By Ed Meek
In Good Harbor, poet Max Heinegg draws on his gift for lyricism as he considers his family, love, school, and the places he has been.
Good Harbor by Max Heinegg. Lily Review Books, Whitman, MA, 55 pages, $18.
Just as art is not necessarily beautiful, poetry is not necessarily graceful. To write eloquent verse, the poet must have an agile ear for alluring sound. Many of my favorite poets have that admirable facility. Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost, W.B. Yeats. But magic of that quality is rare. This is Roethke territory: “I knew a woman, lovely in her bones.” Or Dylan Thomas: “I sang in my chains like the sea.” Or Emily Dickinson: “Hope is the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul. “ At its best, Max Heinegg’s verse casts this kind of aural spell. It is a pleasure to read, in the same way that it is a pleasure to view the visual lyricism of an Impressionist painting or a movie made by Terrence Malick or Jane Campion. In Good Harbor, Heinegg makes use of this linguistic gift as he considers his family, love, school, and the places he has been.
Author William Kittredge once said that good writing is about juggling a number of balls at the same time. In “Cassiopeia,” Heinegg draws on astronomy, myth, and his relationship with his daughters.
Heinegg goes on to recount the story of Cassiopeia, who “only boasted once that her girl/outclassed the holy spirits of the sea/rousing their father to revenge.”
Here is the last stanza, where he refers to his daughters:
In this and other of the volume’s poems, Heinegg captures the fierce love we feel for our children. And he expresses this primal passion with a deft lyrical richness.
“Triptych After Golding” describes the poet’s love of teaching in the diverse environment of our contemporary urban schools. He underlines the irony of using the Americanized names of his students when their family names are so beautiful.
The title poem “Good Harbor” is about a trip to the beach of that name in Gloucester. The title also doubles as a metaphor for domesticity and safety. The poet is at the sea side with his family. “Sandbar to sandbar on the last day of August/we walk Good Harbor—” They receive a text that a niece is in the ER — she consumed some poison berries. “The waves rock and collapse/with the weight of our worry…Eventually all of us/see that shame is pointless and self-inflicted.”
Although the poems in Good Harbor range geographically, from Maine to Florida, their emotional scope stays well within the boundaries of home, family, and school. In the last poem of the book, the poet recollects picking blueberries in Acadia.
Notice how the last line invites the reader to share in Heinegg’s bounty — words, not photos, are the offering. Lucky for us that the poet deigns to unlock his verse to provide us with joy and appreciation.
Ed Meek is the author of High Tide (poems) and Luck (short stories).