by Brenda Hillman

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These poems use the geography of California as metaphor for exploring fundamental pressures and issues of everyday life.See more details below


These poems use the geography of California as metaphor for exploring fundamental pressures and issues of everyday life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Spins a luminescent web of vivid, disjunctive lines . . . Her big, ambitious project, and her breathtaking single phrases, will certainly impress some readers, but Hillman's best poems owe the least to her overarching cascade." —Publishers Weekly

“I recommend this book to all who doubt poetry's capacity to reinvent itself. Hillman is making language dance for her.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly
Eclectic, sometimes derivative, sometimes inspired, the latest from the prolific, mercurial Hillman (Loose Sugar, Death Tractates, etc.) spins a luminescent web of vivid, disjunctive lines into an uncertain whole. Geologists know "Cascadia" as the name for the land-mass that became the American West Coast: Hillman's serial mix of long and short poems links Californian geology, geography, history (a Gold Rush-era diarist named Shirley), continental philosophy, and personal experience: "Sentences dip/ down to the idea as wiggle rock-granite/ diving through other granite driving as we/ drove, not meaning to." Some poems are content with their lyrical verbal effects; others play with typography for effects that are energetic, familiar to readers of Susan Howe and Jorie Graham, and occasionally baffling: "Always confusing bridge and bride// ;;;?(), !.// How can you sleep with that train turned up all night." Hillman's longer pieces try hard to use plate tectonics, memory, motherhood, addiction, the typographical form of the page, and phenomenology as metaphors for one another the results can shine in single lines and stanzas, though they sometimes fail to cohere. Her big, ambitious project, and her breathtaking single phrases, will certainly impress some readers, but Hillman's best poems owe the least to her overarching cascade several beautiful, spare single-page works evoke California's Spanish missions; a sonnet brings Anna Karenina to the Y; and a provocative, elegant lyric declares, "an individual/ transgressive arrow/ is shot through everything." (Sept.) Forecast: As an editor of the California Poetry Series at the University of California, and as a poet-professor at the University ofIowa's MFA program, Hillman exerts a large influence even beyond her work. This book should do extremely well among poets and students, and should have special appeal to denizens of the West. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

Wesleyan University Press
Publication date:
Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



A left margin watches the sea floor approach

It takes 30 million years
It is the first lover

More saints for Augustine's mother

A girl in red shorts shakes Kafka's
The Trial free of some sand


A left margin watches the watcher from Dover

After the twentieth century these cliffs
Looked like ribbons on braids or dreads

A dream had come right over
With a sort of severe leakage

Ah love let us be true to one another

Went down to the ferris wheel
God's Rolodex

There were neon spikes around everyone
Like the Virgin's spikes

Old punk's mohawk Evidence of inner fire

Rode throwing words off Red current Light swearing

Ah love The century
Had become a little drippy at the end

We're still growing but the stitches hurt Let us be

True to one another for the world

Easy on the myths now
Make it up Sleep well


Using cosmic magic anddestruction equally
the ocean has decided to rearrange
its syntax so the jet stream
shifts north; its waves warm, its
sentences swell, until life, one of
the yeses between swirls, roundly, in
the form of beach parties with
center-colored balloons full of unused gases
from nearby stars that are suddenly
short of heat, moves to dreamishness,
though movement was actually its second
choice, movement is infinity which failed.

There appeared a small room under
the sea; heat they dumped too
much of lives in there, with
the doomed forms, singing, "Toy sold
separately," he starts these early storms
off San Diego, pushes absorbing action;
they named him boy and make
him metaphorical but he thinks he's
a mistake. Can you move sentences
this way? A horizon is a
type of sentence unmaking syntax denying
its maker in preference for a

sea cave of breathing from, while
on shore, reversible winds drive sanderlings
to make wide use of their
wavelet, the latest theory of narrow
not having been tried. There appeared
a small room under the sea
and in it dwelt impossibility, Rimbaud
and the doomed teachers all, considering
the clash of where we have
dumped heat. Creation doesn't fail though
the meaning sea dies. Kelp-ends disappear
into earliest beginnings. Sentences occluded by

           their owners are devoured, a gull
         is mistaken for a frisbee, meaning,
            years ago. We could have stopped
     driving but we didn't. Punctuation like
      beach-flies as you walk undyingly past
   the perfumed woman and madras-shirted man
        who, not knowing dioxin garbage made
         the niño's fever worse, hold tight,
palm-treeish seaweed up to admire. Examples
       are beautiful anyway. They could have
turned off air-conditioning as they climbed
               the hills, we could have been

less comfortable in hotels. Sentences dip
           looks like the skin of a person about to sit
            down, a geology.

