David Peak: The Last Book (of Poetry) I Loved, Horror Vacui

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This is the one I return to, sometimes several times a year.

The term “Horror Vacui” has two definitions, both of which serve as a useful framework while skirting the abyss hinted at throughout Heise’s alternately gloomy and beautiful poems. 1) In art, the term references the fear of empty spaces, also known as “cenophobia.” For me, the idea conjures images of illuminated manuscripts, their surfaces obsessively scrawled with endless intersecting lines and images, inexhaustible detail. Or Bosch, his terrible garden. And, 2) In physics, it’s the theory that empty spaces attempt to suck in gas of liquids to avoid being empty.

It’s this second definition that I find most intriguing, because I’ve spent my entire life avoiding emptiness, fearing it, even. I fill myself with books, with language, thoughts and ideas. I fill myself, like so many people do, with the company of others.

And so what happens when that company departs?

In 26 poems–with lines that span the width of the page, blacking out the blank, broken by cadenced backslashes, bunches of brackets–Heise explores the yawning void opened in the wake of his father’s death, an attempt to fill himself with something, with those things that make us human: memories, flashes of teeth lit up red in the hissing flame of a match, images of dead and bloated dogs, the love we allow ourselves to feel, to remember, when we’re tired of our loneliness.

Life is messy. We obsess over its details, the overlap, the lulls in our calendars. And there’s always been something so cathartic about holding a collection of poetry, something so calibrated, collected, and letting that precision seep into the everyday. Heise’s book is a beautiful reminder, of sorts, that there is order to be found, to be constructed; it’s a reminder that there’s sense to be made out of the swirls of chaos.

And so I keep returning.


David Peak's most recent book is The River Through the Trees. His blog is davidpeak.blogspot.com. He lives in Chicago. More from this author →