Brooklyn-born and raised in Miami Beach, Michael Heller was educated as an engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 1964 he won the New School's Coffey Poetry Prize and went abroad to continue to study and write. His poems first appeared in print in the 1960s while he was living in a small village on Spain's Andalusian coast. In 1967, after returning to the U.S., he took a position at New York University. Since then, he has published over twenty volumes of poetry, essays, memoir and fiction, including Accidental Center (1972), In The Builded Place (1979), Wordflow(1997), Exigent Futures (2003), Living Root: A Memoir (2000), and the prize-winning collection of essays, Conviction's Net of Branches (1985).
Among his most recent works are a volume of poems, Eschaton (2009), a mixed genre work, Beckmann Variations & other poems (2010) and Speaking the Estranged: Essays on the Work of George Oppen (2008, expanded edition, 2012).This Constellation Is A Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010 appeared in 2012. Since the 1990s, he has been collaborating with the composer Ellen Fishman Johnson on multimedia works including the opera, Constellations of Waking (2000), based on the life of the German-Jewish writer Walter Benjamin, and the multimedia works,This Art Burning (2008) and Out of Pure Sound (2010), all of which premiered at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. His writings on contemporary poetry, Judaic thought, and on the intersections of Buddhist and Western philosophy and practice have appeared in various essay collections and journals. Among his many awards are grants and prizes from the Nation Endowment for the Humanities, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, and The Fund for Poetry. He resides in New York City and spends his summers in the Colorado mountains. He is married to the poet and scholar Jane Augustine.
"There is a classic largeness to these poems, whether of means or of reference—a consummately civilized response to our time that makes the intimate and the physical still primary despite the generalizing chaos Heller confronts so movingly."
- Robert Creeley
". . . tone perfect poems—the tone, the scale, note by note, interval by interval—attack on the 'gods of ennui and loneliness.'"
- George Oppen
"At once grave and uplifting, the poems in Exigent Futures are serene meditations on time, decay, and loss that recover from the ruin a repletion that is also a recognition of our necessary incompleteness before the world and language."
- Jacket Magazine
On A Phrase of Milosz's
He is not disinherited,
for he has not found a home
He has found vertiginous life again, the words
on the way to language dangling possibility,
but also, like the sound of a riff on a riff,
it cannot be resolved. History has mucked this up.
He has no textbook, and must overcompensate,
digging into the memory bank if not for the tune
then for something vibratory on the lower end of the harmonics.
He's bound to be off by at least a half-note—here comes jargon
baby—something like a diss or hiss. Being is
incomplete; only the angels know how to fly homeward.
Yet, once the desperate situation is clarified, he feels
a kind of happiness.
Later, the words were displaced and caught fire, burning syllables
to enunciate the dead mother's name.
(Martha sounding then like "mother")
Wasn't it such echoes that built the city in which he lives,
the cage he paces now like Rilke's panther?
He was not disinherited.
He was not displaced
He is sentimental, hence he can say a phrase like his heart burst
The worst thing is to feel only irony can save
The worst thing is to feel only irony.