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Sixty Sonnets Paperback – February 15, 2009
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Ernest Hilbert’s sure-footed poems have the breathless urgency of a man telling others the way out of a burning building. Unafraid to startle, often winning out over recalcitrant material, they score astonishing successes. A bold explorer with few rivals, Hilbert enlarges the territory of traditional form. Sixty Sonnets may be the most arresting sequence we have had since John Berryman checked out of America.
– X.J. Kennedy, author of Lords of Misrule and editor of Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama
Hilbert has an appetite for life equal to his taste in literature: a rare combination in an age of dissociated sensibility. In these sonnets, whose dark harmonies and omnivorous intellect remind the reader of Robert Lowell’s, Hilbert is alternately fugitive and connoisseur, hard drinker and high thinker. But he is always a true poet, proud to belong to the company of those who still feel “The last, noble pull of old ways restored, / Valued and unwanted, admired and ignored.”
– Adam Kirsch, author of The Wounded Surgeon: Confession and Transformation in Six American Poets
Just as the work of the modernists showed that the best free verse usually has something masterfully formal about it, Hilbert’s fine collection might serve to remind us that the best formal poetry has about it a marvelous colloquial freshness and inventiveness, and the ring of an actual human voice. It is a touching and intelligent book.
– Franz Wright, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry
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Happily, I was dead wrong. This debut collection has many virtues, not the least of which is its celebration of the physical, visceral, frightening world of human beings. Read Sixty Sonnets and you will find yourself inside noisy bars, boring parties, emergency rooms, and even at the bottom of a river. Along the way you will meet pathetic drunks, lonely academics, cynical ex-lovers, and barbers that time forgot. And, of course, you will bump into the poet himself. He will usually be the one with something interesting to add, perhaps a thoughtful reflection ("we blank out one future each time we decide"), or a crisp observation ("wind rearranges sunlight through the pines"), or a poignant lament ("the mornings that remain seem too few"). Whatever the poet has to say, he says it well, sometimes with foul-mouthed directness, sometimes with humor, but always with sincerity.Read more ›