A few words from Brenda Hillman

This excerpt is from Brenda Hillman’s most recent book, Extra Hidden Life Among the Days. I had a hard time with it at first, but took a workshop that helped me understand the poems are about struggling to come to terms with the ecological disasters of the current moment, trying to find a way to make poetry in the midst of political, social, and natural disaster.  Here’s a brief section from the book:

 

Angrily Standing Outside in the Wind

 —kept losing self control
    but how could one lose the self
 after reading so much literary theory?
The shorter “i” stood under the cork trees,
     the taller “I” remained rather passive;
 the brendas were angry at the greed, angry
that the trees would die, had lost interest
 in the posturing of the privileged,

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Brenda Hillman on Monday

Hillman_448Brenda Hillman, who so generously allowed me to audit her class last fall, has just won the Griffin Poetry Prize, a very big deal in the poetry world, for her most recent book, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.  (Her photo here was taken by Brett Hall Jones, who manages the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a poetic feat in it’s own right.)

The judges’ citation starts: “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire concludes Brenda Hillman’s tetralogy on the four elements of classical thought. She steers wildly but ably through another day of teaching, a ceremonial equinox, the distress of bee colony collapse; space junk, political obstruction, military drones, administrative headaches, and everything in between. The ‘newt under the laurel’ and ‘the herring purring through the eelgrass’ don’t escape her arc of acuity.”

This poem is from one of her early books, Bright Existence, and it remains one of my favorites, the way it mixes the daily with the darker, ongoing undercurrent of reflection (what they call “steering wildly but ably”) and probably also because the terrain is so familiar to me:

Several Errands

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No there there, a short rant

I am taking a class on prosody, and yesterday, Gertrude Stein and her work came up in conjunction with form.  It led me to reflect on her and my reaction against words separated from meaning.

490px-GertrudeSteinFrom 1940-1944, while other Jews in France were being systematically ferreted out and deported to camps, Gertrude Stein lived in cosseted comfort. She was an apologist and translator for Marshal Pétain and his Vichy government, and had publicly supported Franco in the 30’s. No amount of revisiting of Stein and her views can change that fact that during her years in France during World War II she never distressed or disturbed herself in any way about the horrors around her. Stein was an extraordinarily privileged woman with large influence; she never raised a dime or a word in defense of the persecuted. Continue reading “No there there, a short rant”