Steve Henn is a poet living in the Midwest. He’s more than that, though. He’s a father, a teacher, a Cubs fan, and someone looking for a connection in this world. He played drums in a Guided By Voices-influenced indie rock band at one point, but I don’t think Steve puts that on his business cards. His drumming may not be something to write home about, but his writing sure is.
The reason I bring up Mr. Henn right now is because of his newest collection of poems called Guilty Prayer. His last book, Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year was a tight collection of frank, funny, and heartbreaking pieces about life, death, depression, drinking, and just being someone looking for meaning in the sometimes meaningless of everyday life. Not everyone can put those raw emotions into relatable art. Steve Henn can.
In Guilty Prayer, Steve writes his rawest pieces yet. It’s one of those books you sit and read without stopping till you hit the last page. Henn writes from a gut-level. There’s no mincing words or hem-hawing around a subject. There’s a balance between the hard stuff and the more palpable, though it’s all significant. Substance abuse, suicide, and grief weigh heavy here, and all are very much pulled from Steve’s life. But don’t let the heaviness steer you away. Steve dives deep, but this is pure and beautiful art. Words are the paint, and the page is his canvas.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure how to review a book of poems. I never realized that poetry could be this conversational and real. I was under the idiotic notion that poetry was sing-songy, melodramatic, and self-serious. Steve’s work feels more like late night confessions than poetry. A step inside a busy, worried mind trying to work out the razor-sharp emotions that keep cutting from the inside.
Pieces like “The Imperial Magisterium of Unrelenting Fortitude”, “Suicide Note”, “Poem For The Mother Of My Children”, and “Thank You, Lydia, For Our Boy” still lay heavy in my mind. Suicide isn’t the kind of subject to approach haphazardly, and Steve doesn’t. I’ve been affected by suicide more times in my life than I’d like to admit. Henn writes openly about its affect on him as a father and as someone trying to make sense of his grief.
There’s also humor here, at both the world’s and his own expense. “Dank Memes”, “The Woman Who Got Weirded Out Because I Wasn’t Eating”, and “Postpunk Lovesong In The Key Of Banal Loathing” all possess that dry Midwestern humor that if you get it it’s the best thing ever(I do get it.)
I’m quite in awe of pieces like “Seven Wonders”, “Occupational Therapy”, and “Love Letter to an Old Friend” for their structure, their labyrinthine movement, and the meaning laid out between the lines.
Steve Henn works in the cracks and crevices where the deep stuff sometimes drops and goes to seed. He takes the heaviness of existence and gives it life and a voice, in the hopes it will reach some eyes and minds and hearts that need to hear it. But the personal nature of these poems makes me think Steve Henn needs to write. That he must write. For himself.
Guilty Prayer is a collection of frank, raw, and intimate works that never tap dance around the hard stuff. It hits it straight on with eyes and arms wide open, with just the right amount of levity, humanity, and vulnerability.