Review by Alan Catlin: Street Corner Spirits by Westley Heine

review first published in, Issue No. 37, Winter 2024

Westley Heine, Street Corner Spirits: poems and flash fiction, Roadside Press, available from or your favorite online retailer, 2023, 146 pages, $15

Street Corner Spirits is the second Roadside Press publication for Heine following his novel about trying to make his way as a street musician in Chicago, Busking Blues. While Heine claims not to be a poet, there are some great moments of pure poetic fire as Heine here. He can turn a phrase and rip off amazing lines with ease. From AA meetings where he talks of pouring booze in his inner child, to his time on the street, he represents what he calls the “missing chromosome generation.” My favorite of these is “Sugar Skull” which resounds with the breathless authority of Howl on acid,

“She was sure she could
lead the homeless army
over the wall of the
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
to dig up the Pharaoh
and use his skull
like a radio to free
the internet slaves.”
(from “Sugar Skull”)

There are four distinct sections of Street Corner Spirits, which could be summed up as follows,
2-Somewhere between teenaged and adult
3-Mature and more settled
4-As we live now in a Brave New World. I have seen the future and it is Apocalypse Now!

There is a great deal of raw energy in the first two sections as Heine throws words on a page and seeks a voice to channel all the memories of bad choices made and lived with. As he settles into a less peripatetic, more focused life, marries, and moves on with a sense of direction, he finds a new sense of personal peace. Heine expresses his vision of the society as a festering boil about to explode by writing songs, performing, and painting. The energy that went into living the life that is expounded upon in the poems is often chaotic and so are the poems which vary in effectiveness from knock your socks off amazing to nice try, better luck next time. His work as a poet feels like a work in progress but this collection clearly shows he is well on his way to getting there.

It should be noted that there are a few brief prose stories included that parallel the poetic work. While they feel almost incidental compared with the energetic poetry, the rent party, “Keep Your Shirt On” has a manic quality that suggests partying with Pynchon and the bright young things. I am on board also with his idea of a “Pay Per View Apocalypse.” Live streaming the heat death of the universe seems like the coming thing.

—Alan Catlin, author of Bar Guide for the Seriously Deranged

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