'Valley of Empty Pockets,' Debut Poetry Collection by Alumnus Eric Helms '12

BY Nina Mahesh, March 24, 2020

Valley of Empty Pockets, a book of poetry by alumnus Eric Helms ’12, will be published by Main Street Rag Press in April of 2020. 


Associate Professor Timothy Donnelly said of Helms, “Like any good enfant terrible, Eric Helms embraces a number of ideals even as he disregards the expectations and pieties of his moment. Chief among the principles that motivate him, pulling him towards creation rather than, say, actual arson, is a love of beauty so powerful it sets these pages ablaze in a manner of speaking instead.”


Professor Donnelly goes on to say, “But Helm’s notion of the beautiful isn’t commonplace or refined, but radically heterodox—part tonic, part toxin, compounded of a “luminous cliff-face of cloud” and “gin-soaked floors,” “a sea of polished granite” and “a god who still sits / Stark naked, on a fire hydrant’s top….” But as wild as these poems grow, as overcome by the “star-bound thirst” not of a Shelley but of the Mr. Hyde that Helms inhabits, they never feel wholly unbridled, largely because Helms’s demonic intensity is always balanced by an angelic grace, as Rimbaud’s was. And if there are notes of a Rimbaud throughout Valley of Empty Pockets, other spirits are invoked, too—Kafka, Pessoa, Stevens; even James Tate and Mark Strand, an early enthusiast of Helms’s work, are all summoned into the psychic ceremony of this book (whose title is a metaphor for the poet’s mind) and released into the past so that the poet can become himself, and “prop / on the piss-stain of (his) top hat and begin to crawl.” This is a consummate, potent book, and I’ll revisit it repeatedly, in awe.”


Eric Helms holds degrees from Furman University and Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Having spent the past decade in the city of New York, he currently resides in Asheville, NC. Some of his work can be found in the Asheville Poetry Review, key_hole, Prelude, Diagram, MadHat Lit, Souvenir, American Athenaeum, Rhino, 4×4 and Blunderbuss.


Valley of Empty Pockets can be preordered here.