Through the course of a long and productive career, William Heyen has regularly returned to the Holocaust as a subject. Thus we open this selection from his work with his frequently anthologized poem “Riddle.” But in many ways his most remarkable achievement is the book-length poem sequence Crazy Horse in Stillness (1996), which consists of a 464-poem “dialogue” between the great Ogalala Lakota war chief Crazy Horse (c. 1840-1877) and General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1877), all leading up to the June 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn when Custer and all the troops under his command were defeated and killed. Custer and Crazy Horse do not actually meet in Heyen’s book, but each speaks in poems that embody his cultural or personal perspectives, and the result is a compelling confrontation between different world views. Heyen’s success at entering the American Indian world is among very few such poems in the history of modern poetry. Heyen, I should add, read and approved this effort to present the imaginative core of the book.
Heyen was born in Brooklyn, NY, and educated at the State University of New York at Brockport and Ohio State University before taking up a 30-year teaching career at SUNY-Brockport.