Deborah Woodard’s Hunter Mnemonics Reviewed by Cooper Renner

Hunter MnemonicsHunter Mnemonics

Poems by Deborah Woodard and drawings by Heide Hinrichs

Hemel Press

ISBN: 978-0-615-21019-3


Reviewed by Cooper Renner

The five long-lined poems assembled here call up a sort of mythic rural Northwest—red plaid, antlers, cabins and, yes, hunters—as well as the nearby Jerusalem, “just a few miles up the road,” which the speaker and her companions rarely visit. “People only went to Jerusalem if it rose magically / from the rats’ scudding.” The rats recur throughout, provoking the reader to wonder if this—despite the milkweed, the woods, the echo of the Promised Land—is an Eliotesque waste land. Woodard’s careful, reserved narrator doesn’t say, leaving the reader to piece together the evidence. Other images than the rats return repeatedly—tire tracks or ruts, wax paper, shoe laces—but they remain almost hermetically sealed behind the narrator’s reportage. Occasionally she allows the language to flare up—“the dovetailed bodies of two hawks,” “the dry goods of epidemics,” “your blood caramelized / on the jacket of the hunter”—before tamping it down again. Allusive and elusive, Hunter Mnemonics takes the deliberately ordinary world of poets like Richard Hugo and renders it almost surreal.

Equally evocative—perhaps even more so—are the accompanying illustrations by Heide Hinrichs. Washes of black ink on notebook paper, these extremely simple, yet haunting works reflect and expand upon Woodard’s words—a cluster of off-centered trees near a well, two slightly curled hands which may be giving the reader the finger, a group of buildings seen through a deer’s antlers. Because Hinrichs’s work is so powerful, I imagine for this slim chapbook two audiences which, like a Venn diagram, will only partially come together: admirers of Woodard’s methodical free verse, and those who turn to Hinrichs’s extraordinarily evocative visuals.


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