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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: Hoodwinked by David Hernandez

Hoodwinked by David Hernandez
Sarabande Books, Inc. Available August of 2011.
Poetry Review by Debrah Lechner.

Hoodwinked won the 2010 Kathryn A. Morton Prize in poetry, and for good reason.

The vast majority of images in the poems of Hoodwinked are of everyday life, an ordinary, common life filled with ordinary beauty and common events; but the repeated theme of death and decay draw these images into magnified, sharp focus. From the start the poems read like the memoir of a survivor. There are in fact two or three references to war, but the overall impression is of occupation, an imprisonment in the unforgettable reality of universal entropy. David Hernandez writes fearlessly, unapologetically and coherently of the vital subject of inevitable deterioration.

It is a preoccupation that drives many poets, sometimes presented in abstract form. But melting clocks and the like only have so much emotional leverage, and in David Hernandez’ poetry it is the recognizably lived life that loads the emotion and gives such power to its discharge.

(Finally, I thought, a poet who is as morbidly obsessed as I am.)

A line of ants march through this volume. They appear and disappear again three or four times, and each time carry away bits of matter and moments that will never return. From the poem "Hangover."

On the lawn, a paper plate

dotted with cake crumbs,
a flurry of ants. I think

through the throbbing

and the night spools back
in scraps, the gaps in-between

large, deleted for good.

A little like death. Or nowhere
near. What dying will do

with memories I can only

speculate: crumbs
left on a plate or carried

one and one into the grass.

It’s good to think about these things, to notice such details, to memorialize them, and not only because it is a reminder to Use Time Wisely, but because if you’re going to live, you might as well live in reality. Anything less is cheating.

(In grammar school, I was always graded poorly in the category of “Uses Time Wisely.” No matter. Aging takes care of that.)

I love it that David Hernandez is sorry to see flies die. I love it that he grieves the consumption of cake and oranges and time.

I love the very funny and brazen poem about James Frey, in which he asserts he was sitting in the seat next to Frey in the airplane, and relates his own version of events. Why not? More writers should publish their “memoirs” of that incident.

In Panoramic the poet takes “a short walk down a long road,” and a promising October day delivers some disturbing moments. “A small bird made smaller by a flurry of ants. . . a hawk, its red shriek tapering off to silence. . .” and a picnic attended by mourners that a thunderstorm scatters. Then:

. . .Raindrops stipple
as I hurry home to the antidote

of your hands. When the time comes to lie down
beside you, I’ll begin forgetting what my eyes

have recorded: the dead bird, a shrieking hawk,
mourners scattering under the flashing sky.


The dead something, the shrieking something,
something scattering under the flashing something.

Honest, evocative, profoundly felt: this is a love poem that records how wrong it is that such things can haunt us even when we know we are loved.

God is the big nothing that allows
you to move around in this world

Hernandez says this in his last poem, "The Big Nothing, or the Gap Between David Letterman’s Teeth."

The world is full of a number of things, as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote. The presence of death doesn’t preclude the enjoyment of the random beauty we find in life. Maybe when death is remembered at such moments, the moment lingers a little longer, or a fly’s life is spared for another several wing beats.

Or maybe that’s a little too whimsical. In any case, there death is: we really have no choice but to decide whether or not we’ll be honest about it.

David Hernandez is the author of other award-winning poetry collections, and his poems have appeared in numerous publications. He is also the author of two novels for teens. Visit his Home Page to see what David Hernandez has written lately and read more about him. Hoodwinked is available here at, or from any other number of vendors.

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