Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Hornbook

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Hornbook

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes "strike-through" in the original text omitted.)

Hornbook by Jeffrey Hecker, Horseless Press, 2013, $7.00, 28 pages.

The last line of the first stanza of the first poem in Jeffrey Hecker's new chapbook Hornbook reads, "Nothing comfortable to sit on" (9) and one might wonder if the children who once carried hornbooks, perhaps "hung at the child's girdle" (27) did fail to find comfort when sitting, given that a hornbook looks striking like a paddle schools of old may have used to beat naughty children for failing to learn their letters. Hecker's Hornbook is a lesson in letters, much as "early schoolhouse erudition" (27) used hornbooks as a primer for the rudiments of language, religious material, and other necessary basics. What lesson might Hecker's Hornbook teach us? Well, certainly one lesson is an ekphrasis tutorial in typography.

Those familiar with such designer classics like films that document the necessity of Garamond and agony caused by comic sans, those who study the art of calligraphy, and those curious over the meaning of the loops and slants of script as a way to read character, will know the delight in examining the shape a letter makes on the page, be it print, digital, or hand. Hecker surely does, for Hornbook is at first glance an artistic study of shape. How else to explain his careful, meticulous, and spirited exploration of the ekphrasis of the upper and lower case inhabitants of the alphabet? How else not to find intelligent admirations in the stanza on E with the phrases "Tent door zippered" and "Uppercase F show-skiing" (10) or in G with the phrases "Cuff Link," "Empty/ Horn of plenty," and "Recalled horseshoe" (11)? By all accounts, Hornbook proves that Hecker is a man who has studied his letters and studied them well, and thereby shaping those letters into poems for us.

Of course, it isn't just the lesson in visual decoding offered in Hornbook, but the iconic association that prove how much symbols have taken on alarming meaning for us, be it students, chemists, munchers, or mathematicians. Return to E for a moment and attend to the phrase, "Depending on your public/ School zone, a pop quiz's worse fear realized" and we too can recall the sharp pain for failing a spelling test (10), again. There's also K as "Potassium" (12) from the periodic table so carefully studied in eleventh grade chem. …

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