William Heath was born in Youngstown, Ohio and grew up in the nearby town of Poland. He has a PhD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University. During his first teaching job at Kenyon, under the influence of visiting writers Toby Olson and Paul Blackburn, he began writing poems. Later at Transylvania and Vassar he taught American literature and the art of poetry. The best of his early work, gathered in The Walking Man, was praised by James Wright: “William Heath is one of the most brilliantly accomplished and gifted young poets to appear in the United States in quite some time. I am especially moved by the delicacy and precision of the language, which indicates as distinguished intelligence, and by the purity and depth of feeling in all of his poems.” Richard Wilbur described The Walking Man as “a work of a poet who knows how to tell a story.”
As a Fulbright at the University of Seville then as a professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University, he wrote three novels, an award-winning work of history, and essays on American classics such as Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain. Upon his retirement the William Heath Award was established to honor annually the best student writer. A few years ago, he returned to his first love and has since published over a hundred poems; of those gathered in a chapbook, Night Moves in Ohio, Kit Hathaway noted that they “are by turns poignant, funny and starkly realistic…teeming with fascinating storyline detail and imagery,” while Eamon Grennan added, “These poems are savvy and lively, as exact as a high jumper’s focus, quick and accurate as a tennis player’s eye, wrist, ankle. Night Moves in Ohio is Heath’s own remembrance of things past—an autobiography in rapt miniature of his unforgotten early life, mercilessly but compassionately lit by the laser-light of memory.”
Steel Valley Elegy includes poems from Night Moves in Ohio as well as many more: some depict the civil rights movement in the Deep South and civil disturbances in northern cities. Others present Heath’s wry and ironic look at life in these United States, and a final sequence evokes the world of nature while raising philosophical questions. Heath maintains that poetry is written in musical lines about things that matter. His love of language, wide range of interests, and uncanny eye for telling details are always on display. A meditative yet humorous sensibility, an unflinching appetite for reality, memorable eloquence—Steel Valley Elegy displays the distinctive skills of an accomplished poet.
Paperback: 146 pages
Publisher: Kelsay Books (March 8, 2022)