SwEP Mid-Month Review: the heart is a muscle

Review by Lizzie Waltner

Kat Heatherington’s poetry collection, the heart is a muscle, brings to light ideas of love that address all aspects of life in a powerful manner and has a deep connection to nature throughout. Her use of, or lack thereof, of capital letters throughout her collection gives the pieces a softness. There are no sharp edges in this collection, which makes it very comforting. These pieces are bright and playful but not downplay the serious issues that wring our hearts.

In her first section, a house by the river, Heatherington’s poem ‘planting poem’ we not only get a taste of spring, but also the touch of the past and endings. For example,

i need to plant more food this year, and less flowers,
but that thin pale green leaf lifts my heart,
and i pray for rain enough to give them all blossoms.
the cat’s grave, her small lilac,
is undisturbed and thriving.

In this small section we see her powerful use of the past contrasting with the present. It not only reflects on the past, the previous dirt being flower filled and a resting space for her cat, but also what it can become which is more sustainable and hearty for the soul, growing more food and the ability of there still being beauty in her memories of her cat that can be represented by the thriving lilac.

This idea of needing more food, could also be applied to more than just nutritional value, and how sometimes all we can do is hope to get through the next months. We all need a little rain sometimes.

The central section is aptly named, stunning transitional moments, as it is not only done stunningly, but addresses some of the toughest realities everyone learns as an adult. In ‘breathing room’ Heatherington tackles the idea of distance and leaving, and the complexity we all feel when walking away from something we love.

now we both have room to breath
and are using it to cry with.
now I can see your stormcloud eyes
filled with pain, and watching me walk away
and not feel all the wind in my sails
fly towards the storm in your heart.

The piece ends with ‘we are both standing’ and I think that hits home hard, because despite sometimes leaving being a difficult idea to grapple with it can have a positive ending, such as being able to stand on ones own.

The last section of this collection, the flammable heart, is admittedly my favorite. This entire section made my heart ache, but in the best way possible. My favorite piece in this section is, maybe. It’s simplicity about wishful thinking with the simple phrase ‘or maybe not’ got me every single time it’s used throughout this piece. This repetitive technique in this poem is repetition at its highest.

and you will visit now and then,
or maybe you won’t,
and i’ll love you anyway,
and send you postcards and text messages
about the rain and the corn and the sweet desert stars,

The way the poems presents this idea of unconditional love, despite being aware of things not working out makes it that much more heart-breaking. At the end of the day, there is always wishful thinking for love and always a realization, that maybe it won’t work out.

Overall, this collection really gets under your skin and claws itself in, sometimes making you feel warm and fuzzy, other times letting those emotions sting throughout. It makes you feel alongside the narrator and presents itself in a relatable manner and uses wonderful metaphors and similes to give visual representation to emotions. Kat Heatherington does a fantastic job in this collection, and anyone with a heart will adore it.


Click the image to order the heart is a muscle from Bookworks ABQ.

the heart is a muscle
by kat heatherington

Kat Heatherington is a queer ecofeminist poet, sometime artist, pagan, and organic gardener. She lives south of Albuquerque New Mexico, in Sunflower River intentional community with a varying number of other humans and cats. Kat’s work primarily addresses the interstices of human relationships and the natural world. She has one previous book, The Bones of This Land, published in 2017 by Swimming with Elephants Publications and available at Bookworks and Harvest Moon Books in Albuquerque, as well as on amazon.com. She can be found online at https://patreon.com/yarrowkat and on instagram at @sometimesaparticle. You can contact the author at yarrow@sunflowerriver.org.

SwEP Mid-Month Review

Into the Sunset

A Review of Courtney A. Butler’s Wild Horses
By Beau Williams

Like the name suggests, Wild Horses is the struggle of an unbridled soul ready to escape from the reins. Courtney A. Butler dissects the intricacies of a fierce heart under stress and scatters them through this collection in twenty-two poems.

This collection is a frustrated soul screaming from behind a crumbling barrier. In the book’s introductory poem, “Words, Like Meat,” the first line reads:

“I scrape words
like meat
from the inside of my ribs
They have hung there
clinging desperately to what
oxygen they could”

This line summarizes why this book exists. Butler portrays a person that has had this “meat”, these weighing parts of her that needed to be released, and Wild Horses is that release. Butler tackles the delicate topics of loss of a loved one, being the “other” girl, carrying secrets, searching for love, and (like true wild horses) learning to break free. This collection has the longing and reflection of Plath, the fierceness of Ke$ha, the nature influences of Wordsworth, with a hint of zany like Lewis Carroll.

