cover image Pieces of Air in the Epic

Pieces of Air in the Epic

Brenda Hillman, . . Wesleyan Univ., $22.95 (87pp) ISBN 978-0-8195-6787-1

Reaching for prophetic powers without abandoning small-scale details, playing with page-based form while attending to the sound of each line, Hillman's seventh book combines the big ambitions of Cascadia (2001) with the personal touch of Loose Sugar (1997): the result may be her best book yet, both as a book-length project and as a collection of freestanding poems. The "air" Hillman invokes includes human voices, breath and song, with their connotations of spirit and individuality: "People think they are you but they are not/ You are you & no one & everything." Yet by "air" the poet also refers to the atmosphere that circles the globe and carries radio signals, jet planes, and news, especially news of the war in Iraq. "Wind will rend the suburbs/ with information seeking nature," she writes; "The lost one/ is everywhere; you won't/ recover him." Making subtle use of Virgil and Homer, Hillman attends often to ethics and public events: "In the present conflict each fire equals re-used air from the cold war." Yet she returns to the mind, the individual, and the unique imprint of sounds and words, first in essayistic, philosophical poems, in ingeniously argumentative, sawtooth-shaped lines, and in a lyrical conclusions, a set of twelve short poems set in a college library where "Unchecked-out books on/ low tables keep the fragrance of/ of masks." (Sept.)