Barbara Henning

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Warming at Simon Pettet's Hearth

In Hearth (Talisman, 2008), Simon Pettet is in love and in loss with his lover, the street, his suffering and he's singing and musing about it in an odd slanted way.

Instead of giving an answer, he left.
Later, he wrote a long letter
without saying a word about it.
No one was wiser. (2)

There's an answer in Simon Pettet's poems but it is always a sideways glance. He often yokes the most profound problems and situations with the most ordinary, for example holding back the flood of the Nile that carries "flotsam and jetsam" and "Give up cigarettes. Avoid all forms of poison." Hold back the flood with personal restraint. And then we are swept away with the poem and our lives. There are details that seem everlasting and then the reminder of our fragility--

the robin and the butterfly
and the leaf and the flame
and the extinction (121)

Or everything can be deeply philosophical until Simon turns it upside down and makes it ordinary—

You once said that I was
Ruminating deep red was it? but I was
doing no such thing

I was just giving poetry readings. (66)

Many of the poems are humorous, and very 70-80-90 New York School and of course Simon is part of New York School St. Marks Poetry Project community. One of my favorite early poems, and I think it is from the 70's, is "Wireless" dedicated to Harris Schiff. I am not an uninvolved observer here. I know both of these poets and I hear the sound of Harris's voice in between the lines and I definitely hear Simon's voice when he writes. "Wired? Not me, Sheriff, I'm much too old for that" (9).For a moment I think I'm at St. Marks, sitting behind these two, during intermission.

But I'm spoiled ma like our hound dog, or a spaceman,
I can think of nothing higher than the moon. (12)



will not bother
the scholar
who bought the house

and who wrote
the definitive book

on "the third eye"

and who lives alone now
(possibly in the back there)

in reflected ghost-light,
(the naked bulb),

drinking beers,
and watching re-runs

The Twilight Zone (144)

With simple humor and straight out general statements about emotions and love, he then veers off in quirky directions.


When you permit me to see
With lucidity my anger
Know that it shines straight
Into your dark forest

Cutting through the inadequacies
With which we clothe ourselves
Like brambles So illuminating
That private place like some good soldier
That we call our heart (21)

Anger becomes warrior light into the heart and at the same time little spikes that shelter vulnerability. Sometimes Simon is ecstatic, like Rimbaud, or Elio Schneeman: "O winter of New York!/how decidedly damp you are!.../containing whole universes!" (25) "It's the truth!/ O Jump Now before balmy death/Time shall not take away our breath. (52) Or "it is water!—/our/every/fucking/precious/sparkling/moment!" (174).

Then there are the jagged combination of things arranged in
    unexpected ways--
The books on the sidewalk are dutifully arranged
The officer is a moonlighter because he works at the other precinct
Dance performers from around the world are advertised on a torn
poster. I can't see them though, since my dog is blind. I make a wish.
    I wish
for another one. The tethered akita is granted a reprieve. All of this
    all the
time. Every conceivable moment. All the worlds you'd ever want to know.


The mathematics of birdsong
has eluded me until the present
Laconic cable messages
speeding over the wires (83)

"The mathematics of birdsong", all these poems shooting back and forth over the internet. Here always the hard look at life but with a tender heart, optimism, and a raised eyebrow. And then a wink.

I am squatting like the proverbial egg on a wall
White concrete, it will hurt me if I fall
It is the hour of mid-to-late afternoon
Summer seems—and actually is—endless (170)

Simon Pettet's poems are at times philosophical, lyrical, spacey, funny, sad, weird, leaving us with the image of Humpty Dumpty, teetering on the edge of the wall. He is fragile and he will fall. And so will we. We can endlessly worry about it or we can celebrate our endless summer with the sun on the back of the squatting boy, the hearth of the present. Thanks Simon for giving us this Hearth.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Novel by Barbara Henning : Thirty Miles To Rosebud

My new novel is now available from BlazeVox. Any one interested in reviewing let me or Geoffrey Gatza at BlazeVox know. Thanks to all. Barbara

Order from
  • BlazeVox

  • Order from
  • Amazon

  • Soon available to order from
  • Small Press Distribution

  • Here's some of the PR:

    Title: THIRTY MILES TO ROSEBUD 232 pp.
    Author: Barbara Henning ISBN 13: 9781935402251
    Genre: Literary Fiction LOC 2009923618
    Release Date: November 15, 2009 $18.00
    Publisher: BlazeVox 800-869-7553
    Cover by Miranda Maher


    Thirty Miles to Rosebud is a mystery, a journey of self-discovery, a love story, and a story of bohemian life in the United States in the 70s and 80s. As a young teenager, Katie runs away from her home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a boyfriend, a van and little else. She leaves behind her father and the cabin where she grew up, along with visceral memories of her mother and the landscape of her childhood, the dense forests and dark blue of Lake Superior. The novel shifts between rural and urban landscapes—jazz clubs in Detroit, Hari Krishnas in Tompkins Square, Vietnam War vets in a VA hospital, driving through the desert, a makeshift apartment on a rooftop in NYC, underground music clubs in the East Village, and a yoga shala in Mysore, India. All of these stories unfold seamlessly with a lyrical, calm and almost contemplative narrative voice as Katie searches on the road and through memory for a long-lost friend and the roots of her fractured sense of self.


    Thirty Miles To Rosebud depicts a series of imploding families and fast interstates. Barbara Henning's landscapes—a rust-belt childhood, a nearly forgotten East Village Bohemia and the arid Southwest streaked with the setting sun—are populated by runaways, lost loves and lifelong betrayals. In this remarkable novel, Henning's eye for detail and her emotional honesty enables the past to loom in the rear-view mirror long after the car has sped by. Donald Breckinridge

    One of Barbara Henning’s great accomplishments is the voice we came to appreciate in You, Me, and the Insects. It presents her world with a candor both companionable and profound, both disengaged and intimate. She has no agenda but to tell her own story, which is the story physical, emotional, and spiritual, of her generation. Wisdom enters her telling as easily as a deer crosses a road. And many deer do, because this is a book in line with Celine’s crazed Castle To Castle, Douglas Woolf’s Wall to Wall, Kerouac’s romantic On The Road, Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thirty Miles to Rosebud stands with all of them as one of the great memoir road novels of our time. Steve Katz

    Author's Bio—

    Barbara Henning is the author of two other novels, You, Me and the Insects and Black Lace (Spuyten Duyvil). Her books of poetry include My Autobiography, Detective Sentences, Love Makes Thinking Dark, Smoking in the Twilight Bar. A collection of prose and poetry, Cities & Memory, is forthcoming from Chax Press in 2010. She teaches creative writing courses in the MFA programs at Long Island University in Brooklyn and for Naropa University in Boulder. A native Detroiter and a long time resident of New York City, she now lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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