Michael Heffernan was born in 1942 in Detroit, and grew up there, in a multi-ethnic working-class neighborhood, eight blocks from the Detroit River and Canada. He often dreams of border crossings. He has frequently traveled abroad, from Ireland to the Dodecanese during the 60s, to the Great Wall approaching Inner Mongolia in 2002.
He studied at the University of Detroit (A.B.) and the University of Massachusetts (Ph.D.). Since then he has resided mainly in Michigan, Kansas and Arkansas. He has taught the study and practice of poetry at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) since 1986. He regularly offers courses in Shakespeare, Yeats, Frost and Stevens.
He began writing poems in 1958. After completing his doctorate in 1970, with a dissertation on William Carlos Williams, he found steady work, and was able to return to his own writing. He soon found that traditional poetic forms could still open routes toward invention and discovery. His poems began to contain narratives, characters, masks, and free imaginations, expressing themselves in new dance-steps on the ground trod by the iamb. These acts of language, of words only, offered a new knowledge of reality, along with a vision of freedom and a kind of worldly holiness.
His books include The Cry of Oliver Hardy (1979), To the Wreakers of Havoc (1984), both recently reissued by the University of Georgia Press; The Man at Home (Arkansas, 1988); Love's Answer (Iowa Poetry Prize, 1994); The Night Breeze Off the Ocean (Eastern Washington University Press, 2005), along with his two earlier books from Salmon, The Back Road to Arcadia (1994) and Another Part of the Island (1999). His newest collection, The Odor of Sanctity, is available from Salmon Poetry, Ireland.
His work has earned three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (US), two Pushcart Prizes, and the Porter Prize for Literary Excellence.
He and his wife, Ann, love being in Ireland. They have four grown children, three sons and a daughter.