Cosmology of Heaven & Hell
by Michael Waterson
The poems in Cosmology of Heaven & Hell were written over a span of four decades and set in locations from the Maritime Provinces of Canada to California and beyond. Subjects range the from the deeply personal to political and cultural figures and events employing both traditional forms, sonnets and villanelles, as well as free verse. Throughout the collection there exists an overarching theme that hell exists in different manifestations—all of which is tempered by the author’s deliciously dark humor. In the latter half of the twentieth century, celebrities like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe proved that in modern day America fame can be a hell. On the political front, President Richard Nixon’s Machiavellian Madman Theory flirted with a hell-on-earth scenario. Today wildfires and melting icecaps brought about by climate change present the prospect of a hellish future for the planet. Beyond public manifestations of perdition, the book explores the private hell of a dysfunctional family and failed relationships, our woeful ignorance about the nature of our existence, the darkness and tormenting doubts that lie below the surface of everyday living.
About the Author
Michael Waterson tells himself he looks good on paper. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA in the sulfurous glow of Blake’s Satanic mills, Waterson got gob-smacked by language at an early age, rapt by the wizardry of Shakespeare, the Celtic spells of Yeats. Growing up Roman Catholic in a place characterized as “hell with the lid off” colored his life in ways he’s still discovering after seven decades. As a young man he headed off to a party in California and never left. Now a retired journalist, his career includes stints as a factory worker, wildland firefighter, San Francisco taxi driver and wine educator.
He earned a BA from San Francisco State University and an MFA from Mills College. His poetry has won awards and appeared in numerous online and print journals. He currently resides in Napa, California where he is Poet Laureate Emeritus. He is a seannachie (storyteller) and singer/songwriter with a local traditional Irish music band, Kith & Kin, and has had several one act plays produced around the country.
Facebook: facebook.com/michaelwaterson • Twitter: @m_waterson
Early Praise for Cosmology of Heaven & Hell:
No wonder Michael Waterson is Poet Laureate Emeritus of the Napa Valley. These poems embody an ethereal California sensibility but are always grounded in the hardscrabble reality of his native Pittsburgh, achieving a highly effective synthesis of complimentary vibes. Good stuff here!
—George Searles, editor, Glimpse Poetry Magazine.
Cosmology of Heaven & Hell perfectly captures Waterson’s fiery chthonic leitmotif and dark humor, as does the brilliant, “Stooges Apotheosis,” a universe where brutal slap-/ stick chaos calls the tune,/ and laughter is the thunderclap/ of the gods applauding ruin. Reckoning with a steel-working, hard-drinking, domestically violent, Irish Catholic upbringing, he swaps a hell with the lid off Pittsburgh for hellish California wild fires, plumbing the hells we make for ourselves and the heaven we can have, if we agree to savor this breaker-breaking, cloud-scudding,/ sand-in-the-eye now.
—April Ossmann, author of Event Boundaries
Whether he is considering family history or American history, baseball, the underside of a pickup truck, Elvis, global catastrophe, providence, or the afterlife, Michael Waterson is a poet whose work is easy to enjoy. Here are poems offering plainspoken pleasures, clear as if told to us by a good friend. But they reward rereading, because these pleasures are also complex—musically adept, highly intelligent, and lit throughout by thoughtfulness and attention.
—Kevin Prufer, Professor of English, University of Houston