Poet Brenda Hillman explores the many facets of fire
Poet Brenda Hillman talks to chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown about her new collection, “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire,” her connection to the elements, and her understanding of social justice and being an activist.
“I’m in love with the alphabet as a set of meanings that you can make anything of,” says poet Brenda Hillman, a professor at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif.
Her new collection, “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire,” is the last in a series of four books that showcase Hillman’s exploration of the elements: earth, air, water, fire. She attributes that recurring theme — one she has explored for 20 years — to her deep connection to nature.
How are the different elements invoked in her poems? In this collection, Hillman explains that she came at it from multiple angles. “I kept fire in mind, but the fire could be political, it could a symbolic kind of relationship to fire and language, it could be passion, it would be the word ‘fire’ itself, which I sort of take apart in a few of the poems, letting the letters of the word ‘fire’ come apart.”
During the almost five year process of writing her latest book, Hillman was able to ruminate on issues that matter to her, like the wars and the economy. As an activist, she does not shy away from discussing what’s going on in the world, and this influences her teaching: She incorporates a strong social justice component to her classroom.
Whether her subject is nature, news or any other interpretation of the symbolic power of fire, Hillman says, “I really felt like the possibilities for poetry were boundless and I still feel that.”
Brenda Hillman reads “After a Very Long Difficult Day” from her new collection “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.”
After a Very Long Difficult Day
You talk to your loved ones
at night. It is a kind of modernism:
color sees into you, thinks a warm
path, a tint of meaning brought
from how you feel. Then, you are double:
the owl calls out, tyto alba,
in your sleep–scrip scrr– heart-shaped face
emitting loose nouns … Under its turf,
the smart mouse turns; the fierce dead
merge with the recently born
where earlier they emptied what you seek–
How will you be known? Some
registered complaints. You passed them
in the hallway, their new haircuts.
The bosses are known by new wars.
What salmon are left hurry upstream–
cold swaths in the bay. Linnets, by
rose fire at the edges–(linnet or finch?
the word edge has wings made of “e”);
the moon rests in a mantle
of minutes, its boundaries in back
of the trees. Boundaries
are known by their nothings–;
you will be known by your dreams.
You can watch Brenda Hillman read “Till it Finishes What it Does” for our Weekly Poem this week.