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Loose Sugar (Wesleyan Poetry Series)
ISBN 0819522430 / 9780819522436 / 0-8195-2243-0
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Loose Sugar, Brenda Hillman's fifth and most ambitious collection, was nominated for the 1998 National Book Critics' Circle Award in poetry. The strength of this book is suggested by its title; the book's language is perilous and demanding and scattered, forcing the reader to grasp at words and images that are tossed off with a deceptive pulp lyricism. Her titles appeal: "Stuck Tram," "Red Fingernails," and "Cheap Gas." The latter, with its playful sonic booms, illustrates this appeal:
That dithyramb of ticky-tick, boom,Hillman's unique gift is her ability to incorporate a spontaneous response to what's happening in the world around her while she's making the poem; the rare capacity to allow chance to enter and, in the process, to subvert the idea of the poem as self-enclosed object. The abrupt entrances and exits of her images are reminiscent of poets such as Emily Dickinson and D. H. Lawrence (she has her poem "The Bat" and Lawrence has his).
brrrrr we hear when we lift
the nozzle, pull back on the black rubber
and shove it in--
Loose Sugar is more self-consciously experimental than her four previous books. The poems manage to be off-center without being centerless, and, with deft phrasing, Hillman forces attention to constant shifts and degrees of meaning, paralleling her fascination with spheres of rapid transformation. The titled sections such as "time/alchemy" and "problem/time" belie the charm of the poems they contain, including the wonderful "Time Problem":
My girl came to the studyWhile the sacred in Loose Sugar makes its appearance through debased contexts, Hillman does not give up on the possibility of transcendence. These poems are more jagged and associative than those in her previous volumes. Hillman won't be persuaded that the sublime can't be teased out of the ridiculous. [via]
and said Help me;
I told her I had a time problem
I would die for you but I don't have ten minutes.
Numbers hung in the math book
like motel coat hangers. The Lean
Cuisine was burning
like an ancient city: black at the edges,
bubbly earth tones in the center.