Thursday, October 25, 2007

Poet, activist Brenda Hillman speaking tonight in Chico


As part of the On the Creek Lectures series, writers Brenda Hillman and Forrest Gander will speak tonight at 7:30 at the Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall/PAC 132 on the Chico State University campus. Sponsored by Chico Performances and the Institute of Sustainable Development, the presentation is free to the public but tickets are required. They're available at University Box Office or by calling 898-6333.

Hillman's latest work, "Pieces of Air in the Epic" ($13.95 in paperback from Wesleyan), is the second of a poetic tetralogy focusing on the primal constituents of the world: earth, air, fire, water. Her poetry is experimental, bending and chopping meanings, pulling apart lines as if to let the air in (or out), using symbols and repeated letters and coining words in Hopkins-like fashion, sometimes drawing the reader's attention to how the words sit on the page, sometimes pushing images together that don't make sense, but do.

The book is difficult, in part because its author inhabits a kind of gnostic world only a few can enter. Those who know her work well have written short essays on individual poems in "Pieces of Air," available online at and they are immensely helpful as an entrance into a dizzying world that insists, despite war and more war, that the song (the quintessential breath) will go on.

Air is part of the natural world; it is life, spirit, wind, invisible. The epic is something human made, telling of fighting, violence, conquest (think of Homer's "Iliad" or Virgil's "Aeneid"). What happens when the two come together? In "Nine Untitled Epyllions" (an epyllion is a short epic, usually with a romantic theme) the first line reads: "Something about breathing / The air inside a war." This group of poems is "dedicated to all who have suffered & died as a result of the war in Iraq."

"Embedded with Bechtel McDonald's" the words read, "With Daddy War — or Starbucks' floating voice / Over e-e-e-each / Exploded body into third forever / News briefs with short particulars." But "In the malls ... The war is forget forgot forgotten. ... The mall is a square with bumps like a small epic. / Through vents, winds swirl: / 1) a sort of sweet lite rock 2) faded popcorn / 3) infinity 4) a breezy o in the word world."

There is more, from oddnesses in libraries (the wind stirs the dust motes) to Altamont Pass ("the breeze turns and turns"). Not warfare; airfare.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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