book by David Hernandez

annotation by Lisa Cheby

David Hernandez’s recent collection, Hoodwinked,  contains deceptively simple poems.  He writes of butterflies, supermarkets, post offices, and David Letterman.   Of this collection, Carol Muske-Dukes writes, “Hernandez is not fooling around, but this book brilliantly fools with our expectations and inability to focus on what’s in front of us.”   Deborah Lechner writes, “David Hernandez writes fearlessly, unapologetically and coherently of the vital subject of inevitable deterioration.”

However, for me, this book is about memory and storytelling, about the fluidity of truth and reality.  He  poses outrageous questions: “Do butterflies have walking dreams?”     And images that make the eye of our brain spin: from “This is how/ every story telephoned from person / to person becomes after each telling / distorted”  leading us to the tunnel of  images reflecting in the barbershop mirrors, “an endless green tunnel” to “Memory is  murky thing/ always changing its mind” from a poem with epigraphs from the murky memoirist, James Frey.  Later, in “Panoramic,” the poem mocks its own memory distilling the 11 stanzas of the first section down to a single stanza filled simply with “something” (really, in two lines he uses the word four times). 

Hernandez achieves this replication of memory’s murkiness and fictionalization through  repetition.  Thus, Hoodwinked, recreates how we speak and remember and retell and, well,  recreate memories that we un-spin and re-spin until we get the story we know or that we want to know.  We see repetition is the books constant return to memory as well as subtle repetition of words and phrases within poems.  The first poem, “Questions About Butterflies,” is a poem of memory from the speaker’s childhood.  In the poem, the phrase “We are” is repeated, as if recreating the memory, affirming the fiction to be truth.  Later, “butterfly” takes over shifting focus from the “We are” to the reality of the memory:  the questions raised by the butterflies.  “Panoramic,” repeats not through direct repetition, but through the evocation of repetition in mocking the inadequacy of memory or retelling, the blurring of details.   Finally, in the last poem, Hernandez leaves us with one last glimpse of repetition, as ghostly as a memory, starting the final poem with “Through a tunnel,” repeating the imagery of the “endless green tunnel” from “Trompe L’Oeil.”

We never really know when the speaker of the poems is telling the truth or asserting desire truth through the assertion of repetition.  Though, as David says in an interview on “How A Poem Happens,” “There’s a presumption that a poem is more meaningful if the poet describes an experience exactly as it happened, and if he were to fiddle with the facts, then the poem is somehow inauthentic. As if simply sticking to the facts will prevent one from sounding disingenuous. I’m more concerned that the poem sounds emotionally true . . . .”   And on that level, there is no attempt to hoodwink his readers.

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