Poetry News

New Books by Brenda Hillman and Geoffrey G. O'Brien in Review at Huffington Post

By Harriet Staff


Dean Rader of the Huffington Post reviews Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (by Brenda Hillman) and People on Sunday (by Geoffrey G. O'Brien).

[...] At first, it would appear that People on Sunday and Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire do not have that much in common. The books are quite different structurally -- Hillman's contains around 90 poems, each of a page or less. O'Brien's is comprised of 23, many of which are fairly lengthy. Hillman's is more conversational, even chatty. There are photographs and drawings; there are some happy nonsensical moments. O'Brien's book is much more traditional, his tone more somber, more earnest. Hillman never capitalizes the first person singular "i" while O'Brien capitalizes the first letter of every word that begins a new line (a formal gesture some critics see as profoundly conservative). But, the two collections actually share a great deal. Both poets make the subject of the poem what Stevens called "the actual world" -- rather than the invented or imaginative world. Both try extremely hard to connect with readers, and both make themselves relevant. Both poets seem wary of poetry's ability to alter the social order, but both doggedly hope that it can.

On November 9, 2011, during the height of the occupy movement, Hillman and O'Brien, along with poet Robert Hass (Hillman's husband) and a host of other protesters were assaulted by police during a peaceful assembly on the Berkeley campus. Hass writes about the event in a fine essay for the The New York Times, and, in the spirit of full disclosure, I also wrote about it for this very publication, though in a fall less compelling manner than Hass. Hillman revisits the attack in her moving essay-slash-prose poem "A Brutal Encounter Recollected in Tranquility," and while O'Brien is less specific, readers who know of his involvement will find one or two places where he veers his poem toward that day in Berkeley. Not surprisingly, both books warn of the country's slide toward fascism by way of increasing intolerance for free speech and assembly. The point is that this event -- like the event of poetry that both speaks truth to power and speaks powerful truths -- connects Hillman and O'Brien in more ways than mere geography. They are conjoined in a shared project to make poetry participate in the public discourse of this country. [...]

Read more at Huffington Post.

Originally Published: December 11th, 2013