Ernest Hilbert’s debut poetry collection Sixty Sonnets (2009) was described by X.J. Kennedy as “maybe the most arresting sequence we have had since John Berryman checked out of America.” His second collection, All of You on the Good Earth (2013), has been hailed as a “wonder of a book,” “original and essential,” an example of “sheer mastery of poetic form,” containing “some of the most elegant poems in American literature since the loss of Anthony Hecht.” His third collection, Caligulan (2015), has been called “brutal yet beautiful,” defined by “pleasure, clarity, and discipline,” “tough-minded and precise,” filled with a “stern, witty, and often poignant music,” “a page-turner in a way most poetry books can never be.”
He supplies opera libretti and song lyrics for contemporary composers Stella Sung, Daniel Felsenfeld, and Christopher LaRosa, as well as scripts for the post-punk conceptual band Mercury Radio Theater. Hilbert is the Concentration Director for the World of Versecraft, the Master of Fine Arts program in poetry at Western State University of Colorado, where he teaches an intensive summer course on the practical art of the opera libretto as well as courses in verse satire, dramatic poetry, studies in translation, foundations of English prosody, and the history of the English language.
His poems have appeared in Yale Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Parnassus, Sewanee Review, Hudson Review, Boston Review, Verse, New Criterion, The New Republic, American Scholar, Hopkins Review, Oxonian Review, and the London Review, as well as several anthologies, including the Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (2009) and two Penguin classroom anthologies, Poetry and Literature (both 2011). He graduated with a doctorate in English Language and Literature from Oxford University, where he edited the Oxford Quarterly. He later served as poetry editor of Random House’s magazine Bold Type and editor of Contemporary Poetry Review.
In 2013, The Red Silk Thread, the first opera collaboration by composer Stella Sung and librettist Ernest Hilbert received two public workshop productions at the Michigan Opera Studio at Ann Arbor. A fully-staged production took place in April 2014 at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for Performing Arts in Gainesville, Florida, with 70-piece orchestra, 60-voice offstage choir, and a cast of professional singers. Hilbert delivered a pre-concert lecture on the role of the librettist and also gave a talk on the making of a modern opera for 1,000 local school children.
On April 16th, 2013, Hilbert was a guest for a one-hour interview on NPR’s “Radio Times” with Marty Moss-Coane. In December 2013, Hilbert was interviewed by WHYY/NPR 90.7FM’s Peter Crimmins for a radio feature titled “The Sonnet Makes a Small Comeback.” A recording of Ernest Hilbert reading his Mummers poem “Broad and Washington,” was broadcast on WHYY as part of the News Works Tonight New Year’s program the evening of December 31, 2013. Hilbert also appeared for three interviews on NPR-affiliate WDIY 88.1FM between 2009 and 2013. Hilbert was interviewed by Curtis Fox about the poetry of W.D. Snodgrass for Poetry Foundation podcast series “Poetry Off the Shelf.” Hilbert also appeared in 2009 on the “Joe Milford Radio Show.” On July 31st, 2015, WHYY’s “Radio Times in Review Poet’s Edition” featured interviews with Hilbert, Rita Dove, and Nikky Finney. On May 1st, 2015, recordings of several of Hilbert’s poems appeared on PRX (Public Radio Exchange) as part of a program guest-hosted by Brian Heston for Georgia State Radio titled “Brotherly Love: Philadelphia.”
Hilbert is as a senior specialist at Bauman Rare Books in Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, Keeper of the Mediterranean Section at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.