Poetry Review – THERE MAY NOT BE A REASON WHY: Julie Hogg is deeply impressed by Nicki Heinen’s debut collection
Nicki Heinen’s collection There May Not Be A Reason Why is a debut of substance. This is powerful work of prominence and accomplished sass. Heinen’s voice is graceful and searingly honest, making its mark here in no uncertain terms.
In a letter Keats wrote to his brother, he described ‘The Vale of Soul-making’- that is the idea of suffering and the state of melancholy being catalysts for soul creation. In a similar vein, Nicki Heinen fluidly harnesses great sadness and resilience in her Keatsian ‘Vale,’ creating elegantly significant poems such as ‘Melancholia’ in which
I walk in green fields, caught between the day and the night, picking stars like September blackberries, fighting blackness.
The speaker metaphorically travels to, ‘The Mouth of the River Grief’:
At the onset of the king-spindly feeling my mouth grew numb and no longer spoke the sounds of the sea in the rush of night the feeling returned and I had a trembling in my knees and calves
From this collection’s biographical background we learn of the poet’s own experience of sectioning and hospitalisation under the Mental Health Act. Poems of weight and gravity are finely balanced throughout the sequence which is satisfyingly ordered, achieving an effortless and intuitive equilibrium. A variety of forms include delightfully polished and proficient prose poems such as ‘Summer at St Pancras Hospital’ which describes personified stifling:
You could never imagine it: a California sun bleeding down on the rotting plaster, the cracked tiles erupting weeds, a summer gone bad in the crater of today, yesterday, tomorrow, every day the same but for the occasional bath…
Recurrent sensations flood Heinen’s poetry; ‘The Houseplant Has Come Alive’ has its own unique flavour and rolls like waves:
all you need to know about my pain is that the other side of the universe is each of us light wind freckling our faces morsel of lobster-in-cream look at the sun and the rocks the sea the sea the sea
Particular and exact imagery flows cohesively throughout each poem, stimulating the senses; NHS monograms, feathers, ‘Lebowski’ a much-loved cat, striking colours entwinned with soft trails of cigarette smoke. In the title poem, ‘There May Not be a Reason Why’ the poet declares “I put my hands into/the steel pail of soaked raspberries / just to feel the blood/dab the juice on my breasts”
In testimony to Heinen’s skill, ‘Solent Ward’ is an unforgettable and chilling poem where she exposes and calls out sexual abuse:
The nurse says nothing as he follows me, keeping the length of two corpses behind me. I see him only out of the corner of my eye. He comes in to my room pushes the door behind him, it shuts with a papery click Shhh he says, …
‘La Gironde’ is one of many hauntingly natural poems here. Lines in the first stanza provoke a sharp intake of breath: “white into oil-spill into stop-sign into rain ¬– / grey falling over everything like a spotted trout sinking.” Then, “The night is wearing its heat tight – / close-cropped like topiary” In the final stanza; “… it is cold across the universe, / I feel it”
This poet is brave. Heinen is unafraid to write in direct, matter-of fact manner when this is called for by particularly strong poems such as; ‘Quarantine in a flat at the cradle of the station’, ‘Fire-eating in Waterloo’, ‘Functioning’:
I am afraid of solipsism she said as she popped an olive into her mouth
and also, ‘The Night Before’, an intense poem regarding the cruelty of heartbreak which snaps in two at an open wound ending.
Dresses float through this collection. ‘Lace’ acknowledges unsaid truths, at more wedding dress fittings than one might care to imagine, by flying in the face of expected protocol:
She picks five, and the assistant reaches up to close the wine-dark velvet curtain, blocking the bride from view as the secret ritual plays out. I sit on the patterned chaise-longue, not knowing what I should be feeling, not knowing if I will ever be able to feel again.
‘The Red Dress’ retrospectively reminisces:
He bought it for me after I’d got fined £50 for putting out my cigarette in the street
and a dress is conjured, ‘Don’t Obsess Over Things You Can’t Control’:
The poppy in the garden will die before the autumn’s over and I’m not OK with that fact. Neither is it right or proper that I myself am finite as poppies fading in the cold wind. Is it the end yet? Put your red dress on and dance the winter in.
A treasure discovered in and through adversity, Nicki Heinen’s debut stirs the soul. Her poetry is transformative and creates a lasting impression. I’m curious and intrigued to look out for Heinen’s future writing.