“The Work At Hand and Other Poems” by Leonore Hildebrandt; Flat Bay Press and Stone Island Press, Machias, 2010; unpaginated, hand-stitched letterpress, $65.
Leonore Hildebrandt is quietly one of the most productive and thoughtful poets in Down East Maine, and her new chapbook, “The Work At Hand and Other Poems,” provides several different glimpses into that poetic world.
One of those glimpses involves the visual and tactile senses: “The Work At Hand” is a very finely made letterpress book in the old style of high-quality paper and typography. Indeed, I’ve seen few publications — commercial or otherwise — in the last 35 years that match the care with which this book was crafted. It features a simple, well-composed cover jacket, a cover with a reproduction of a colorful painting by Susan Hammond pasted on, and text pages laid out and printed with sharp attention to the visual detail. The binding is hand-sewn.
The poems themselves also are composed with practically palpable meticulousness, which is the hallmark of Hildebrandt’s writing. Most of her poems are deeply personal reflections, frequently addressing a listener or the subject of the poem, and they take their waking slow, to steal a phrase from an equally craft-conscious predecessor. The diction, subtly influenced by her native German speech, I think, winds in virtually all poems carefully and methodically from clause to clause and line to line. The title poem in six parts begins:
Most days, she merely
scratches the surface hard
as she tries — the stern ledges,
wakeful water streaming
toward her — maneuvering
the hoarse granite.
Out loud she says, I am here
to crack the code — enigmatic
passages, shifts of desire.
It’s impossible to read these lines hastily. The care with which they’re composed imposes a requirement to pay attention. This is a world of warmth and dark, labyrinthine internal webwork, and comprises poems well worth an afternoon’s quiet pause sitting in the bay window, if you have one. It’s not something that would read very well online; and true to character, the high craft of the physical book is part of the experience. The price, despite the enormous work that clearly went into it, seems a bit steep, though I’m told discounts are sometimes available.
Leonore Hildebrandt is a member of the Flat Bay Collective of artists and writers gathered in Harrington. She teaches writing at the University of Maine in Orono, is an editor for the Beloit Poetry Journal, and runs the Maine Writers Series at UMaine at Machias. “The Work At Hand” is a companion to “Child & Other Poems” by Richard Miles, both of which are available through the Flat Bay Collective at www.flatbaycollective.org.
Contact Dana Wilde at email@example.com.