“The Next Unknown: Poems”

By Leonore Hildebrandt

Pecan Grove Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2014

86 pages, trade paperback, $15.

Quick note on Leonore Hildebrandt’s poetry: There is nothing quick about it.

Instead, there are what you might call intensities of diction that draw you into deep explorations of emotion. What kind of emotions? Well, the quick answer is: the emotions of everyday experience. But not the breezy, fleeting notice of a calm bay or sudden feelings on looking at old family photos. Instead, she drills into much deeper, more complicated places. Then she teases out the findings in compressed, unexpected language.

Her themes involve mainly ancestry, home and family; the strange way language (especially poetry) works on your understanding of the world; and the places where the natural world meets your own experience. It all overlaps, of course, and inside it, the social and natural worlds are driven by political concerns.

Ecological and political realities are deeply personal, might be a quick way to summarize part of the sensibility. “The Road,” for example, portrays the complicated outlook of a woman whose jungle home is being violated by construction.

Scars in the forest, the bulldozed ruts —

day and night the delusion of engines

drones over my jungle, and the hills

turn up their faces to the rain.

It is a multidimensional rape scene, in which “no one here wants the daylight’s revelations.” When you live in this imagery for a little while — as the meticulous language demands you do — you realize this is not a quick conceit made of eco-morality. Instead, it’s an evocation of the fact that the violation of land and the violation of women are really aspects of the same disposition that has poisoned human culture for millennia.

That’s a complication of fearfully deep-set ugliness. But redeeming the ugliness, in these poems, is a sense that language and poetry represent “a nobility of the higher mind,” as it’s put in “The Poet Guide,” a rehearsal of her grandfather’s association with the eminent German poet Stefan George.

Other poems cover the complexity of mother-daughter relationships (“Mother’s China”); Hildebrandt’s inescapable pasts as a native German (“Bird in Space”); and the elusive meanings of dream and half-waking vision imagery (“The Work at Hand”). It’s all characterized by intensities of bitter conflict, unfettering harmony, willfulness, subtle sexuality and the sense that there is no quick way out of any of it. At points it becomes downright frightening, to your reading mind.

This is poetry with a deliberate postmodern surface that actively resists postmodernism’s detachment from actual human experience. Once you’re caught up in the arresting deliberation of Leonore Hildebrandt’s diction and dreamlike imagery, there’s no turning back.

Leonore Hildebrandt, originally of Hamburg, Germany, is an editor for Beloit Poetry Journal and lives in Harrington with her husband, novelist Robert Froese, both members of the Flat Bay Collective of writers and artists. “The Next Unknown” and her previous book, “The Work at Hand,” are available online at flatbaycollective.org or by writing to Flat Bay Press, P.O. Box 217, Harrington, ME 04643.

Off Radar appears about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].

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