“Where You Happen to Be” poems by Leonore Hildebrandt

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The title of this collection comes from a quotation by Buckminster Fuller, the genius who invented the geodesic dome. In his lifetime, Fuller was awarded 25 patents, wrote 28 books, received 47 honorary doctorates, and was such a globe-hopper that, legend has it, he wore four watches at once, each adjusted to a different time zone. In his final televised interview he said, “The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set. It is the Earth that revolves around it. Then teach them the concepts of north, south, east and west, and that they relate to where you happen to be on the planet’s surface. Everything else will follow.”

If the poet Leonore Hildebrandt wanted a model of an inquiring, roving, persistent mind, she couldn’t have chosen better. Her poems roam the hills of New Mexico, the Maine coastline, urban chaos-scapes, and fairy tale forests. All the while, Hildebrandt’s unerring sense of rhythm and musicality (she’s a musician, too) gives the poems a flow and spring that’s sometimes close to jazz and sometimes as formal as a sonnet.

Her themes are rich and her sources eclectic. “Thinking Potatoes” brings to mind the earthiness of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters but the piling up of image upon image recalls Sylvia Plath. In other poems, there are echoes of Pablo Neruda and Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson and Theodore Roethke.

Hildebrandt re-imagines stories of all kinds – fairy tales, Greek myths, the Arabian Nights, and nursery rhymes: Old Macdonald and Sing a Song of Sixpence. She disrupts these by appending contemporary trappings: Old Macdonald sprays weed-killing toxins onto his farmland; the maid who gets her nose pecked off in Sing a Song of Sixpence “was not stabbed, not shot in the face.”

If disruption is a theme here, several of the strongest poems register disquiet at the way we treat living things. War, ecological destruction, the careless descent into brutality – all of these are referenced in the collection. In “Sand Hour Sand,” she quotes a line, attributed to Geronimo, which is found on a grave marker: “Nothing survives except the rock.”

It’s sometimes said that a writer needs both binoculars and a microscope, the former to see the long view, the latter to find essential details. Hildebrandt has both in her armory and she uses them to create gorgeous poems that make you consider “where you happen to be.” Buckminster Fuller would have approved.

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Leonore Hildebrandt

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