Practical Water

Overview

Practical Water is, like Brenda Hillman’s previous two books, Cascadia and Pieces of Air in the Epic, both an elemental meditation and an ecopoetics; this time her subject is water: Taoist water, baptismal water, water from the muses’ fountains, the practical waters of hydrology from which we draw our being—and the stilled water in a glass in a Senate chamber. Not since Allen Ginsberg tried to levitate the Pentagon has American poetry seen the likes of the hallucinatory wit and moral clarity that Hillman brings ...

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Practical Water

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Overview

Practical Water is, like Brenda Hillman’s previous two books, Cascadia and Pieces of Air in the Epic, both an elemental meditation and an ecopoetics; this time her subject is water: Taoist water, baptismal water, water from the muses’ fountains, the practical waters of hydrology from which we draw our being—and the stilled water in a glass in a Senate chamber. Not since Allen Ginsberg tried to levitate the Pentagon has American poetry seen the likes of the hallucinatory wit and moral clarity that Hillman brings to Washington in her poems about Congressional Hearings on the Iraq War. Here also—because it is about many kinds of power—is a sequence of twinned lyrics for the moon, governess of tides and night vision, for visible and invisible faces. Violence and the common world, fact and dream, science and magic, intuition and perception are reconfigured as the poet explores matters of spirit in political life and earthly fate. If it is time to weep by the waters of Babylon, it is also time to touch water’s living currents. No one is reimagining the possibilities of lyric poetry with more inventiveness; this is masterful work by one of our finest poets.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
From the Publisher
“If history is the public and collective, Hillman is historically engaged She is herself a ‘resister.’ … Section titles¬—‘Of International Waters,’ ‘Of Communal Authority,’ ‘Of the Months When you Work & the Months When you Can’t,’ and ‘Of Local Creeks & Aquaducts’—identify her work as respectively internationalist, socially-committed, conscientious, and eco-poetic. She writes out of and to the society in which she’s located.”—Fiona Sampson, Poetry

"A collection as wise as it is finely crafted, Brenda Hillman's Practical Water is a remarkable addition to this accomplished poet's body of work."—Kristina Marie Darling, The Kenyon Review

"Hillman's Practical Water is moving and exciting."—Janet McCann, Magill’s Literary Annual

“Here is a woman alive to the contradictions and obscenities of modern American power, who can notice the smallest details of life and rejoice in them, who sanctifies the waters of life even as she watches them being destroyed by the alleged progress of capital, and who thereby becomes a contemporary Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov, updated and refined through her own unique sensibility and sensitivity to rhythm and paradox.”—Tikkun

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819569318
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 8/3/2009
  • Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 120
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

BRENDA HILLMAN is the author of seven collections of poetry and, with Patricia Dienstfrey, the editor of The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (2003). She is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary’s College, and works with CodePink, a social justice organization against war. Hillman won the William Carlos Williams Award for Pieces of Air in the Epic.

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Table of Contents

Partita for Sparrows
Practical Water
Enchanted Twig
Ballad at the State Capitol
Rhopalic Aubade
International Dateline
The Eighties: An Essay
[i looked up from my reading]
Phone Booth
Tiergarten Scenes
Autumn Fugue
Shadows in Snow
Landing in Fog
Pacific Ocean
Reportorial Poetry, Trance & Activism: An Essay
In a Senate Armed Services Hearing
Northern California Women
Dragonskin
Near the Great Arch
A Violet in the Crucible
Girl Sleuth
From the White House Lawn
Permission to Be Strange
The Late Cold War
In a House Subcommittee on Electronic Surveillance
In the Trance
Economics in Washington september moon / september moon october moon / october moon november moon / november moon december moon / december moon january moon / january moon february dawn / february moon march moon / march moon april moon / april moon may moon / may moon june moon / june moon july moon / july moon august moon / september moon
Pacific Storms
Anthem for Aquifers
Local Water & the Universal Sea
Request to the Berkeley City Council Concerning Strawberry Creek
Berkeley Water
The Covenant
Earth’s Shadow
Sacramento Delta
Hydrology of California: An Ecopoetical Alphabet
Neap Tide
Still Points in Water
To a Desert Poet
Acknowledgments & Notes

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