Ernest Hilbert

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Ernest Hilbert
Ernest Hilbert at Huntley Castle, Scotland.jpg
Ernest Hilbert in 2011
Born 1970
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A
Nationality American
Occupation Poet, Critic, Editor, Opera Librettist

Ernest Hilbert is an American poet, critic, opera librettist, and editor born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1970.

Biography[edit]

Ernest Hilbert was born in Philadelphia and grew up in South Jersey.[1] Hilbert graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Rutgers University in 1993. He also received a Master's Degree (1994) and Doctorate (2000) in English Literature from St Catherine's College, Oxford. His doctoral dissertation was entitled "Dark Earth, Dark Heavens: British Apocalyptic Writing in the First World War and its Aftermath." While a student there, he founded the short-lived magazine Oxford Quarterly (1995–1997),[2] which included among its advisory editors Iris Murdoch, Marjorie Perloff, and Seamus Heaney, and included contributors such as David Mamet, Charles Wright, Charles Simic, W.D. Snodgrass, Galway Kinnell, Carolyn Kizer, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, John Hollander, Christopher Middleton, Andrew Motion, Michael Hamburger, Marilyn Hacker, Charles Tomlinson, Anthony Hecht, Adrienne Rich, Les Murray, Louise Gluck, Mark Strand, and Jorie Graham.

After moving from Oxford to Manhattan, he worked as an editor for the punk and beatnik magazine Long Shot for one year before departing over creative differences. He then served as the poetry editor for Random House’s online magazine Bold Type for several years (2000–2004) and also edited the print and online magazine nowCulture (2000–2005). While at Bold Type, he interviewed Kevin Young, Cynthia Zarin, Kenneth Koch, and Mark Strand. As books and literary editor for nowCulture.com (issued as two print annuals, NC1 and NC2), Hilbert published up-and-coming authors from his own generation, including Matthea Harvey, Timothy Liu, Matthew Zapruder, Wells Tower, and Joshua Beckman. He also interviewed a number of authors for the magazine, including Gustaf Sobin, Alexandar Hemon, Matthew Kneale, and Joe Wenderoth.[3] From 2005-2010 he edited the Contemporary Poetry Review. He commissioned and edited essays and reviews by a number of critics, including Adam Kirsch, Ben Downing, Catherine Tufariello, Christopher Bakken, D. H. Tracy, Daniel Bosch, Eric Ormsby, Joanie Mackowski, John Poch, Kathleen Rooney, Peter Campion, Paul Lake, David Wheatley, Eva Salzman, Hannah Brooks-Motl, Maria Johnston, and Jason Guriel.

In early 2003, he hosted an evening of readings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, entitled "The Future Knows Everything: New American Writing," which featured the poets Rebecca Wolff and Geoffrey Nutter and the novelists Liz Brown and Suzanne Wise. On April 16th, 2013, Marty Moss-Coane interviewed Hilbert for an hour on her WHYY program Radio Times, which is syndicated nationally by NPR. The interview touched on Hilbert's troubled past and struggles for recognition. In December 2013, Hilbert was interviewed by WHYY's Peter Crimmins for a radio feature titled "The Sonnet Makes a Small Comeback," in which Hilbert is quoted as saying "I think some [modern sonnets] are too old-fashioned, something that happens when people write in an old form. They suddenly adopt an old-fashioned formality and diction and focus. They are very limited in thinking about what the poem can be about. That's a hang-up even good poets can fall prey to." A recording of Ernest Hilbert reading “Broad and Washington,” engineered by Peter Crimmins, was broadcast on WHYY/NPR 90.7FM as part of the News Works Tonight New Year’s program the evening of December 31, 2013.

Hilbert lives in the University City section of Philadelphia with his wife, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Hilbert is a member of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, the Academy of American Poets, the Royal Society of Literature (London),[4] the Philobiblon Club,[5] Fine Press Book Association, and a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle.

Poetry[edit]

Hilbert's poetry has appeared in The New Republic, American Poet, The New Criterion, American Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Yale Review, Boston Review, LIT, Georgetown Review, Southwest Review, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, The Edinburgh Review, Harvard Review, The London Magazine, Oxonian Review of Books, Poetry East, McSweeney’s, The American Scholar, Verse, Measure, Volt, and Fence. He has written literary criticism and book reviews for several publications, including Contemporary Poetry Review, the now-defunct New York Sun,[6] Scribner’s American Writers series, and the Academy of American Poets.[7] On January 16, 2009, he was interviewed by Curtis Fox about the poetry of W.D. Snodgrass for the Poetry Foundation podcast series "Poetry Off the Shelf." The episode was called "People Just Don't Read This Way Anymore."

