cover image CASCADIA


Brenda Hillman, . . Wesleyan Univ., $26 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-8195-6492-4

Eclectic, sometimes derivative, sometimes inspired, the latest from the prolific, mercurial Hillman (Loose Sugar, Death Tractates, etc.) spins a luminescent web of vivid, disjunctive lines into an uncertain whole. Geologists know "Cascadia" as the name for the land-mass that became the American West Coast: Hillman's serial mix of long and short poems links Californian geology, geography, history (a Gold Rush-era diarist named Shirley), continental philosophy, and personal experience: "Sentences dip/ down to the idea as wiggle rock-granite/ diving through other granite… driving as we/ drove, not meaning to." Some poems are content with their lyrical verbal effects; others play with typography for effects that are energetic, familiar to readers of Susan Howe and Jorie Graham, and occasionally baffling: "Always confusing bridge and bride// ;;;?(),—!.// How can you sleep with that train turned up all night." Hillman's longer pieces try hard to use plate tectonics, memory, motherhood, addiction, the typographical form of the page, and phenomenology as metaphors for one another—the results can shine in single lines and stanzas, though they sometimes fail to cohere. Her big, ambitious project, and her breathtaking single phrases, will certainly impress some readers, but Hillman's best poems owe the least to her overarching cascade—several beautiful, spare single-page works evoke California's Spanish missions; a sonnet brings Anna Karenina to the Y; and a provocative, elegant lyric declares, "an individual/ transgressive arrow/ is shot through everything." (Sept.)

Forecast: As an editor of the California Poetry Series at the University of California, and as a poet-professor at the University of Iowa's MFA program, Hillman exerts a large influence even beyond her work. This book should do extremely well among poets and students, and should have special appeal to denizens of the West.