Review by David Alec Knight: Street Corner Spirits by Westley Heine

The streets listen to you — listen to them as you read this book.

Knowing Westley Heine’s poetry and prose from previous works, and confident in his talent as a writer to educate, entertain, evoke and empathize (and sometimes all in the same work) Street Corner Spirits: poems & flash fiction, from Roadside Press, was an easy purchase.

Heine, with a mix of nostalgia, regret, and a much lived in awareness, comments on growing up in “Boys and Girls” — it deals with the first fixation, a lust of a sort, the wrestling with possessiveness, and how that follows him into adulthood. In “Peach Schnapps” he talks about the first time he got drunk as a teen, and how the passing of a friend from those days haunts him now. In “Scarecrow Joe” Heine and his friends have regular run-ins with a local homeless man who has some form of cognitive delay. Heine’s dad tells him a story that puts Joe’s life into tragic perspective. Heine conveys so well that sudden feeling of dawning realization. “Bomb” is about a bomb threat at school that his friends are blamed for. False blame often happened when one wore a Metallica shirt.

His long poem “Eulogies For Youth” shows tremendous advancement in his skill as a poet to sustain reader attention with such a well crafted flow of words in a long work that is not overlong. He puts into perspective his childhood, his teen years, and further growing pains of young adulthood. A lesser poet would have taken twice as long to say so much. It’s a prime example of the beauty found in his free verse poetry — that lean, concise and calculated word choice for maximum effect…

“Us kids / out the window / escaping by bike pedal, the swamp fog lit gold by the / harvest moon, the smell of yeast and mint all around in great / singing freedom…”
And then later in the poem…
“We that danced in traffic at dawn. / That told cops that their lights were trippy, / Whose hometowns got bypassed by the future.”
“Eulogies For Youth” is simply a brilliant piece of work that commands rereading. I had to read it twice, then take a pause. It really hit me. It sets a high bar.

So many grow up, just to not fit in, and Heine feels for them — feels kinship with them. No matter how dark a theme his writing explores, his humanity is there in his voice. In “Plasma Deluge” he asks “Am I even here? / or infinity in a mirror?” “Digital World” is a scathing spoken word style rant on the state of society, with observations incisive and well chosen words sharpened. In “Street Corner Spirits,” “The city sounds like an ocean / as cars cut the inky night and streetlamps dance underwater.” In “Freak Kingdom” “They all end up here / schizos, shape-shifters, / like bugs to light they flock to Hollywood.”

In “Love” we read “…looking for ice cream / streetlights spin as the / rotating door reflects the / history of the world in the haze / ghosts flash between blinks / laughing because we’re in love…” There are poems about his wife, his dog, and another long poem that reads as if it is simply as long as it needs to be. “The Silent Auction” is another poem of the quality as “Eulogies For Youth” in the preceding section. We can see the influences of Lawrence Ferlinghetti perhaps, and of Carl Sandburg, and a bit of Charles Bukowski mixing with Heine’s heightened sense of musicality in his word choice, his line breaks and arrangements, owing to his musical background in blues through folk, rock, and metal. It’s all at work to examine the cycle of our existence.

The story “Voice To skull Transmission” is a slice of life story that plays with its proximity to the surreal, so it rewards rereading. The poem “The Smile Never Fades from My Skull” sums up our new pandemic world very well. “Pay Per View Apocalypse” is like cyber punk meets ‘the Beats’ meets William S. Burroughs. Only a musician who is also a writer could revel in his influences and maintain yet his own unique voice.

Much of Heine’s writing is going to be relatable to many. Just substitute a different location and a different decade and one will find how easily one can see how closely their experiences and feelings are shared in Street Corner Spirits by Westley Heine.

David Alec Knight is the author of Leper Mosh (Cajun Mutt Press)

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