Hieroglyphs of the Inverted World

BY Rob Halpern


ISBN: 9781734317633 (2021)

Rob Halpern’s new sequence of poems speaks to social, environmental, and personal crisis—from white supremacist violence and wildfires raging just north of San Francisco, to the death of his father—all of which are tempered by the joyful birth of his daughter, whose new life offers relief in the darkness. He calls the poems “hieroglyphs” with a tip of the hat to Marx, for whom the “hieroglyphic” appearance of the world translates “the secret” of our catastrophe. But as Halpern notes, “the secret of the thing may well be that there is no secret.” Here, investigation, analysis, and healing converge, as Hieroglyphs of the Inverted World tests the promise and the failure of cultural production, specifically lyric poetry, in the midst of disaster. In his afterword to the book, Halpern asks, “Can the moment arrested by the poem’s burnished amber show us something we don’t already know about the world?” And if not, what is the social function of the poem? Perhaps the question is unanswerable, but this book attempts a response.

The book concludes with a new essay by Halpern, “For a Hieroglyphic Poetics.”

Rob Halpern lives between San Francisco and Yspilanti, Michigan, where he organizes the Writers’ Bloc Poetry Workshop inside Women’s Huron Valley Prison, while teaching at Eastern Michigan University. His books include include Weak Link (Atelos 2019), Common Place (Ugly Duckling Presse 2015), and Music for Porn (Nightboat Books 2012). Together with Robin Tremblay-McGaw, he co-edited From Our Hearts to Yours: New Narrative as Contemporary Practice (Contemporary Practice), which was listed among Entropy’s “Best Non-Fiction” books of 2017. Halpern’s critical and lyrical essays appear in Mediations, Brooklyn Rail, Journal of Narrative Theory, Modernist Cultures, and Chicago Review, as well as the edited volumes Ecopoetics: Essays in the Field, and Political Poetics: Poetry and Communism. He is the editor of Bruce Boone Dismembered: Selected Poems, Stories, and Essays (Nightboat 2020).