Recent Years[edit]

In recent years he has composed in his own sonnet form sardonically described by Daniel Nester as the “Hilbertian” sonnet. While retaining the 14 lines of the traditional English sonnet, it substitutes the rhyme scheme ABCABC DEFDEF GG, to create two sestets and a final couplet. The iambic pentameter meter of the English sonnet is replaced by "a decasyllabic line that allows for the roughed-up prose rhythms of speech," according to poet and MacArthur Foundation Fellow A.E. Stallings, who goes on to explain that Hilbert's "sonnets tend to conclude in true iambic pentameter, the tradition that haunts rather than dominates these poems." Marybeth Rua-Larson describes the form as "more contemporary and sonically stretched"[8] than that of a traditional sonnet. Critic Christopher Bernard refers to them as "loosely formed sonnets, a form that Hilbert has made his own, proving this most classic of forms can contain anything the 21st century can throw at it."[9] In his book Brief Introduction to Versification, professor James Matthew Wilson describes the Hilbertian sonnet as "a nonce form of the sonnet with the following rhyme scheme: abcabc, defdef, gg (two sestets and a couplet). While unmetered or only loosely metered, Hilbert’s sonnets observe the boundaries of the little room of the sonnet marked by the rhyme scheme quite carefully."[10]

Other poets have written in the form, including Amy Lemmon, whose "Asymptotic" appeared the book Enjoy Hot or Iced (2011), Paul Siegell, whose poem "Sonnet that Fell out of St. Catherine's Mouth" appeared in The Raintown Review, the Irish poet Justin Quinn, whose "The Snow Turns Down the Sound on Everything" appeared in his book The Months, Lorna Blake, whose sonnet "Endangered Species" appeared in Waccamau,[11] Bill Coyle, whose sonnet "Hindsight" appeared in The New Criterion,[12] and David Yezzi, whose sonnet "Varnishing Days" appeared in the PN Review.[13] Hilbert's sonnet "Prophetic Outlook," which appeared in The American Poetry Review,[14] was taught by Molly Peacock in her course "The 21st-Century Sonnet" at the New School in New York City in December 2008.[15] His poems have also been taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Sarah Lawrence, Drexel University, Columbia University, and the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Several of his sonnets were featured by David Lehman on the Best American Poetry website.[16] His poem "Ashore," which appeared in the Yale Review early in 2009, was reprinted by the Academy of American Poets for their August 2009 "Shark Week" feature.[2] "Domestic Situation," "AAA Vacation Guide," and "Prophetic Outlook" are reprinted by the Poetry Foundation.[17]

His unpublished collection Cathedral Building, which combines a wide variety of styles and poetic approaches, has been a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry (under the title Removal of the Body), the Barrow Street Press Book Contest, the Yale Younger Poets Prize, and the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. It also received an honorable mention for the Dorset Prize.[18]

Nine poems from Sixty Sonnets (2009) and its companion volume All of You on the Good Earth (2013) appeared in the Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (Ohio University Press, 2009). His poem "Domestic Situation" appears in two Penguin anthologies, Poetry: A Pocket Anthology (2011) and Literature: A Pocket Anthology (2011).

Nordic Translations[edit]

In 2009, the Tollund Group, a Nordic translation firm, sponsored its first annual poetry translation prize.[19] Two translations of Hilbert's poems were awarded cash prizes. The winner of the best Danish translation was Mette Bollerup Doyle, who translated Hilbert's "Outsider Art" ("Outsiderens kunst"). The winner for Norwegian translation was Marit Ombudstvedt of Vestby in Norway, who translated "Love Songs" (Kjærlighetssanger"). The judges failed to select a winner in the category of Swedish language.[20]

History and 21st Century Publishing[edit]

