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 how 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.
Praise for Steel Valley Elegy
The poems in Steel Valley Elegy are often hard-boiled; they eschew poetic diction to create a unique vocabulary composed of “radiator caps” and “loading docks,” “steel fittings form construction sites/sold to Union Iron and melted down.” Heath builds his poems on closely observed details. The movement from one line of poetry to the next transforms a set of visual items into a meditation. He is a portrait painter who approaches his subjects from the vantage of both a professor of deep learning and a man of many travels. Heath is not afraid to put his own stamp on big topics. He conveys the unimaginable horrors of Auschwitz and Hiroshima through small details. Or coaxes from intimate scenes of family life a meaningful human vision. Heath employs the tools of wit, narrative, and wide learning to present his trenchant observations. Steel Valley Elegy is a collection based on the experience of a mature poet.
— David Salner, in Free State (Spring 2022)
Poems from Steel Valley Elegy
William Heath reads “Steel Valley Elegy,” “How I Left the War and Took Up Basketball,” “An Inside Job,” and “Dylan”
William Heath reads “Tripping,” “Guru Maharaj Ji,” “Louis’ Basque Corner,” “The Corner,” and “The Christmas Carol War,”