The first thing you need to know about Krakatoa Picnic is that the imagery in this book of poems, by James Heflin, will sear you to the side of the Indonesian volcano.
The collection of sci-fi-influenced prose is vivid in its tactile descriptions of place, people, and time. Heflin, a Deerfield resident and former Advocate arts editor, creates scenarios that are lyrical and triple-doused in meaning, yet nimble and often a little silly.
Take this opener for “Glass Onion”:
“One day I unzipped a zipper behind my ear.
There was a lot of smoke, some shouting,
and a horn going off.
It’s like the lightbulb in Livermore”
The book takes the reader on a journey that alternately or simultaneously explores the self and the universe. In the first of four chapters, “Filament,” Heflin introduces the reader to a man pumped with faith, but teeming with questions. In “A Little Hut,” the narrator snickers at “dreams that smelled of turpentine” and everlasting life:
“If one stopped at the little hut there and did not leave,
the heart chambers would go on wobbling
until the mountains wore down to nubs.
But that I do not believe.”
Heflin will be celebrating the book’s release and giving a reading from Krakatoa Picnic, Friday, 7 p.m., at Brew Practitioners in Florence. The event is free and open to the public. I caught up with Heflin ahead of the reading to talk poetry and inspiration.
Kristin: Your poems are firmly grounded in physical things — which makes it relatable and easy to grasp; What was your inspiration?
James: I don’t necessarily have a strong academic background in science, but I read a lot about science and I find it fascinating — and, in some respects, I find it poetic. Even though in a lot of respects it’s a whole different thing, the process of teasing out meaning, making sense of the world is similar for both.
[Krakatoa Picnic] is something that has been a long time coming together. There are a few older poems in there, but it’s largely stuff from fairly recent years. Hopefully that gives it a sense of coherence.
Kristin: What are some of the themes you dive into in this book?
James: The sense that the world is constantly surprising and it’s often not intuitive — particularly when you get to the weirdness of quantum mechanics and physics and things like that. I find it a constant source of surprise and constant source of change that affect how I view the world and my version of how things work.
Kristin: What is a James Heflin reading like?
James: I like to see them as something that is lively, something that is based on storytelling and I love when people find my poems funny — I think that is so much more fun than the sort of serious poet intoning great meaning. I like storytelling, fun, and surprises so I hope that is what you’ll get. Also, it’s sort of a little piece of dramatic reading.
James Heflins’ Krakatoa Picnic is available online at hedgerowbooks.net and, in May, that really big online book seller — you know the one — will have it, too.
Krakatoa Picnic: Reading and official release party with poet James Heflin. Friday, 7 p.m. Free. Brew Practitioners, 36 Main St., Florence.
Contact Kristin Palpini at firstname.lastname@example.org.