cover image Practical Water

Practical Water

Brenda Hillman, . . Wesleyan Univ., $22.95 (124pp) ISBN 978-0-8195-6931-8

Hillman's eighth collection of poems is the third in her series of book-length meditations on the elements (her last book was Pieces of Air in the Epic ). In these aesthetically challenging, yet often surprisingly clear poems, which span the personal, political and environmental, water is simultaneously a transparent vessel, a mirror and an endangered resource. The first section speaks for and through water and other masks from nature. The title poem begins by sounding the book's central question: “What does it mean to live a moral life.” The poem goes on to suggest how we might fruitfully learn from the titular element: “It's hard to be water/ to fall from faucets with fangs/ to lie under travelers as horizons/ but you must.” The second section contains a series of poems based on hearings in Congress, which Hillman actually attended, where “The Congress folks are tired & beige.” The two-part poems in the third section are dialogues with each month's moon (“December Moon,” “January Moon”), which speaks in cryptic hints reminiscent of Louise Glück's flowers: “Don't ask/ who I am. I was/ the dawn song:/ i helped you hide.” Section four looks at the waters of Hillman's native Northern California. Hillman has become an increasingly difficult poet, while simultaneously growing increasingly interested in how poetry can engage political realities. This is one of the most unusual and compelling books so far this year. (Aug.)