Hilbert's first collection, Sixty Sonnets, was issued by Red Hen Press in early 2009. According to the publisher, "the collection is calculated to reflect the sixty minutes in an hour of heightened imaginative contemplation. It contains memories of violence, historical episodes, humorous reflections, quiet despair, violent discord, public outrage, and private nightmares. A cast of fugitive characters share their desperate lives—failed novelists, forgotten literary critics, puzzled historians, armed robbers, jobless alcoholics, exasperated girlfriends, high school dropouts, drowned children, and defeated boxers. These characters populate love poems ('My love, we know how species run extinct'), satires ('The way of the human variety, / Not even happy just being happy'), elegies ('The cold edge of the world closed on you, kissed / You shut'), and songs of sorrow ('Seasons start slowly. They end that way too'). The original rhyme scheme devised for this sequence—ABCABCDEFDEFGG—allows the author to dust off of the Italian 'little song' and Americanize the Elizabethan love poem for the twenty-first century. Speaking at times in propria persona ('We'll head out, you and me, have a pint'), in the voices of both male and female characters ('I'm sorry I left you that day at MoMA'), and across historical gulfs ('Julius Caesar and Charlemagne, Marie Curie, Al Capone'), Sixty Sonnets marshals both trivia and tragedy to tell stories of modern America, at last achieving a hard-won sense of careful optimism, observing 'the last, noble pull of old ways restored, / Valued and unwanted, admired and ignored.'"

Hilbert's second full-length commercial collection, All of You on the Good Earth, was published on March 1, 2013. According to the publisher, it "guides the reader through chambers occupied by visionary gravediggers, spaced-out movie stars, frenzied dropouts, sullen pirates, and unrelenting stalkers, noble war correspondents and cornered dictators, unlucky drunks and supercilious scientists, impatient goddesses and sad sea monsters, zoned-out denizens of Plutonian strip-clubs and earnest haunters of ancient ruins, the infamous Rakewell in TriBeCa and sea nymph Kalypso in a beach house at the Jersey shore, characters wandering an America demoralized by economic decline. These poems contain fasts and feasts, laments and love songs, histories, fantasies, and elegies, the amusing and heartbreaking debris of life on this world, all the while recalling Seneca’s dictum, non est ad astra mollis e terris via ('the road from the earth to the stars is not easy')."

Justin Quinn observes of the collection that “Hilbert has written poems of superb lyricism. It’s hard to think of another poet with such range, and indeed with such brilliant delivery. Beauty, trash, exaltation, and humor are contained in his capacious and exacting forms. These are, quite simply, original and essential poems.”

Adam Kirsch has further commented that “there is no mistaking the ‘feral’ appetite and intensity of these poems, or the bitter depths of experience they sometimes explore. What makes All of You on the Good Earth such a rare collection, however, is the way Hilbert unites that raw energy with elegant and original language, creating a style that sounds like no one else’s.”

Timothy Donnelly writes that "like [Robert] Lowell before him, Hilbert has found in the sonnet a form of confinement that excites and accommodates a liberality of temperaments, rhetorics, bad thoughts and big ideas, but where Lowell favored blank verse, Hilbert surprises with rhymes he unwinds with preternatural finesse. His material ranges from the all too familiar to visionary moments. Retrospective, forward-looking, tonic and toxic, All of You on the Good Earth is a wonder of a book, and Hilbert’s best yet." The cover is designed by Jennifer Mercer, based on the cover of the first US edition of Ted Hughes’ collection Lupercal, published by Harper and Brothers in 1960.

Hilbert has written jacket endorsements for other authors under the pseudonym Vladimir Slender-Hedge.[21]

Limited Editions[edit]

In the summer of 2012, author and fine-press impresario Henry Wessells commissioned Ernest Hilbert to write an anti-war poem for a then-untitled fine-press art book to be issued as the second in a series by Temporary Culture, Wessell’s own press, which specializes in collectible science fiction and art books. The completed book, Against the Art of War, includes three aquatint etchings by Judith Clute, a Canadian artist resident in London. The finished book, issued in February, 2013, was letterpress printed by David Wolfe of Portland, Maine, and hand-bound in paste paper boards, in an edition of 26 lettered copies, signed by the authors and the artist, and five numbered copies reserved for artist, authors, and printer.

