Hilton Obenzinger’s ‘Witness 2017-2020’: Witness for the prosecution
President Donald Trump, seen through a camera eyepiece, speaks at the 2019 House Republican Conference Member Retreat Dinner in Baltimore on Thursday September 12, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Hilton Obenzinger’s new book of poems Witness 2017-2020 bristles with righteous energy while wiping a tear from its eye. It captures the moments when a candid, often florid observer puts down his camera and joins, nay leads the struggle for meaning, justice, and change.

Obenzinger is a poet, novelist, social critic, and historian. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, he did his undergraduate work at Columbia, where he was active in the student movement. He earned his Ph.D. at Stanford, where he taught writing, literature, and American Studies. He recently retired as Associate Director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project.  He also taught on a Yurok Indian reservation, was part of a collective community printing press in San Francisco’s Mission District, and co-edited a periodical on Middle East Peace. His book  This Passover or Next, I Will Never Be in Jerusalem (Momo Press, 1980) won the American Book Award.

Witness 2017-2020 is a powerful work from the heart and mind, a chronicle of the Trump and Plague Years. The power of Obenzinger’s prose brims with political and social outrage. Remembered dream sequences like “Running to Zamboanga” and “The Grand Canyon of San Francisco” kaleidoscope our senses through lenses refracting both fear and hope.

Humor, often devilish, punctuates this landscape. In “God Picks His Nose,” the poet admonishes the deity, “God clean up your act and let us live.” He opens “All Regrets” (As surgery approaches): “I’m no Edith Piaf, I regret everything.”

Most of all, Hilton captures the spirit of place and moment. The world he describes is ultimately one of commitment, resistance, and uncanny hope. In its end, this work is rewarded by change. In politics, Biden wrests the presidency from the villainous Trump. In spirit, the forces of creativity and love have triumphed.

Spending time among Hilton Obenzinger’s poems is sharing the spirit of a comrade!

Hilton Obenzinger
Witness 2017-2020
Irene Weinberger Books
Publication date August 15, 2021
106 pp., $16.95
ISBN-10: 0990376796. ISBN-13: 978-0990376798


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.