Friday, June 15, 2018



Gathering Sparks by Paul Pines
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2017)

(First presented as an Introduction at the Marsh Hawk Press
Book Launch, New York City, 2018)

Our very dear friend, Paul Pines can’t be with us tonight, so we must be with him in spirit and well-wishes.  I’ve known Paul since his days running the legendary Tin Palace, that amazing, exciting creation of his where jazz musicians, artists, poets, writers, assorted gadflies and intellectuals gathered to talk, drink and perform.  So powerful and warming was the atmosphere, that you could sit there among those throngs almost believing that the roof of Heaven was the bar’s tin ceilings Paul had preserved.  Paul, as we know, is polymathic, poly-skilled, poly-everything: he’s written novels such as The Tin Angel and Redemption, memoirs such as the deeply felt My Brother’s Madness, and among his latest creations, uncategorizable works infused with essayistic forays into life, poetry, psychology, religion and tradition such as his recent Trolling With The Fisher King.  Among these works, taking place beside and alongside him, are many collaborations with musicians and composers and, as we celebrate tonight, his  many books of poetry, including his latest, Gathering Sparks—is it his thirteenth or fourteenth volume of poems? 
As with all his works—sometimes sharp to the point of poignancy in Gathering Sparks—Paul’s poetry is a quest, spiritual, linguistic, psychological, a constant effort of human repair and recovery.  His way, as he proclaims in Gathering Sparks, is to find something which “allows him to feel/the world as proximate/unbounded.”   That unboundedness, which one finds in the amplitude of Paul’s poetry, its range of reference, its  epical breadth of open sea, foreign lands, international capitols, all coexisting with an equally powerful grainy particularity of immediate presence and human contact, is, in my reading, also an ethical quest for openness to experience and vulnerability.   For him, he writes in Gathering Sparks:

                                   perhaps the question becomes (deep breath) how
                                   do we protect ourselves against the struggle
                                    to protect ourselves . . .

Throughout, the bulwark of that struggle is Paul’s subtle humor and irony:
I quote:

On the terrace at Sutton’s
rabbi Michael
                        who taught us
                        to calculate the real age
                        of the Patriarchs
                        dividing Biblical years
                        by. . . three!

interrupts our breakfast
with the latest insight
for his book
on Genesis

                     that Abraham
                     moves from geographical
                     into ontological

Paul’s poetry seems like the perfect vehicle to move us into that ontological space.  Abraham, sacrifice, wanderings in various, sometimes lush, deserts, these are threads in all of Paul’s work.  They are the marks of a singular poetic intelligence, one that seeks to simultaneously heal and delight.  So yes, let’s have our breakfasts and the rest of our days “interrupted” by Paul’s poetry. His poems remind us that, as  in his most powerful insights, here speaking to a loved one, it is we too:

who gather and dissolve
in this mid-summer night 
like hermits calculating
in the hierarchy of means
and meaning

to find our place
with avatars
in exotic robes
and symbols of  their craft
in the unspoken word
that seals our


Michael Heller has published over twenty-five volumes of poetry, essays, memoir and fiction.  His most recent books are Dianoia, a new collection of poems and Dans le signe, translations of his poetry in French.  A collection of essays on his work, The Poetry and Poetics of Michael Heller: Nomad Memory, was published in 2015.