This book has hidden its structure quite well. There are no full-stops, though there are commas, hyphens, italics, and capitalized letters to subliminally guide the reader’s eye through the pages. The lack of full-stops gives the book a sense of uncertainty that Butler carries with grace; a slight unease that really sets the tone ahead of time and prepares the reader for the topics soon to follow. There are no sections, no interludes, and no quotes, Butler just gets straight to it and gives you exactly what you came there for.

As previously mentioned, the introductory poem seems to be Butler giving herself permission to write the rest of the work; “Words, like Meat” is Butler strapping the bomb to the dam, once the switch is flipped, whatever has been pushing itself against the walls will finally be released, and it was.

After that, the book really dives into relationships between the subject and the people closest to them. The second poem: “DNR,” lays out the concept of the book. It is about a person who is trying to come to terms with a situation in a relationship that neither of the participants have any control over. This is a recurring theme throughout the book. In “DNR,” the topic is death. In later poems the topics are love, lust, miscommunication, and distance.

It can be argued that one of the most intimate, relatable, and touching poems in the collection is “The Importance of Being Broken (Or Sitting in a Bathtub with Your Clothes On and the Lights Off).” Here, Butler describes the deafening moment of collapse; the moment where all the stress and all the worry has finally become too much.

“because all the shit has been hitting all the fans”

This poem gets into the mind of a person who has reached a breaking point and literally crumples into a ball, fully clothed, in their bathtub with the lights off; contemplating turning the water on, the light on, removing their clothes, finding strength but ultimately doing none of these. The content of this poem is relatable to nearly everyone. Everyone has hit rock bottom. Everyone has given up hope. Everyone has crawled into an unlikely place in an awkward fashion in search of any sort of comfort. Butler doesn’t sugarcoat anything about this mental state.

“Maybe you were pushed off that cliff
Maybe it was your fault
or maybe you got caught in the landslide
The reality is
everything you were was on that cliff
and now everything you are is
broken in a bathtub?”

Though raw and heavy, Butler ends the poem on a strong note; describing how, at the end of this, you will start to mold your new shape together like a carved bar of soap — highlighting the brand new you that will finally be able to stand up and turn on the light.

Butler also has a fun, cutesy side which is apparent in her poem “The Long Slow Huzzah! (or Tea Time Going Over a Cliff).” This one has a very surreal feel, like Salvador Dali meets Alice in Wonderland. In this poem, the author describes falling in love as a metaphor for having a tea party… while tumbling off a cliff.

“Pale yellow tablecloth rippling in the breeze
taking all the fine china with it (…)
Well then, I’ve gone and fallen in love with you ”

This might be the most animated piece in the collection. Short and sweet, “The Long Huzzah!” is quaint and joyful, with underlying tones of terror. There is no mention of fear, no imminent crash to end the plummet, just weightlessness. The mention of a cliff face insinuates it is connected to a ground and with no mention of the ground throughout the poem or plans to get out of this situation, one can only assume the postscript is bloody and riddled with shattered porcelain.

Wild Horses is a solid collection that would find home on the bookshelves of the strong-of-heart. “Closer to One” is one of the last poems in the book and sums up the target audience very well. Here, the subject considers themself as two people: the untamed animal in a cage, and the caregiver.

“Yes! I say, finally
Yes to your thirst
Yes a thousand times
to the nectar you crave (…)
You are right to thirst
and I will answer you”

This book is for any static heart who has ever felt tied down or unheard. This book is for the wild of spirit; for anyone who has needed to scream and doesn’t have the haven. Wild Horses lets you know that you are never alone in these places, and that others have been where you’ve been and (like you) survived to ride free.

Click here to help support Independent Bookstores during this time of social isolation by purchasing Wild Horses from Bookworks Albuquerque. 


Review by Beau Williams:

Beau Williams is a fairly optimistic poet based out of Portland Maine. He co-runs a weekly poetry class at Sweetser Academy and facilitates workshops at high schools and colleges around the New England area. His work has been published in numerous poetry websites and journals.

Beau has performed internationally and nationally both as a solo artist and with the performance poetry collectives Uncomfortable Laughter and GUYSLIKEYOU. He was the Grand Slam Champion at Port Veritas in 2014 and was the Artist in Residence at Burren College in Ballyvaughan, Ireland in January of 2017. Beau’s book, Rumham, is available for purchase on Amazon.com.