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Loose Sugar is an alchemical manuscript disguised as a collection of poems, or vice versa. Either way, the primal materials of which this book is comprised -- love, sex, adolescence, space-time, depression, post-colonialism, and sugar -- are movingly and mysteriously transmuted: not into gold, but into a poet's philosopher's stone, in which language marries life.
Structurally virtuosic, elaborate without being ornate, Loose Sugar is spun into series within series: each of the five sections has a dual heading (such as "space / time" or "time / work") in which the terms are neither in collision nor collusion, but in conversation. It's elemental sweet talk, and is Brenda Hillman's most experimental work to date, culminating in a meditation on the possibility of a native -- and feminine -- language.
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).
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.
Buy Loose Sugar (Wesleyan Poetry) by Brenda Hillman from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9780819522436 & 0819522430
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