Tourist in Hell
Eleanor Wilner’s poems attempt to absorb the shock of the wars and atrocities of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In their litany of loss, in their outrage and sorrow, they retain the joy in life, mercy for the mortal condition, and praise for the plenitude of nature and the gifts of human artistry.
As with her six earlier collections, these poems are drawn from the transpersonal realm of history and cultural memory, but they display an increasing horror at the bloody repetitions of history, its service of death, and the destructive savagery of power separated from intelligence and restraint. The poems describe “a sordid drama” in which the players wear “eyeless masks,” and the only thing time changes is the name of the enemy. Underneath it all, driving “the art that” in both senses “keeps nothing at bay,” swim the enormous formal energies of life, the transitive figure that moves on in the depths, something glimpsed in the first light, something stronger than hope.
“It is a relief to come across work in which a moral intelligence is matched by aesthetic refinement, in which the craft of the poems is equal to their concerns.”--Christian Wiman, Poetry
“This is a big, moving, and intellectually satisfying collection by one of our most humane, wise, and intelligent poets.”
“Wilner is a poet of incomparable erudition and gifts of insight. There is no other contemporary poet who has addressed, as she has throughout her distinguished career, the world legacy of history and myth with such a keen sense of wonder, curiosity, and, in the end, literal re-vision. Tourist in Hell furthers Wilner’s reputation as a great poet of the invisible, the forgotten, and the potential.”
“In Tourist in Hell, Wilner visits zones of torment and brutality—not because she relishes them, but because they open inexorably under her feet as she goes about the business of being human. An extraordinary volume, one that marks a new, compressed ferocity in Wilner’s project of poetic witness. It feels to me like a necessary book.”
“Expansive and unbridled, Wilner’s poems not only induce the reader to look at horrors and injustices of the past, they also force us to see.”
“In her seventh book . . . Wilner focuses on history, current events, literature, mythology, and Christianity. She carefully fuses autobiographical details to a larger context, and one hears echoes of the Old Testament, Roman Catholic prayers, William Shakespeare, Arthur Rimbaud, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, among others.”