Hilbert's own Nemean Lion Press issued a hand-sewn, signed-limited edition of Fletching of Hackles, a collaborative effort by Hilbert and David Yezzi. The book, designed by Jennifer Mercer and bound by Melissa Moffa, consists of dueling limericks and clerihews in which Hilbert and Yezzi challenge and insult each other. It is limited to 24 numbered copies with four authors' and artists' proofs, all signed by Hilbert, Yezzi, Mercer, and Moffa. The series sold out the week it was issued, in the second month of June, 2009, and is currently unobtainable. The second title from the press was 3 X 5 [Three by David Yezzi, Five by Ernest Hilbert] a small tête-bêche folio, hand-sewn issued in 2010, in Prussian-blue faux-snakeskin binding with cutaway title windows, stiff eggshell-blue wrappers, limited to 12 copies signed by designer, bookmaker, and both authors, only eight for sale. It sold out by subscription two weeks before publication.

In November 2009 LATR Editions in New York published Hilbert's Aim Your Arrows at the Sun, a chapbook of primarily free-verse poems, limited to 250 copies, featuring hand-sewn covers designed and printed by Woodside Press and a foreword by critic Adam Kirsch.

Employment[edit]

Ernest Hilbert has worked as an antiquarian and first edition bookseller at the firm Bauman Rare Books since 2003. He is based in the firm's main office, on the top floor of the art-deco Sun Oil Building in Philadelphia (other locations include New York City and Las Vegas), where he is a senior specialist, handling collections acquisitions and a variety of other responsibilities. Hilbert is a visiting professor at the World of Versecraft, the Master of Fine Arts program in poetry at Western State University of Colorado, where he teaches an intensive summer course on complex musical qualities of language and the practical art of the opera libretto.

Books[edit]

  • All of You on the Good Earth (Red Hen Press, 2013), ISBN 1597092665, poetry
  • Sixty Sonnets (Red Hen Press, 2009), ISBN 1-59709-361-0, poetry
  • Aim Your Arrows at the Sun (LATR Editions, New York, 2009), hand-sewn, letterpress chapbook
  • Two Ranges [Vertical] by Ernest Hilbert and David Yezzi (Nemean Lion Press, 2013), hand-sewn, signed-limited concertina book
  • A Fletching of Hackles, Fresh Verse by Ernest Hilbert and David Yezzi (Nemean Lion Press, 2009), signed-limited fine press book
  • "Such Root Satisfaction," 3 X 5 [Three by David Yezzi, Five by Ernest Hilbert] (Nemean Lion Press, 2010), signed-limited fine art book
  • Against the Art of War, with Henry Wessells (contributor) and Judith Clute (artist). (San Francisco, London, Upper Montclair: Temporary Culture, 2013), signed-limited fine press art book with aquatint etchings, sold by subscription

Anthology Appearances[edit]

  • Gamers: Writers, Artists, and Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels, ed. Shanna Compton (Soft Skull Press, 2004), ISBN 1-932360-57-3
  • Poem, Revised: 54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions, ed. Robert Hartwell Fiske (Marion Street Press, 2008), ISBN 1-933338-25-3
  • Swallow Anthology of New American Poets, ed. David Yezzi (University of Ohio Press, 2009), ISBN 0-8040-1121-4
  • Two Weeks: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, ed. Ash Bowen and Johnathon Williams (Line Break Press, 2011)
  • Poetry: A Pocket Anthology, ed. R. S. Gwynn (Penguin, 2011), ISBN 978-0-558-75211-8
  • Literature: A Pocket Anthology, ed. R. S. Gwynn (Penguin, 2011), ISBN 978-0-205-03219-8
  • Incredible Sestina Anthology, ed. Daniel Nester (Write Bloody, 2013), ISBN-10: 1938912365

Selected Essays and Reviews[edit]

Selected Interviews[edit]

Music[edit]

Hilbert has composed libretti for the composer Stella Sung.

  • Hilbert supplied the story and libretto for an evening-length, three-act opera with composer Stella Sung titled The Red Silk Thread, a historical drama about Marco Polo set in the court of Kublai Khan. Workshop performances of the opera took place on April 11 and 12, 2013 in the Stamps Auditorium as part of the University of Michigan Opera Program, directed by Robert Swedberg with musical director Kathryn Goodson and starring Jacob Wright, Alan Nagle, Imani Mchunu, Natalie Doran, Amanda O'Toole, and Katie Nadolny. 3-D digital backdrops created by Ninjaneer Studios. Fully staged performances are scheduled for April 2014 at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Florida, starring Matt Morgan, Hein Jung, and Thomas Potter, and featuring a 68-voice choir, with Stage Director Beth Greenberg, Opera Director Anthony Offerle, Conductor Raymond Chobaz, and Chorus Master Will Kesling, along with choreographers, digital effects professionals, costume designers, animators, répétiteurs, lighting designers, and fight coordinators.