Consider the Coast Range. We can achieve
            the same results by pushing a pile of wet
            papers from the left and finally
            they were just in love with each other.

Consider the faultline; with only two sides of it,
            how come you never thought of one of them.

A place we love, can't see. A condition
            so used to becoming ...

(Those who have straddled reference know a map
will stand for wholeness.)

When you were trying to quit the drug and broke
            in half you said ...

And you had to trust it (that is, needing it)

Landforms enable us to scare. Where
            Berkeley is, once a shallow sea with
            landforms to the west, called Cascadia.
            No kidding. I read this.

A geology breaks in half to grow. A person whose drug like
            a locust jumps across someone's foot, singing—;
            we disagree with D, who hates similes.

locust disagree

features outcroppings

The Transverse Ranges holding Los Angeles spit out
            a desert on their hazard side, a power
            transformed from a period of thrall into
            an ordinary period of lying here.

There are six major faults, there are skipped
            verbs, there are more little
            thoughts in California. The piece of coast
            slides on the arrow; down is
            reverse. Subduction means the coast

goes underneath the continent, which is
             rather light. It was my friend. I needed it.
            The break in the rock shows forward; the flash
            hurts. Granite is composed of quartz, hornblende
            and other former fire. When a drug

is trying to quit it has to stretch. Narrow comes
            from the same place as glamor.

A scarp hangs over the edge as it goes from
            Monterey to Santa Barbara. When we
            were trying to quit it had to shout.
            (The rest of our party had gone up ahead.)
            Exaggeration has no effect upon silence.

It took my breath, I gave it willingly, I told
            it to, and the breath listened—
Consider the place of I-80 towards outcroppings.
When you've gotten to Auburn, a whole
dog-shaped ground has broken through,

the rock struggling with features, its bachelor joy, caused
            by the power that has kissed you.

silence reused

daylight suture

What happened, happened a lot. Not to glamorize
            what can't be helped. A bunch of fiery
            islands floated over and sutured themselves to us

a hundred million years ago. I liked

to hold one. Just, really, light it. Put my
            mouth on it.

It's appropriate to discuss features when we speak of California,

daylight's treatment of a sudden

movement in rock. It pretended not to mind. You
            passed him on the path. Miocene lava
            smiled as it ordered the darker

color to sit down.

When he was trying to quit he based his reasoning
            on the way mountains slip. California's
            glaciers never reach the sea. The drug

was trapped in you, and fit. The Klamath mountains love
            the veins of excellent stress, see figure 12.
            Between the time two mountains slip, nothing
            Between two points of resolution, nothing.
            less. A little more
            almost and the slip happened; it happened
            a lot just 30 million years ago.

I saw between the flames four types of instruments:
            with one they touched my mouth,
            with another you touched
            her feet. Rocks of the oldest

time are barely represented. This is the voice
            from the cave, Oleiria. He was coming
            to fuck me but my face had been removed.

excellent fault

trap disciple

The fault went under artichokes in 1982. She talked
to the permanent fire about it

what pushes up from under isn't
            named. Or is that "What makes you do this
            to yourself."—What makes you—A language
            caught up under, like a continent.
            She was inhaling though they told her not to.

In the Gabilan Range, small volcanoes erupted
            softly, then this throw-rug-over-the-carpet-
            in-a-bowling-alley type of effect. A california

is composed of moving toward, away, or past; a
            skin is not separate; a poem is

composed of all readings of it. Elements
            redeem themselves plenty, alchemists say so.
            I gave my breath quite easily, then. Sorry it's

ashes, sorry it's smoke all the way down. Gravity
            has to practice. The disciple of angles
            smashed planet after planet, rubbing the cave
            of chalk onto his cue, and put them
            into corners like Aquinas's five
            proofs for the existence of God. Nice
            touch on that boy, nice touch on those
            who sleep till noon, who sleep the sleep
            of the uninsured till noon and wake with maps
            of Sacramento on their hands.

What made the Sierra lift from the right. Telluric Poptart.
            Geologists refer to the range as
            trapdoorlike. It made him cry, he gave it
            willingly, the bartender brought him

telluric avail

plate porch

free drinks and sent him out into the pale
wrong proud civilian night—

A geology can't fix itself. Nor can description.
            Horses run upside down in
            the undermath. A power has twinned itself
            in that place. We follow it until we are
            its favorite, then we live. Does the drug
            recover? The Pacific Plate

began this recent movement 20 million years ago. Fresno
            was underwater; the small creatures
            barely noticed.

