Now out with University of Akron Press, Heathen (Heather Derr-Smith)’s fifth collection, OUTSKIRTS:

“When the girl dies in martyr stories her head goes on singing or testifies,” Heathen Derr writes,
and indeed, in this ravishing collection there is both singing and testifying. These poems sweep us
up in their lavish intelligence, transformative imagination, extremity of witness, and wounding
beauty, and we are changed. Derr manages a fusion of history and the scorching present tense, and
experience, both mythic and embodied. The poems arrive from the outskirts and from the interior,
from the dead, and from death itself and its “gradations of dark.” The scope of Derr’s diction is
masterful, from the reportage of arresting detail: “On the front line we ate black bread stained with
cuttlefish ink,” to the hallucinatory: “the azalea of sex opening / and closing its bloom between your
legs,” to concrete wisdom, “ History has a way of changing your mind, when you’re in the middle of
it,” to the visionary: “How between snipers on the front lines, / a beautiful horse appeared, her
mane and tail / blowing in the wind, snowflakes / gathering on her eyelashes.” Outskirts is what
happens when a writer of rare lyric gifts is willing to put their body on the line, and lives to sing of it.
Diane Seuss
author of frank: sonnets

Outskirts is a combustion engine of desire & violence, a punk devotional to the fringes that Heather Derr-Smith once again masterfully maps with voracious honesty & a sure vision, intricate & blunt. This book roars like a “girl with kerosene in her mouth”—each poem handing you a lit match to guide your way through the torn terrain, from siege in Sarajevo to The Troubles in Northern Ireland to former rock idols revealed in their harm. On every page, Derr-Smith honors & loves the women witnesses she looses upon uswomen who deeply understand that war stories are at heart survival stories, even in death—“When the girl dies in martyr stories     her head goes on singing or testifies”—The spirits this ecstatic collection of poems calls forth will inhabit you, take root in you as “both the trick and the belief in it.”—Amy Woolard, Neck of the Woods 

Outskirts is a summons from the vivid, living margins, a whirl across countries that share the same war-colored sky. With precision and emotional depth, Heathen Derr locates the tender bruises and the living highs found “in extremis,” naming and linking the existential reality of “women’s bodies, all history, migration, and broken lands.” Invoking Pilate’s wife who declaims, “I want no country, least of all / this one,” Derr critiques empire while leaping for the throat of misogyny. Yet their hold is tender, compassion threaded as a needle and pulled through these poems. Outskirts’ pages burn with an irrepressible fire, its lines the burning coals the poet heaps with love and ferocity. 

“In Heathen Derr’s Outskirts, boys man “daisy-cutter bombs, burn bags, hellhounds” while women, worldwide, endure war in their litany of daily indignities. The effects resound through the collection, from the middle of war when “neither one of us could remember even things we knew by heart” to the post-war in which the narrators learn to “forgive God his violence.” The poems careen across the globe, through endless tragedy and moments of light like “amethyst in the river’s beach,” arriving at a silence and a re-arming that portends and endless loop of what we have all just endured. Derr is a poet full of quiet observation, of grace and beauty found even in moments of extreme terror. The silence she leaves us with is not unlike a children’s choir singing at the site of a former atrocity — chilling especially in what it projects for the future.”  Alex DiFrancesco, author of Transmutation and All City–