A Table That Goes On For Miles by Stefania Heim

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A Table That Goes On For Miles has surprises on every page, and nearly every line. Stefania Heim’s years co-editing Circumference, a literary journal of poems in translation, has given her a special insight, and it’s important for a writer to distinguish between special and conventional insights—she has whittled down her lines to only meaning and beauty; there’s no fluff and no fat. Some writers write narrative; others write writing, and Heim is one of these.

Watch the motions of the mind, in “Termini”, as she subtly makes two people’s feelings and feelings about those feelings, palpable and real:

White sails cluttering
the horizon. Everything
bends. It is not strong

to not want. The sky is
kind and blue and hurts our eyes.
Where have we been

that we can still visit?
Past holiday, past Tuesday.
How do you feel?

Let us read our stars and
discredit them. Sit beside me
here. Write me letters.

Let us neither one go first.

The word “go” does much work here, as in “leave” and also “begin.” How often couples rewind their memories and their surroundings change as their fates intertwine. Heim is the master of using line breaks to increase tension.

She does not favor pyrotechnics or verbal fisticuffs. She uses nouns and verbs to heighten the poem’s awareness of the reader: the poems’ meanings demand the reader’s constant engagement, as in “A Large Mirror Unloaded From A Truck In The Sun”:

Passion clusters as though circumstance. A terrible
child, I grow apart. According to the original

rules, burn everything. Who could have anticipated
what we are becoming—in constraint, in circumspection.

I’ll think of some experiment to move us,
focusing on the lenses learned.

Circumstance, circumspection. The mirror allows the speaker to face not only her child-self, but the self that the self becomes. Instead of a lesson, it’s “lenses learned.” Focusing on the reflection is not merely a reflection of the surface.

In “Considering The Limitations Of The Force Of My Will”, there’s a channel to Gertrude Stein, and no one is better than Heim at wrangling the speaker’s thinking and whispering in the reader’s ear the mechanism of thought:

Knowing what I
want and wanting it.

Knowing what I
want and wanting not

to want it. Knowing what
wanting wants

of me, wants me to cease
wanting for what

I want to want
to come. To want.

wanting to stop
its urgency. To be in want.

Although these poems embrace the writer talking to herself, answering some personal need, the poems also are buttressed by the world of letters and art. Among other sources, the poems are indebted to Nights of Cabiria, Shakespeare, Thoreau, Deleuze, Joseph Beuys, and Luigi Pirandello.

The pleasures and thoughtfulness A Table That Goes On For Miles offers are seemingly endless. It’s shocking how the poems here say, and almost say, the kinds of parts of the imagination that direct language cannot address. Sometimes the first person plural in a poem can be used to generalize, and is an attempt to absolve the writer of her responsibility. In “Commerce In Dreams Is Business As Usual”, it refers not to all of us, but to the “several paths” to thinking:

A fantastic wish, generally regarded

as impossible? I don’t want to tell you
how I’m feeling. Sublimate aggressions:

the hardboiled school. We are living briefly
in the ordered world. We match wits with it.

Stefania HeimThe couplet tends to demand introspection and forces the reader to focus intensely on what is actually happening in the poet’s lines. It lacks the forward momentum of the tercet, or the narrative comfort of the quatrain. Heim maximizes form and function here by cutting all that’s unnecessary.

Another striking feature of this book are how Heim uses her titles. Never labels, the titles enlarge the whole scope of what she’s doing; she favors long titles that seem to be pieces of a poem by themselves. I was less interested in Heim’s prose poems, a series called “Moving Picture,” where the potency and immediacy of her line breaks and line lengths are lost.

Some books of poems follow trends or aesthetic choices that appear to be gimmicks. A Table That Goes On For Miles has a kind of spiritual and enigmatic openness that makes it totally unusual. Her endless invention and delicate touch in diction, pacing, and precision makes Heim’s poems a pure pleasure. More! More!

Sean Singer’s first book Discography won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. He has also published two chapbooks, Passport and Keep Right On Playing Through the Mirror Over the Water, both with Beard of Bees Press and is the recipient of a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work has recently appeared in Memorious, Pleiades, Souwester, Iowa Review, New England Review, and Salmagundi. He has a Ph.D. in American Studies from Rutgers-Newark. He lives in Harlem, New York City. More from this author →