In A Digital Wasteland: A Review of schema geometrica by Dennis Hinrichsen

schema geometrica by Dennis Hinrichsen

Green Linden Press, 2021

80 pages, $18.00

Review by Kimberly Ann Priest

It’s no secret (at least to me) that I’ve written about complicity more than I ever imagined I would. My own poetry of sexual assault—the very writing of fragmented memories and a traumatized body—have reminded me repeatedly that it is impossible to live in this world and not be in some way negatively altered by encounters with other humans and earthly beings. And it is equally impossible not to, however unconsciously, participate in those negative alterations. Dennis Hinrichsen’s schema geometrica resounds with the clash and clatter of complicity as well; not the bodily complicities of my trauma excavations, but our individual and collective complicity with lust, destruction, and digitization that impacts ecology and economy. This is not a feel-good book of poetry. It is poetry written with all the reflective energies of a writer in his prime observing the downward egocentric spiral of his culture—his American culture—like T. S. Elliot in a digital wasteland, exposing, waking, lamenting.

Hinrichsen swiftly admits his own complicity early in the book in “[schema geometrica] [On the Scorpion Ambition of Money]”:

I must
be complicit // taste of coal in my lungs // entire species
going extinct in the pool of my eyes // humorous once //
a glassy joyous vitreous // now just veined with murderous silks //
—O dollar I will serve you

At no point in the collection does Hinrichsen claim to be exempt from the problem. “I am perfecting male gaze (in secret)” he says in “[schema geometrica] [Dysphagia]” while perusing Facebook, “so much sheen & sculpted tummy I can feel a bikini fetish being born.” And in “[schema geometrica] [w/Rainer Maria Rilke] [& a Tuk Tuk] [& a Dog]” he considers the basic pollution of his existence with 

—I breathe indiscriminately // I kill the same//
just as air does now moving through me // oxygen unstrung & grafted
to blood // waste product even now in these words // thinking O tall tree
in the ear keep churning
// you are such a beautiful kite carrying me
elsewhere I forget I am just another engine idling

Dennis and I have workshopped poetry together for quite some time now. One of the things I love about this book is the formal play—some of which was hacked from my own formal moves in my book Still Life [PANK] which examines the body’s complicity with pedophilic sexual trauma. 

The poems in schema geometrica adopt the slashes I use in my series of pedophile poems but as “broken sonnets,” as Dennis calls them, that make a multitude of thoughtful shifts between nature, music, personal history, and classical poets, among other things. “I wanted to write a book on behalf of nature,” he says, in an interview with Linda K Sienkiewicz, “without the usual tropes of nature.” He succeeds while exploring “electronic waste, nuclear waste, the harm my money does, the viral nature of music, where my clothes are made, that perpetual dance between the erotic and the pornographic, and, of course, the coronavirus,” adding splashes of John Donne, James Brown, Elvis, and Rumi along the way.

Even splashier is the construction of the entire manuscript, a book design that would inspire jealousy in any poet. Not only is the final product clean, thick, and quality, but it is also incredibly creative with visual art and vellum erasure pages that amp up the schema aspect of this text. “[A] bestiary” Dennis calls it with its brain scan image, vellum sunrays, and cartoon of jazz musicians. His publisher, he tells me, wants to push “the book” beyond traditional limits to see what a book can do. schema is an evident success: a vibrant cacophony of lyric and image. For instance, behind an elephant drawing on vellum is a broken sonnet titled [schema geometrica] [w/ a Slice of Apple & an Elephant]; but on the vellum itself, words have been brought through to form another poem that reads simply: “White man / blindness / but still capillarial its action / & then that / god / arm (not tusk) extended / a waterfall / defying gravity / by this / you.” A fragment of poetry as powerful as any piece in the book. 

Dennis remains true to his promise to approach the natural world in ways divorced of typical tropes. In “[I Wanted to Write a Poem about Guns but Ended Up Talking to a Fish Instead],” he begins with an epitaph paying homage to three mass shootings, a theme that keeps repeating itself in US history. The fish in the poem comes to represent collective divinity, the puncturing of the fish’s “sloppy target-eye” with a hook is like the “gun I pin my rage to like a selfie.” The speaker cannot “bear to utter names” of the murdered, but an image of the massacre in his media feed “burns a hole in data & slaughters God.” In “[schema geometrica] [w/Instagram Model Kaylen Ward & a Yangtze River Paddlefish], Dennis examines the irony of selling nude photos to save wildlife affected by the fires in Australia. “—O Kaylen” asks the speaker, “do I honor it by dishonoring you you are so tiny in my hands…” And in “[Phantasmagoria w/Mark Zuckerberg & a Zombie],” he draws our attention to the death of a friend whose Facebook profile will continue to pollute as “a carbon footprint” that is “caged,” he says, “by electricity.”

Perhaps the most moving poem in this book is “[I Text my Father in the Afterlife & He Does Not Respond] [w/Beckett Echo]” for reasons the title is powerful enough to explain. He writes:

—Dear father I know you are happy now

I cannot find you in the ether—just the notice of your dying—
not even nuclear in its resonance—not even one
bad photo clouding over one blue sky //

Dennis Hinrichsen is a poet leaving his own footprint in the world, one that is fully conscious of its impact and, therefore, painstakingly taking ownership of the space this text will occupy materially and historically by creating a footprint that is, at very least, a healthy challenge to our oblivious and destructive tendencies. Dennis hones a sharp sense of how each of us and our movements impact spirit, planet, and virtual space, and asks us to do the same.

As a poet he has deeply impacted me; as a person as well. Buy all of his books. This is one artist history should not take for granted.

Kimberly Ann Priest

Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird, finalist for the American Best Book Awards, as well as chapbooks The Optimist Shelters in Place, Parrot Flower, and Still Life. Winner of the New American Press 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize, her work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Salamander, Slipstream, The Berkeley Poetry Review, EcoTheo, Borderlands and other journals. She is an associate poetry editor for the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and assistant professor at Michigan State University.