Ellen Hinsey’s new collection Update on the Descent is a powerful meditation on violence, war, and human division. Drawing on personal experience and research at an international tribunal, Hinsey explores the nature and impact of terror and tyranny for both the United States and Europe. Dynamically and innovatively written in lyrical and anti-lyrical forms, including prose, aphorisms, and philosophical notebooks, Update on the Descent is a masterwork, an exploration of the extremes of the human condition, tackling issues of civil strife as well as reconciliation and the renewal of the spirit.
“In this meditation on the vita activa, Hinsey journeys poetically and philosophically through the ruins of what it means to be human in the twenty-first century. Human nature is this lyric art’s first-person, and its utterance is protean. Throughout we hear the cris de coeur of our time, from a scaffold of collective memory artfully constructed by one of our most compelling poets. Hinsey’s sense of line, cadence, and tonality is remarkable, and she deserves a serious and attentive readership in this country.” — Carolyn Forché
“With this book, Ellen Hinsey confirms her status as one of the most profound and intense poets of her generation. Update on the Descent is arranged in an extremely sophisticated pattern, alternating Dantean visions, contemporary accounts of torture, and thoughts on our human condition which crystallize into formulae possessing all the depth and darkness of Heraclitus. It has the touch of strangeness indispensable for any great poetry, but its moral message is straightforward and full of inner force.” — Tomas Venclova, author of Winter Dialogue and The Junction: Selected Poems
“Ellen Hinsey has manifested a range of concern and a sensitivity to larger human issues which is the sine qua non of authentic poetry. She has found a way to be both truthful and original, to make poems which are absorbing and enlightening, historically pertinent and philosophically urgent. . . . To our great good fortune they succeed in their unlikely ambitions.” — C. K. Williams
“[Hinsey] writes breathtakingly beautiful lyrics abut the slight possibilities of hope for renewal, she composes aphorisms that capture the horror and the paradoxical humour of human actions, and she also writes anti-lyrics that one ends by believing any serious poet is compelled to do once she looks out on our current affairs and reflects on our history. . . . Update on the Descent makes demands on the reader—philosophical, personal and political but demands that are important to respond to, given the exquisitely achieved nature of every line in this slim volume of intensely updated / intense, up-to-date poetry.” — The Warwick Review
“Update on the Descent is another remarkable collection. The book is very much an integrated design, made up of three sections: The Human Element, Testimony, and Midnight Dialogue; the whole is described by the author as ‘a meditation on the extremes of the human condition’ and in its use of a variety of forms—including lyrics, aphorism, and philosophical prose—and its employment of an extensive system of allusion and quotation (from literary and non-literary sources), the book has the complexity and the emotional/moral weight of a great piece of symphonic music.” — Acumen: Literary Journal
“Socially investigative and morally exegetic, Hinsey never crosses over into didactics. Her dialectic is composed of inventive arrangements that blend prose and aphorisms into prayer-like equations. In ‘Transcript,’ she alternates between italicized questions and reasoned responses. Between the horrors of war, she struggles to find ‘sanctity,’ ‘mercy,’ ‘knowledge,’ and ‘love.’ . . . Powerful and original, Update on the Descent is an urgent, probing book.” — The Brooklyn Rail