Authors: William Heyen

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works


Depth of Field, 1970

Noise in the Trees: Poems and a Memoir, 1974

The Elm’s Home, 1977

The Swastika Poems, 1977

The City Parables, 1979

Long Island Light, 1979

The Bees, 1981

Lord Dragonfly: Five Sequences, 1981

Erika: Poems of the Holocaust, 1984

The Chestnut Rain, 1986

Brockport, New York: Beginning with “And,” 1988

Pterodactyl Rose: Poems of Ecology, 1991

Falling from Heaven: Holocaust Poems of a Jew and a Gentile, 1991 (with Louis Daniel Brodsky)

Ribbons: The Gulf War, 1991

The Host: Selected Poems, 1965–1990, 1994

Crazy Horse in Stillness, 1996

Diana, Charles, and the Queen: Poems, 1998

Long Fiction:

Vic Holyfield and the Class of 1957: A Romance, 1986


Pig Notes and Dumb Music: Prose on Poetry, 1998

Edited Texts:

A Profile of Theodore Roethke, 1971

American Poets in 1976, 1976

I Would Also Like to Mention Aluminum: A Conversation with William Stafford, 1976

The Generation of 2000: Contemporary American Poets, 1984

The Pushcart Prize XV, 1990–1991: Best of the Small Presses, 1990 (with Elizabeth Spires)

Dumb Beautiful Ministers, 1996


From This Book of Praise: Poems and a Conversation with William Heyen, 1978 (Vince Clemente, editor)


Though William Helmuth Heyen (HAY-ihn) was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1940, he grew up in Suffolk County on Long Island. His father, Henry Jürgen Heyen, had emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1929 and worked in the United States as a bartender and carpenter. Heyen’s mother, Wilhelmine Auguste Else Wormke, had come to the United States from Germany in 1934.{$I[AN]9810001787}{$I[A]Heyen, William}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Heyen, William}{$I[tim]1940;Heyen, William}

Heyen’s memories of his childhood experiences on Long Island fuel many of his poems, as do his links by birth to Germany. When his father emigrated from Germany, he left his entire family behind; two of his brothers were killed during World War II, fighting on the German side: Wilhelm, an infantryman for whom Heyen was named, died on the day of the poet’s birth and Hermann–whom Heyen has described as “a rabid Nazi”–was shot down over Russia.

In 1961 Heyen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Brockport. He was an outstanding athlete who was twice selected as an All-American in soccer during his undergraduate years at Brockport and who starred on his high school and college basketball teams. After teaching English for a year at Springfield Junior High School in New York, Heyen was married to Hannelore Greiner, with whom he had two children, William and Kirsten. He earned master’s (1963) and doctoral (1967) degrees from Ohio University and taught English from 1963 to 1965 at SUNY at Cortland. Heyen taught at SUNY at Brockport, his alma mater, from 1967 to his retirement in 2000.

Heyen’s work has been greeted by critical acceptance and acclaim from many quarters. In 1965 Heyen won the Borestone Mountain Poetry Prize from the Prairie Schooner for “Boy of Gull, Boy of Brine.” During 1971 to 1972 he traveled to West Germany on a Senior Fulbright Lectureship and lectured at the Universities of Freiburg, Tübingen, and Hannover, as well as at the University of Oslo in Norway, and others. He has been the recipient of three State University of New York Research Foundation fellowships for poetry, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing fellowships (1973-1974 and 1984-1985), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for Poetry (1977-1978), the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Award from Poetry(1978), the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry (1982), and the New York Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowship (1984-1985). Noise in the Trees: Poems and a Memoir was chosen by the American Library Association as one of thirty Notable Books of 1974. The Generation of 2000: Contemporary American Poets was chosen by Booklist of the American Library Association as an “Outstanding Book of 1984.” In 1997, Crazy Horse in Stillness won both the Fairchild Award and Small Press Book Award.

BibliographyDodd, Elizabeth. “A Living Past.” Tar River Poetry 36, no. 1 (Fall, 1996): 45-48. This review of Crazy Horse in Stillness is perhaps the most penetrating and properly appreciative discussion of a Heyen masterpiece.McFee, Michael. “The Harvest of a Quiet Eye.” Parnassus 10 (Spring/Summer, 1982): 153-171. This substantial review essay considers Lord Dragonfly, The Bees, The City Parables, Long Island Light, and The Swastika Poems.Manassas Review: Essay on Contemporary American Poets 1, nos. 3/4 (1978). This entire issue, edited by Patrick Bizzaro, is devoted to discussion of Heyen’s works up to and including The Swastika Poems.Parmet, Harriet L. The Terror of Our Days: Four American Poets Respond to the Holocaust. Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, 2001. Parmet includes a long chapter, “The Confessional Poetry of Sylvia Plath and William Heyen: Searching for Expiation, Identification, and Communion with the Victims,” that is the most extensive and substantial consideration of Heyen’s Holocaust poetry. Other poets treated in this book are Gerald Stern and Jerome Rothenberg.
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