& i dreamt i shot arrows in my amazon bra
Larry Sawyer reviews
a purchase in the white botanica, by Piero Heliczer
I looked forward to reading a purchase in the white botanica by Piero Heliczer, having heard his name mentioned among the elite cadre who are considered to be the best of the underground filmmakers of the late 1960s, New York scene. Two of his collections, I learned, were published in his lifetime by his own press, dead language, and now this book represents almost everything collected and considered to be his lifetime poetic output. Staring out at me from the cover of this well-designed book, Heliczer himself, in a photo taken by Gerard Malanga in Paris, circa 1970, seems to beckon to us to come inside and look around.
‘i am the sort of figure meant to be heretic
[‘soul searching institute’, uncollected]
Heliczer emerges from the pages of this book as if some exiled wanderer from an Old English poem. The best of what exists in this collection interests this reviewer because of its eccentric qualities. Much of contemporary poetry seems banal in comparison. The quotidian has its place in Heliczer’s work, but it is filtered through an Old World lens. Heliczer is not some lost American original, but this book will add a bit to his mystique. America does not suffer fools gladly, but at some point in the process that’s what poets risk. But poets are fools of a divine sort, who explore regions of thought hitherto undiscovered. At least that has been the accepted, Romantic understanding. Has America produced an equivalent to Gerard de Nerval? In Heliczer, I think that is what we have, but because he was primarily a member of the underground, his work is not as well known as some, and rightly so. His is a poetry that exists far from any workshop. It is our good fortune that this book has appeared to give the apparition of his talent a coherent shape for our present-day world.
‘all of my actions are self-made prisons
‘there is an open scar on my right hand
In the sort-of easy, surrealist, mannerism of Heliczer’s work, we are simultaneously charmed and made aware of a dark undercurrent of thought that keeps us questioning his intention. His line breaks and diction do seem arbitrary at times, but his metaphors provide many interesting hooks that coalesce with assonance in the imagination long after this book is set aside for other interests.
Jacket 18 — August 2002
This material is copyright © Larry Sawyer
and Jacket magazine 2002