Brenda Hillman

Winner of the William Carlos Williams Award in 2006

from Pieces of Air in the Epic

Street Corner

There was an angle
where I went for
centuries not as a
self or feature but
exhaled as a knowing
brick tradesmen engineered for
blunt or close recall;
soundly there, meanings grew
past a second terror
finding their way as
evenings, hearing the peppermint
noise of sparrows landing
like spare dreams of
citizens where abstraction and
the real could merge.
We had crossed the
red forest; we had
recognized a weird lodge.
We could have said
song outlasts poetry, words
are breath bricks to
support the guardless singing
project. We could have
meant song outlasts poetry.


Marjorie Welish on Brenda Hillman

As advertised, Pieces of Air in the Epic takes much inspiration from the second element of cosmological imagination, for in this book of poems the element of air is not only a theme but a measure of prosody, not only a measure but an intervention in the poetic line that shapes words and disturbs the sentence. With tactical scruple, Brenda Hillman chooses the apt approach to construct a poem of document and lyric, testing one against the other. Textual sampling and collage appear in conjunction with a reimagining of fact through an ethical zone of anti-war activism that come to enrich and trouble poetic radiance.

Graced with Robert Duncan's tutelary spirit, each poem that Hillman writes creates its own experimental configuration, within which the phrase swerves and discombobulates sense, as several registers of subject complicate the sampling of experience and also as the experimental format throws the lyric into symbolist disarray one moment and naturalist scrutiny the next. And even more: she writes as if the lyric poem had a political calling.

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