Hilbert has composed libretti[22] for Daniel Felsenfeld.

  • Summer and All it Brings, solo cantata, chamber arrangement (score for soprano, spoken male voice, cello, and harpsichord); performed August 19, 20, 21, 2002, Bowery Poetry Club, New York City.
  • "Fortune Does Not Hide" (aria) performed live on WNYC, public radio, April 24, 2004
  • The Last of Manhattan, five-act opera, The Kitchen, Chelsea NYC, nine singers and ensemble accompaniment, two consecutive shows, May 11, 2004, each followed by a panel featuring Hilbert and Felsenfeld, moderated by Mark Adamo.[23]
  • Summer and All it Brings, full orchestral arrangement, performed by the New York City Opera at Symphony Space in Manhattan, VOX: Showcasing American Composers, May 26, 2004
  • "Of all those who held it would come," final section of The Bridge, song cycle for piano and soprano; performed at Grace Episcopal Church, May 18, 2003
  • April 30, 2009, Summer and All it Brings was performed as part of the PEN American Center "[Elaborations/Collaborations]http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/3216/prmID/1502" festival at Proshansky Auditorium, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue. Author Wesley Stace, also known by his stage name John Wesley Harding, performed the spoken male voice.
  • June 21st, 2009, "Of All Those Who Held it Would Come" was performed as part of the [Make Music New York] series.
  • May 3, 2014, Summer and All it Brings was performed by Heather Meyer and Friends at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Carroll Gardens.
  • May 19, 2014, Summer and All it Brings was performed by VisionIntoArt at The Stone in New York City, narrated by Wesley Stace and featuring soprano Heather Meyer.


Hilbert has composed song cycles for the composer Christopher LaRosa.

  • Christopher LaRosa set four poems from Sixty Sonnets as "Elegies and Laments," World Premiere in Ithaca, NY, April 20, 2012
  • Hilbert supplied the words for the "Turning Point" portion of Vignettes of Two Lovers, world Premiere in Ithaca, NY, February 26, 2011.[24]
  • Hilbert's poem "Symmetries" was used by Christopher LaRosa as the foreword of his piece "Symmetries."

Hilbert has also worked with indie rock bands.

  • Friday, May 8, 2009, Hilbert appeared on stage as a special guest with the rockabilly-punk band Mercury Radio Theater at the Khyber Pass rock club in Philadelphia.
  • Hilbert writes scripts, performs live on stage, and acts in short films for the post-punk conceptual band Mercury Radio Theater. He appeared on stage with the band and a film at the Khyber Pass rock club in Old City Philadelphia in April 2009. More recently he participated in the multi-media "Death of Mercury Radio Theater" at Johnny Brenda's rock club in Northern Liberties Philadelphia.[25]
  • In April, 2008, Hilbert signed a deal to record with Philadelphia record label Pub Can Records in Widget Studios. The album, titled Elegies & Laments, was produced by David Young. The album includes recordings of Hilbert and others, including Quincy R. Lehr and Paul Siegell, reading from his book Sixty Sonnets, backed by several musicians, including a drummer, bassist, organist, and guitarist, as well as a full orchestra and harp.[26] The music on three sections of the album was written by Marc Hildenberger and Dave Young, formerly of the band The Grayjacks. The music for the final section of the album, scored for strings, harp, and piano, was supplied by classical composer Christopher LaRosa. On WHYY's Radio Times, Marty Moss-Coane described the album as consisting of "recorded music, special effects, and found sounds." The album was released on March 15th, 1013 in a limited edition of 100 albums on 180 gram, 45 RPM 12" white vinyl with digital download and illustrated companion audiophile booklet signed by all members of the project. The album was also issued on compact disc as well as streaming and digital downloads from iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, and all major platforms and services. The website Literary Magnet called the album "Amazing and innovative . . . The music is variegated and fascinating, by turns vicious and lovely . . . [it does] what art should do: change things. Elegies & Laments will change you, too." Portions of the album were performed live with Hilbert's studio backing band Legendary Misbehavior supplemented by additional musicians from the Philadelphia band East Coastamite on March 16th, 2013 at Fergie's Pub in Philadelphia.

References[edit]

External links[edit]