A fiery life force runs through everything in Brenda Hillman's latest book of poetry. "Seasonal Works With Letters On Fire" ($22.95 in hardcover from Wesleyan University Press; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format), nominated for a National Book Award, concludes a series of volumes exploring earth, air, water and, now, fire.
Perhaps it's the poet's responsibility to discover that life-fire, to give voice to it, or even to create it in the interplay of the physical "stuff" of words and letters and the meanings they evoke. Hers is not a humanist but an animist vision; yet humans can make a difference: "words are living." Hillman's book is dedicated in part "To women awake in the world / To people moaning at gas pumps, to the students / To protesting corporate violence ... To Love & the unsayable / To the fire in everything."
Most of her short poems end in a dash, as if there is unfinished business. Her work requires surrender to an artistic playfulness. In "Some Kinds Of Reading In Childhood," the poem ends: "The world has created a sickness / but the sickness is being / reversed ... Consonants / can be reasoned with, but vowels / start fires--now! breathing / twice: Now! Here come / the bandit occupiers: / silence & meaning--"
The poet attests all is not well. "When i read the word drone," Hillman writes in "The Body Politic Loses Her Hair," "my hair falls out in solidarity with old words. Stingless singless honey bees [Apis mellifera] or the music drones on & on, but now (at the top of Google), unmanned, where the 'un' in the 'unmanned' looks like little pinchers, the 'u' & the 'n' like the fingers on a throttle when one of our soldiers bombs a target's wedding while his family members are eating potatoes with tamarind, cardamom, onion, / & the target's family falls."
In "I Heard Flame-Folder Spring Bring Red," the poet observes "Women / in Kandahar make $2 a month; our people / tweet & sleep through the wars, / our soggy purses lie open, the eyes / of the dollar bills stare up from the / floor--"
Hillman will be speaking at Chico's 1078 Gallery, 820 Broadway, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., sponsored by the Butte College Literary Committee. The event is free; donations welcome.