She smelled it till it stopped looking pretty; let's call a spoon
a spoon. We dig right down into ourselves
for the rocks of the middle kingdom. Gold

folded into the Motherlode often twinned
            with quartz. They seemed to like each other.
            Addicts stay on the porch together, lighting them,

and elsewhere, lighthouse cliffs recall the tremors
             that brought them there. I whered
            the wheel and the continent moved over

but I still wanted it.

Los Angeles cheap bedding. You'd allow her
            to go first and then you'd go, pull the youngest
            blanket over her—bang. If that's
            how you like it, fine. Like warm sandstone.

We're living at the dawn of creation as far as
            California is concerned. The skin
            goes first. Most beaches are losing sand,
            it drifts south to Mexico. He sold it, she mixed it, we

proud civilian

bedding mica

bought the pfft in 198x, trying to endure
            the glassfront curve in the unaccountable
            ghostman's pleasure. Get down

off that ladder, you. Ceiling stars. Little fiery

islands were light as they ordered Nevada
            to move over. The white thing took
            her breath, she let it slide, it recognized
            what to do. After it started, no
            change; seeing you was methodone
            for seeing you.

The number of faults in middle California
            is staggering—that is, we stagger
            over them till it's
            difficult to follow our own. Each tremor
            is the nephew of a laugh—
            sandstone, shale, chert from the Triassic
            near I-Forgetville. He lined
            them up, they made white sense,

stretchmarks on her body like
            public transportation, very coastal,
            very Sierra traintracks that click-click
            down the sides of thighs, stretchmarks
            where the soul has grown too quickly
            from inside—

But in a way, not really. A geology

has its appetites. New islands are forming
            to get the gist of it. Much of the coast
            moved on its own to get free. Sometimes
            he'd just pass it to you, the prince of stains;
            the universe cried through him. The sea

stars Mexico

slide metal

was glassing itself over Half Moon Bay. Should have
            dropped again suddenly, in the service
            of some burnt out Eden.

It's appropriate to discuss what can't be
                       of bubbles. 12 step ashes. Extra metal

on the stove. The rest of our party
            had gone on ahead. Don't name it. The lithosphere
            likes to float on the aesthenosphere, the soft
            mobile voice of the unseen. I slide

below you sweet and high. It wants

to hear you. It wants to touch you. It wants
            to be happy and it wants to die.

burnt bubbles

fault fault

Phyllites, schists, cherts, marbles. Press #
            when you are finished. No one knows why
            the arc of minor islands sewed themselves
            to us in that way. When I put it

to my mouth I had no ability to stop it.
            The sea ate the colors a hundred million years ago.

A geology is not a strategy. 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.

Tempting to pun on the word fault. All right,
            say plot. All right, happens. The tendency
            to fault relieves the strain. New islands
            were forming to get the gist of it. We wanted
            the extraordinary stranger in our veins.

Whether it's better not to have been held by something.
            The oldest limestone, prevalent between Big Sur
            and Calaveras, is not "better than," say,
            any other kind. The suffering wasn't luckier,
            it wasn't a question of asking.

In the instead hour, the minutes of not recovering
            from the difference of what we loved;
            sameness is also true: stone like a spider

sucking the carapace the same color as itself.

In the expiation of nature, we are required to
            experience the dramatic narrative of matter.

The rocks under California are reigning in their little world.

This was set down in strata so you could know
            what it felt like to have been earth.

fault prevalent


Infinity lifted:
a gasp of emeralds.

I thought I felt
the tall night trees
between them,

no exactitude,
a wait not even
known yet.

I held my violet up;
no smell.
It made a signal squeak
inside, bats,

lisps of pride;

ah, their little things,
their breath: lungs of a painting,

they swept me
in four ways, their square
plans, as I have made
a good square saying,

you I
you not-I
not-you I
not-you not-I,

ritual of hope
whose weight
has not been measured—

    THE Y

They are bringing back the bones of Che Guevara
          so the system of universal capitalism
          will be reversed while a girl on the stairmaster
          reads Anna Karenina, pausing at the part
          where Vronsky, thinking Anna into the wrong coldness,
          might turn his back on her another time. The girl
          would name her dog for him if she had one. Legs with
          many tattoos of heavenly bodies (ceiling
          stars, moons, snakes) push weights; it all shakes, and east of here,
          aspen forests growing from root systems that never
          die send out shoots above ground anyway because
          the lust to be individual exceeds the
          desire to lie down anonymously above
          a mantle of fire. No one's arguing about

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