cover image Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire

Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire

Brenda Hillman. Wesleyan, $22.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7414-5

Hillman’s fast-moving, energetic, and ample 10th collection blazes with indignation, gathers together motifs as for mass demonstration, and blazes among its topics. The last of four books based on the ancient elements (most recently, Practical Water), its one-page lyrics connect the origins of the Roman alphabet, children’s reading habits, topical cries against our present-day wars, the evils of genetically modified seeds, the structure of Greek tragedy (“Tiny first with hurt earth spirits/ as in Aeschylus”), prose essays on poetry and protest, daily life on a West Coast campus, and larger-scale objections to the way that human beings have treated the earth. “We intend to make some changes,” writes Hillman; “We hope to learn to breathe before we die.” That hope infuses and fuels the many associative leaps and jagged lines that surround it: “Around each word you’re reading/ there spins the unknowable flame.” Twelve poems in bifurcated lines, each a tribute to her mother, or to a mother, conclude the volume on a trustworthy note: “some are torn as in modernism/ some are stained.” Hillman’s fierce works can feel uncontrolled, or hastily assembled, but they can also feel Romantic in the very best sense, like prophecies: “Out in the dark, the diamond planet orbits the companion star as art circles the unnamable.” (Aug.)