven Heighton

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Steven Heighton (pictured) this Friday the 13th. Heighton is one of the five or so leading writers of his generation in Canada, somewhat equivalent, say, to Tobias Hill in England - that is, he is both a fine poet and prose writer. I've known (of) him for years - he was already editor of Quarry when I was first starting to submit work to little magazines, in my late teens, early twenties. He took one of my first published poems. He's the author of one of the best poems written by a Canadian in the last 25 years - "The Machine Gunner". When I was compiling my selection of the best younger Canadian poets for New American Writing, in 2005, I said in my Introduction to the section that I had not included his work, as he was already well-established. I wanted to make room for truly emerging, and somewhat younger, figures. Already, in 2005, Heighton was a figure of international prominence.

He is the author of the novel Afterlands, published in 2005 in Canada and in 2006 in the USA, where it was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Editions have also appeared in Britain and Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. He has also published The Shadow Boxer—a Canadian bestseller and a Publishers’ Weekly Book of the Year for 2002—which appeared in five countries. His other fiction books are the story collections Flight Paths of the Emperor and On earth as it is, while his poetry collections include The Ecstasy of Skeptics and The Address Book.

His work has appeared in Poetry, The Independent, Malahat Review, The New York Times, Agni, Stand and has been internationally anthologised (Best English Stories, Best of Best English Stories, The Minerva Book of Stories and others) and has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Journey Prize, and Britain’s W.H. Smith Award. He has received the Lampert Award, The Petra Kenney Prize, the Air Canada Award, and gold medals for fiction and for poetry in the National Magazine Awards. In 2002-03 he was the writer-in-residence at Concordia University, and in 2004 at the University of Toronto. This year he will be an instructor at the Summer Literary Seminars in St Petersburg, Russia. He lives with his family in Kingston, Ontario.

Constellations

After bedtime the child climbed on her dresser
and peeled phosphorescent stars off the sloped
gable-wall, dimming the night vault of her ceiling
like a haze or the interfering glow
of a great city, small hands anticipating
eons as they raided the playful patterns
her father had mapped for her—black holes now
where the raised thumb-stubs and ears of the Bat
had been, the feet of the Turtle, wakeful
eyes of the Mourning Dove. She stuck those paper
stars on herself. One on each foot, the backs
of her hands, navel, tip of nose and so on,
then turned on the lamp by her bed and stood close
like a child chilled after a winter bath
pressed up to an air duct or a radiator
until those paper stars absorbed more light
than they could hold. Then turned off the lamp,
walked out into the dark hallway and called.

Her father came up. He heard her breathing
as he clomped upstairs preoccupied, wrenched
out of a rented film just now taking grip
on him and the child's mother, his day-end
bottle of beer set carefully on the stairs,
marking the trail back down into that evening
adult world—he could hear her breathing (or
really, more an anxious, breathy giggle) but
couldn’t see her, then in the hallway stopped,
mind spinning to sort the apparition
of fireflies hovering ahead, till he sensed
his daughter and heard in her breathing
the pent, grave concentration of her pose,
mapped onto the star-chart of the darkness,
arms stretched high, head back, one foot slightly raised—
the Dancer, he supposed, and all his love
spun to centre with crushing force, to find her
momentarily fixed, as unchanging
as he and her mother must seem to her,
and the way the stars are; as if the stars are.
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