Cities of Memory Essay - Critical Essays

Ellen Hinsey

Cities of Memory

Ellen Hinsey is a Massachusetts native who lives in Paris, France. Her poems have appeared in various prestigious newspapers and magazines such as THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE PARIS REVIEW, THE NEW ENGLAND REVIEW, and THE MISSOURI REVIEW. In 1995, CITIES OF MEMORY won the Yale Series of Younger Poets. The works included in the book are informed by Hinsey’s sensitivity to and interest in the cultural, political, historical, and geographical landscapes of Europe and by her eagerness to celebrate a connectedness which is fundamental to all those who believe in the commonality in human experience.

Poetry uses metaphorical language to portray human experience that cannot be portrayed any other way. The juxtaposition of the exploration of abstract ideas and the portrayal of concrete images works in two ways. On one hand, concrete images are employed to reveal and reinforce poets’ thematic concerns. In Hinsey’s “The Art of Measuring Light,” light is used as an image to suggest the conquerability of distance created by space and time. Images are also used to concretize an experience which otherwise would remain largely metaphysical. In the poem “Trains at Night,” Hinsey compares the train’s shadowy corridor to “an apology:/ a winding argument of thrusts and retreats,/ whose odd logic keeps the night/ navigator pinned by turns to the window’s/ reflection, or cast up against compartments/ where the tremulous sleep, under a blanket/ of half-closed eyes.”

In CITIES OF MEMORY, Hinsey’s sensitivity, her longing for connectedness, and the musical quality of her poems help create a symphony whose notes will for sure strike a common chord among those who share her feelings about place, about culture, and about history.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, June 1, 1996, p. 1667.

Library Journal. CXXI, June 15, 1996, p. 68.

Philadelphia Inquirer. May 28, 1996, p. C1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, June 3, 1996, p. 74.