Variations on Hölderin – Geoffrey Hlibchuk

Snare Books, $10.00 Layout 1

Madness is the inability to create boundaries. Madness is the inability to escape boundaries. Hlibchuk’s poems revolving around Friedrich Hölderin are obsessed with the liminal, the crossing space where sky meets the earth, where “earth hinges down to the lake”, where the surface and the unseen, always dark underworld collide. The narrator of the collection struggles to define each border, diving further with each effort into repetitive, looping detail, at once constrained and still hopefully drawn to the long line of horizon, the heavens beyond that.

The work centers around the repeated conceit of the poems’ titles “Variation on a Theme by Hölderin”; this centers the poems, allows a consistent narrator and voice that is recognizable and ever evolving throughout the book. This grounding is important because so much of the work is spent gazing at the sky: the pages are littered with satellites, stars, celestial gods and rockets.  The main tensions of the texts come from the anxiety of the limitless expanse of space and its possibilities – the poem “Wait Long Enough by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By” repeats the tragic quest of Alexis Belokoniov; “Optical Flat” outlines the ever advancing pressures of science and its inescapability. This weight from above is best inhabited by the astounding collages scattered throughout the book: “Trigonometric Algorithm Over Horizon, Kansas 1953” displays the apocalyptic concern perfectly, as a family rushes towards a bomb shelter as a math equation climbs out of the far horizon. It is this constant attention and apprehension towards the finite and the infinite that pulls the reader through the work.

All this fear focuses down in amazing clarity to the narrator’s struggle with his/her identity. The limitless spaces that extend from each border question the narrator’s interaction with the world, all returning to the question of where does the self end and reality begin. Is each person as limitless as the sky? And so the reader is left at the end of this work with this inability to define the self, the struggle between the macro and micro, a singular person at the center of a very vast universe, trying to comprehend all that space.