HILBERT, Ernest. Storm Swimmer. Denton, TX: UNT Press, 2023. Octavo, stiff paper wrappers, 6” by 9.” $14.95. ISBN-13: 9781574418958. E-Book also available for download. 

Storm Swimmer, Ernest Hilbert’s fifth collection of poetry, was selected by Rowan Ricardo Phillips as winner of the 2022 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry. The book will be published by UNT Press on April 15th, 2023 (prepublication copies will be available at AWP in Seattle) and is available for preorder starting December 1st, 2022. Visit University of North Texas Press for review copies and examination copies.

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Ernest Hilbert’s fifth collection, Storm Swimmer, electrifies readers with an array of astonishing scenes, all captured in exquisitely imagined lines. Tender poems of fatherhood weigh against unsettling explorations of natural dangers and intimations of bodily harm. In poems that celebrate survival and renewal, Hilbert summons the ageless conflict between human affection and the passing of time, recognizing that all we love must eventually disappear. From porn sets to seedy gun ranges and heavy metal tribute nights in crumbling theaters, Hilbert’s eye roves over the desolation and beauty of contemporary America, all the while feeling the irresistible pull of water—what Melville called “the ungraspable phantom of life.” For Hilbert, water is “a universe that loves the dark / And bears you up as if you had no weight.” His poems return again and again to rivers, lakes, and the sea, there to find “a universe that loves the dark,” one that “bears you up as if you had no weight.” Critics have hailed Hilbert’s poems as “original and essential,” “haunted by loss,” “brutal yet beautiful,” defined by “pleasure, clarity, and discipline,” “tough-minded and precise,” “elegant and athletic,” and “human and moving.” Continuing the tradition, Storm Swimmer is a book of terrific assurance and range, a must for any lover of modern American poetry.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who selected the collection as winner of the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, writes “Storm Swimmer is a gleaming cornucopia of dreams, nightmares, tenderness, and grace . . . .  a rare book, both willing and able to capture the wide and relentless range of the human condition in its varying lights and shadows, and in settings spanning the mundane, the tawdry, and the sublime.” Eduardo Corral writes “toggling between the natural world and the relentless spectacle of contemporary life, acutely aware of the passage of time, Ernest Hilbert’s poems are marvelously built, resonant.” Dora Malech writes that it is “a book of light and darkness enacted on scales personal (particular and intimate in its rendering of the bonds of fatherhood) and sweeping (societal, environmental)—often simultaneously.” Karl Kirchwey remarks on the books “verbal and formal resourcefulness of this collection.” Dave Mason calls it Hilbert’s “strongest book so far, urgent and real.”

The poems in the collection first appeared in 32 Poems, Asheville Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Bowery Gothic, The Dark Horse, Cassandra Voices, Edinburgh Review, Fruita Pulp, Hawk & Whippoorwill, Hopkins Review, Hudson Review, Literary Matters (Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers), Measure Review, Modern Age, The Moth, The New Criterion, The North American Anglican, ONE ART: A Journal of Poetry, Per Contra, Philadelphia Stories, Raintown Review, Red Fez, Seneca Review (50th-Anniversary “On Anxiety” Edition), Smartish Pace, The Spectator, THINK: A Journal of Poetry, Fiction, and Essays, and Trinity House Review.

Cover art, “La Furie” by Paris-based Chilean painter Franco Salas Borquez (2016, 65 × 122 in), courtesy of the artist and M Galerie Boston, from a private collection. The book cover title is set in Trade Gothic Bold; the author’s name in Filosofia OT regular; and the prize citation in Corundum Text Book SC. The book’s logo for use t-shirts, stickers, and magnets hand-drawn by heavy metal logo designer ModBlackmoon (Irina Karotkaya).

“Riddle Me” was written specifically as NFT (nonfungible token) art, listed for sale on OpenSea, a peer-to-peer marketplace for rare digital items and crypto collectibles housed at the Hunter College MFA program in New York City. It was posted for sale on March 18, 2021, and sold to a private collector on July 2 the same year. The poem “Last Rites” appeared as a limited-edition letterpress broadside, issued by Tollund Press of Essex County, Massachusetts, in summer 2021 in an edition of twenty-four numbered copies, signed (four copies hors de commerce), with artwork provided by Ian, the author’s son. The poem “Pelagic” appeared as a limited-edition letterpress broadside from Tollund Press in summer 2022 in an edition of sixty numbered copies, six signed and sealed in bottles, three to be deposited into the gulf stream. “Appeal” was selected as a Laureates’ Choice winner in the 2021 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, Great River Shakespeare Festival.

The epigram from Giacomo Carissimi (1605–1674) can be translated as “my heart is a sea of tears,” a line from the duetto “Partenza dalla sua Donna.” The poem “Remains” does not refer to any real place or history. Lancelot Andrewes described “solsitio brumali” as “the very dead of winter” or the winter solstice. The Latin term “spolia opima” translates as “rich spoils” and refers to the trophies a Roman general stripped from the corpse of an enemy slain in single combat. “Stercus Diaboli” is “the Devil’s shit.” William H. Race translates the epigraph to this book, from the Argonautica, as:

And likewise the other heroes boarded and took their seats in order and grasped the oars in their hands. Argus loosed for them the stern cables from under the sea-washed rock. Then they began striking the water mightily with their long oars. At evening, on Orpheus’ instructions, they put in at the island of Electra, Atlas’ daughter, so that by learning secret rites through gentle initiations they might sail more safely over the chilling sea. Of these things, however, I shall speak no further, but bid farewell to the island itself and to the local divinities, to whom belong those mysteries of which I am forbidden to sing.”

The epigraph to chapter seven is from book five of The Odyssey, translated by Samuel Butler as: “Thereon he floated about for two nights and two days in the water, with a heavy swell on the sea and death staring him in the face; but when the third day broke, the wind fell and there was a dead calm without so much as a breath of air stirring.”