Mark Hillringhouse’s Between Frames integrates poems previously published in many magazines with more than twenty striking black and white photographs. These black and white photographs and poems reveal the cultural geography of a vanishing America, using images of New Jersey that look back to a place in our collective memory: old state highways, greasy roadside diners, abandoned movie theaters, the vanishing Main Streets of Woolworth’s five and dimes and of post-industrial inner-cities. It is an unusual collection in that the photographer is also a poet who documents the beauty amid the desolation of rust-belt America. In both verbal and visual imagery, Hillringhouse gives us a shadowed world caught between elegy and silence and that moves us from vastness to intimacy. Between Frames weaves family history, personal guilt, feelings of loss with meditations on the strangeness of being in a world fraught with beauty and decay.
Mark Hillringhouse’s poems, interviews, articles, essays, book reviews and translations have appeared in: the American Poetry Review, American Poetry, Columbia, Hanging Loose, the Literary Review, the Little Magazine, New American Writing, the New Jersey Monthly, the New York Times Book Review, and many others. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won the Chester H. Jones National Poetry Competition, and three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. [author photo by Christopher Lovi]
One foot smack in the middle of the New York School, the other firmly rooted in northern New Jersey, Hillringhouse has created a liminal dwelling place of wavering dimensions and countless possibilities. Here are poems—of a bright, clear language—that blur the line between what is of-the-mind and what is of-the-world. And here are photographs, too—of spaces intricately parsed by what is both concrete and shadowed—and which, like the poems, never give in to the obvious. His work is remarkable in its subtle black-and-whitenesses with their multitudinous in-betweens. “Here,” his narrator says in one poem, “is where you will always be.” And, of course, we are, and are happy to be. Hillringhouse captures us brilliantly, hard edges and soft, in that place Between Frames.
Mark Hillringhouse’s poems blend beautifully with his photographs. Think Baudelaire if he’d been American, Williams if he’d been born in France. Think dark diamonds and glistening coal. Between Frames is urban poetry and photography at their best.
These courageously sorrowful poems are poised on the knife’s edge between futility and wonder. Hard as they lean on the naked facts of loss and dreck, guilt and missed opportunities, they also conjure another world, shadowy and haunted, a royal vision lurking just beyond the everyday, like de Chirico’s streetscapes. The photographs are a perfect complement to the poems, beautiful, stringent, elegant and stubborn.
Mark Hillringhouse is the Philip Levine of photography and the Walker Evans of poetry. There is the essence of poetry in every photograph, and there is a photograph in every line of every poem. His work reveals nothing that smacks of a scenic overlook. Every photograph, every poem is instead that of a scene usually and understandably overlooked. He invites us to into the ruins and gives us a chance and the choice to attach our most compassionate selves to life in the hard scrabble of disappointment. This is not work about loss as we often think of it. This work is about what’s left. Mark Hillringhouse, with his subtly brave eye and empathic voice, has preserved the luminosity of the neglected.
The absolute sadness of America is in these poems and these photographs; and the old hopes and dreams–and the rage–scattered throughout. And the amazing courage and kindness of the one who is both poet and photographer.
I was always under the false impression that if you were an artist you could only do one thing exceedingly well. With Mark Hillringhouse’s Between Frames this idea has no merit. He excels as a photographer who writes poems and a poet who takes photographs. The important thing is he has made us this book. It takes a poet to see.