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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In poems that celebrate survival and renewal, Ernest Hilbert summons the ageless conflict between human affection and the passing of time, recognizing that all we love must eventually disappear. Tender poems of fatherhood weigh against unsettling explorations of natural dangers and intimations of bodily harm. 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.”
Ernest Hilbert’s Storm Swimmer is a gleaming cornucopia of dreams, nightmares, tenderness, and grace. In Hilbert we encounter the poet as allegorical realist: a seer who has “known beauty almost impossible / To believe, nearly always lost amid / All the usual distractions.” This is 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. Storm Swimmer is a book of great feeling and of great technical skill. Everything in it is sacrificed for poetry, which is why everything in this beautiful book lives.
– Rowan Ricardo Phillips, author of Living Weapon
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In Storm Swimmer, fatherhood is neither one-dimensional nor short-sighted; instead, fatherhood is a nexus, rigged with grace and curiosity—an enduring gift for a son and for readers. 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.
– Eduardo C. Corral, author of Guillotine: Poems
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Ernest Hilbert’s Storm Swimmer 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. Throughout, the ocean’s push and pull is literal—littoral—and figurative—metaphorical, yes, but also “representing forms that are recognizably derived from life”—all definitional italics mine, of course, though the emphasis is all Hilbert’s, a patterning of attentive sound, sight, and specificity that calls to mind Gerard Manley Hopkins’s instress, inscape. While the sublime of the natural world carries its own beauty and terror in Storm Swimmer, the booty and error of the Anthropocene, freighted with consumer stuff and consuming violence, pulls the reader in (and under) as well. As the book tips past its midpoint, we see ourselves in the storm (the repetition of “We’ve never seen a storm like this before” in “Visitation”); we see ourself in the oceanic depths (activated in “Range” by a gun’s report “Surging on the seafloor of my skull”). In Hilbert’s poems, the internal and external blur, while the language lights a way forward through the fog.
– Dora Malech, author of Flourish
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Ernest Hilbert’s ambitious book Storm Swimmer—it includes epigraphs in Greek from Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes—is a meditation on fatherhood and on the human legacy bequeathed to a young son, culminating in a poem appropriately indebted to Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight.” But this tender domesticity also achieves a pelagic reach, as the collection begins and ends with ocean swimming. The fact that one of its maritime settings is Corson’s Inlet on the New Jersey shore, where poet A. R. Ammons revolutionized the relation between thought and poetic line in a way that sparked Projectivism, is indicative too of the verbal and formal resourcefulness of this collection. And its cultural range is no less wide—from Mozart’s K. 265 or Fauré’s Requiem to a Heavy Metal tribute night.
– Karl Kirchwey, author of The Engrafted Word
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Ernest Hilbert has always written from the ragged edge between tradition and the present moment, and now he goes for a deeper immersion, a swimmer in life, aware of its most desperate and beautiful currents. Here we have the consolations of family life, but also the desolation and waste of pornography and the art world—even rhymed couplets on a semi-automatic pistol. The sea has taught him to ride out the detritus of existence, to see it but not be consumed by it, and his forms give spine to his vision. Storm Swimmer is his strongest book so far, urgent and real.
– David Mason, author of Pacific Light