I never met Robert Billings. He escaped my poetic radar, but I was curious to read the posthumous book Before the Heart Went Down: Selected Poems by Robert Billings. This 138-page collection was selected by Sharon Berg and published by Cyberwit in 2020. Below is my recent review.
“There is a darkness/I try to tell you about–” (p. 14)
This first line in the first poem “Invocation” startled me. Was this summoning of a deity or the supernatural, an initial call for help?
Robert Billings’s Before the Heart Went Down: Selected Poems (Cyberwit 2020) is powerful and secret-revealing. It’s even haunting like discovering a sunken treasure of cracked hearts entwined with legends, bird feathers, familial memories, autumn leaves, poetic petals, and urban/rural knick-knacks saved from the drowning depths of a river-muse.
Not only was Billings’s corpse found in the Niagara River in the Spring 1987, but this gifted Canadian poet left the literary world with several chilling lines. For example, in his 1986 poem “Algoma Suite: Eight Ways of Listening to the Heart Catch its Breath”, he wrote “Some of my days have lived like cut flowers/in a jar.” (p. 74)