‘Failing Heaven’, Poems by Charles Behlen – The Real, Sometimes Cruel, World


‘Failing Heaven’, Poems by Charles Behlen     (2014) – 103 pages

The poems in ‘Failing Heaven’ by Charles Behlen are ones to which I could easily and fully understand and relate. These poems are forthright, blunt, explicit, and candid. These are valuable qualities that you don’t often find in poetry.

My problem with much other poetry is that I cannot empathize with the writer. A lot of poetry seems to be written by the Lord or Lady of the Manor as he or she surveys the flora, fauna, and fowl on their estate. It is all so very restrained and refined, but the poetry doesn’t hit me where it hurts. The poems in ‘Failing Heaven’ hit me where it hurts.

I was born on a small farm near a Wisconsin town where the local Rod and Gun club during their annual event hung up a canvas in which a guy, my uncle’s hired hand Harry, was paid to stick his head through a hole in the canvas, and the local townspeople would pay money to throw ripe tomatoes and raw eggs at his head. Harry was happy to get a little extra beer money. I watched this when I was a kid, but it was discontinued when I was about 6 or 7.

So in the first poem, ‘Iron Lung’, when the county fair has a display of little children with polio on ventilators, I remembered when county fairs pulled stunts like that.

A couple of the farms in our neighborhood were rented out to poor families. Sometimes a landlord would kick a family out of their home on short notice for not paying the rent or for some other reason. The short poem ‘Home’ captures that sense of hurried abandonment.


by Charles Behlen

Someone must have given up                                            halfway to the alley.

In backyard weeds                                                                            a rocking horse

lies upside down                                                                              on a wadded dress,

shoebox swollen                                                                           with cancelled checks.

Now the rain starts to fall                                                           and the bell in the horse’s

broken-out chest                                                                         sings to a house

that is silent, cold                                                                         and growing dark.

Even though many of these poems take place in Texas, I am a guy from up north in Minnesota who could easily identify with them.

Not all of these poems are about the coarse side of life in the sticks. The poem ‘Uirsche’s First Three Decades ‘ deals with the battle of Arnhem in World War II, and the poem ‘National Corpse’ concerns the battle of Verdun in World War I. These lines from ‘National Corpse’ express my own view of World War I:

But the big and obvious question remains:

How did a bunch of interrelated royals

churn this earth into a boiling barbed-wired mass

of blasted trees, blown-off faces

face-up on the roads – all hung with the unshake-

able stink of cordite, alcohol-soaked bandages,

dead horses, dead men?

These poems aim directly for your senses, and they are accurate. Not every poem hit home for me; that would be too much to ask of any poet, but enough of them did to make reading these poems several times a rewarding experience.

Finally, the scenes of nature in ‘Failing Heaven’ are not your typical serene idyllic scenes of nature. Here is from “Ballad of MacKenzie Park”:

A swan lay in the rushes,

killed with a bottle of beer.

It’s neck lay in the water,

one white wing on a tire.”

The poems in ‘Failing Heaven’ depict the real, sometimes cruel, world.


Grade:    A




2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Charles Behlen on October 20, 2020 at 7:18 PM

    This is the first time one of my books has been reviewed online. Thanks so much for making it a pleasant experience.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Charles.
      It is my pleasure. It is a sorry commentary on the Internet and on the literary world in general that a collection of poems this good has gotten so little attention.



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