Update on the Descent
104 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Paperback | 9780268031084 | September 2009
In Update on the Descent, Ellen Hinsey draws on personal experience and family tragedy to forge a masterful meditation on the extremes of the human condition. A poet who situates herself in a landscape steeped in the tragic history and artistic splendor of Europe, Hinsey suffuses her work with the urgency of historical memory. Alternating lyrics, aphorism, anti-lyrics, and philosophical notebooks, she explores the nature of terror, war, tyranny, and violence as well as reconciliation and renewal of the human spirit. Called by Carolyn Forche, "A true poet, whose sense of line, cadence, and tonality is unsurpassed among poets of her generation," Hinsey brilliantly contributes to the tradition of poetry as a witness to history.
Ellen Hinsey's other collections of poetry include Cities of Memory, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, and The White Fire of Time. Update on the Descent was a 2007 National Poetry Series Finalist. Her other honors include a Berlin Prize Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and a Lannan Foundation Award. Her poems, essays, and translations have appeared widely in such publications as the New York Times, the New Yorker, Poetry, the Southern Review, and the Irish Times. She lives and teaches in Paris.
"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
“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
"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
“[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