THE ONLY CONSTANT IS THE PAGE NUMBER: BRENDA HILLMAN'S CASCADIA
Hillman’s realized notion of Cascadia, too expansive to be contained
in any individual poem, yet present in all of them, makes this
a breakthrough volume for her.
None of the poems in Brenda Hillman’s sixth volume of poetry, Cascadia, is likely to end up on anyone’s refrigerator, they’re too busy working for a greater good. Hillman’s realized notion of Cascadia, too expansive to be contained in any individual poem, yet present in all of them, makes this a breakthrough volume for her. This conforms to a quotation from Hillman's own literary criticism: "Neither complete fragment nor complete discontinuity is accurate. Only both are accurate." (Spahr Review, p2.). Her poetry is not intentionally obscure. However, given the scope of the greater work, individual poems are not necessarily easy to comprehend on a first reading.
Cascadia starts with three epigraphs which give some insight into the breadth of her poetics:
The poet’s destiny is to expose himself to the force
of the undetermined and to the pure violence of being
from which nothing can be made…but also to contain
it by imposing upon it restraint and the perfection of forms.
Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature
L’espace d’or ridé où j’ai passé le temps
(The space of wrinkled gold where I passed the time)
Pierre Reverdy, "Clear Winter"
(translation by John Ashbery)
"But where is the science in all of this, Mulder?
You’re talking alchemy here."
The X-files (Cascadia, 1)
The first epigraph immediately places the work in a post-modern, non-linear vein. The juxtaposition of violence and restraint provides a context for Hillman to bring geologic faults into the world of drug addiction in "A Geology," . . . "When an addict tries to leave / the desire to make himself over shifts from / what it felt like to have been a subject; // L.A. will dwell beside San Francisco eventually." (Cascadia, 7)
The second epigraph is critical to understanding Hillman’s authorial voice. The consciousness of her poems, like this quote, seems to come from a position off-center to our culture. It makes room for such lines as "A skin between a day and a day is / Moths walking along" (Cascadia, 67).
The third epigraph, touching on pop culture, reminds us that while Hillman’s poems are grounded not only in the stars and geologic time, they are also in the reality of daily experience. The word "alchemy" seems just right, Hillman’s true field. She endeavors to change lead into gold, and her poems, such as "A Geology" sometimes do.
Causes Kevin Arnold Supports
Poetry Center San Jose -- President