Pages: 128 Size: 5.5x8.5
Divided into four sections, Heathen is a unified collection of poetry satisfying both intellectual and emotional appetites. The vocabulary, phrasing, and figurative lan- guage prove author R. Flowers Rivera to be a master of technique. A few of the poems include "Black English" suggesting that they are universal in their application.
The characters in Part I, Isle of Promethea, bring classical mythology, especially Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, vividly to life through applications to modern life and a sense of being present. Part II, I Am Hephaestus, consists of a single poem with the same title divided into twelve sections and continues its mythological basis. In Part III, Doubt, there is more variety, suggested by epigraphs by authors as dif- ferent as James Seamon Cotter, Jr, Gertrude Stein, and the author of the biblical book of John; personal and symbolic romantic love is introduced in such poems as "Vivid," "Anniversary Apart," and "Stay" although the "you" does not necessar- ily refer to a person. "Her," for example, describes a poet’s pen as "a fickle lover" who refuses to produce the magic words of poetry. Part IV, "Mustard Seed," is the most personal section as "a conversation with myself." Here the author transforms the ordinary into provocative extraordinary expression. Her love of the South, the simple act of ironing clothing on a hot summer day, driving a car, braiding a child’s hair, and observing a Muslim man praying at an airport are some of the subjects in this final group. This is an extremely satisfying collection of poems that invite the reader to return to it again and again.
R. Flowers Rivera’s book, Heathen, is amazing work. It includes many persona poems based on mythology, but the voices are so down-home, so real, so irreverent and alive, that they lack all pretension, the kind of pretension that is too often present in persona poems. Other poems in this stunningly beautiful collection allude to the Bible and to literary figures, yet all the poems have a clarity of vision, a sureness of voice that makes them unforgettable.
– Maria Mazziotti Gillan, author of All That Lies Between Us, The Girl in the Chartreuse Jackets, Ancestors’ Songs, and co-editor of Identity Lessons
In Heathen, R. Flowers Rivera remixes the classical and the Biblical, the usual and the typical until what we thought we knew of ourselves and others is new again. The mythic becomes particular; the particular becomes mythic in these fascinating poems of personalities and personas. Rivera’s work is rich in empathy and invention. Heathen is a book of psalms for the present day.
– Terrance Hayes, author of Lighthead, Wind in a Box, and Hip Logic
Rivera’s poems contain multitudes. Even when she speaks through the masks of Greek mythic figures, a voice that is Southern and female and humanly desiring erupts through the cracks. What all of her poetic selves have in common is a preference for reckless action over tedium, and that makes for excitement on the page. Hugely gifted, R. Flowers Rivera is a talent to watch.
– Julie Kane, author of Rhythm & Booze and Jazz Funeral
In language that sweeps from high lyric to downhome vernacular, R. Flowers Rivera undertakes the always more necessary work of re-weaving the ancient tales back into our daily lives. In doing so, she quietly makes a radical claim: that our lives cease to be as real as they can be when we neglect to recognize in them, not the every day chores of work and life, but the reality that comes when we can no longer ignore what is easiest to deny, that some aspect of myth’s timelessness weaves itself throughout the mundane. It is a vision—and so are these poems—whose reminder to us is one we must be grateful for: what is past has not passed, and the old gods go on living their lives within our own.
– Dan Beachy-Quick, author of North True Bright, Spell, Mulberry, This Nest, and Swift Passerine
‘A sudden blow’ is how Yeats famously described Zeus’s rape of Leda. R. Flowers Rivera revisits this scene (and many others) but eschews Yeats’s cool third-person reportage. Instead, Rivera’s Leda talks to her younger self, telling her that soon, she ‘will begin to waste / slow hours watching the horizon.’ What follows seems a textbook description of trauma, and while Yeats never shied away from such psychological probings into myth, Rivera appears to take that act as her chief concern. No, retelling mythical and biblical stories is nothing new. When they are this good, however, who cares?
– Chad Davidson, author of From the Fire Hills, The Last Predicta, and Consolation Miracle