Jaime Waxes Poetic


On my desk, under a sheet of plexiglass, there are photos of my daughters, my father and my mother, both deceased, and three poems I particularly like. One of those poems is by Brenda Hillman. I am a fan of her work, though I don’t mean to imply that I’ve read all of her published words. But I’ve read enough of her poetry so that I am alert to her name when I see it resting under the title of a poem, compelling me to read what comes after it.

So I will be among those people who turn up at 1078 Gallery to hear her words when she reads them tomorrow night, October 8th at 7:30. I’ll be there in spite of the fact that I don’t like poetry readings much, though I’ve been to a few transcendent gatherings in which poets—Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Stafford, Rita Dove, Sharon Olds—sent me home awash in feelings I hadn’t brought in with me. Just as often, though, I’ve been bored, or annoyed at the pretentiousness of the oohs and aahs from people who are, like me, often puzzled about what they’ve heard. Contrary to its aural tradition, most modern poetry is hard to apprehend on the fly, the words evaporating almost before they strike the ears of the people who sit, rapt, awaiting little epiphanies that may or may not come, that are hard to pluck out of the stuffy atmosphere of rooms where so many sit so uncomfortably, thinking that everyone but them is getting more from the experience than they are.

On Tuesday night, Brenda Hillman will read a handful of poems, and though each will dissolve into silence, one following the other, you might hear something you hadn’t quite heard before, or something to remind you of a thing you once knew, but had forgotten. Those moments are worth seeking, even if their acquisition may sometimes require us to pretend we understood things we didn’t understand at all.

In a recent interview, Ms. Hillman told me that, “poetry can give people the chance to find places they couldn’t go to in any other way.” As a reader of poetry, and as a teacher who spent years trying to get students to share my appreciation for it, I think her definition of what poetry can do—for the poet and the reader—is a fundamental truth. But before we can find those places, we must take the journey. If I were still teaching, I would encourage students to take advantage of any opportunity to hear poets of Brenda Hillman’s stature.

So, which of her poems is on my desk? I don’t think I’ll say. What speaks to me may not speak to you. But if you go to her reading and listen attentively, you might hear something that speaks to you as that poem spoke to me, and that may take you to a place you could not go to in any other way.

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  1. Big Chester says:



    I see that the paradise post finally saw fit to give him his walking papers. Just how many times has he been fired now!