Water is known the world over as a fount in which the foundations of life are built upon. It symbolizes freedom. It symbolizes rebirth. It symbolizes purity. Yet, the actuality of water in today’s world does not meet those same criteria. Exploited, polluted, and dammed are often words that come to mind when I look at how the human race manages their water. It is through ironies like this, which show the true extent of damage the Earth faces. Brenda Hillman in her work Practical Water echoes this through her poems concerning the environment and its downfall.
In poetry we dwell, but it is mpossible to dwell on something whose base is crumbling. Like the polar bear on the lone ice float in the Arctic Ocean, we too now find ourselves desperately trying to find some stability to secure a foothold when it comes to ecopoetics. Yet the firmer we try to plant our feet, the more cracks develop and the so does the chance that the foundation collapses beneath us. We are in a conundrum. As much as we want to find a solid space to attain some level of deep learning when it comes to environmental poetry, today’s world simply does not allow for it.
The current environment is in a dynamic state. And Hillman cknowledges this with her ever-changing forms, topics, and word sounds. Stable is the farthest word one can use when talking about the environment because today, that is simply a wish. Brenda Hillman uses her poetry as an outlet to reflect on an uncertain future of the current world. The present is not like the past when one could go deep into nature and know the sanctuary would be there for years to come. No, today is an age of uncertainty where inaction will lead to downfall. When it comes to the state of the Earth, most are aware of its deterioration.
Yet sometimes we do feel hopeful, although this ope never seems to remain for too long. When the United States signed the Paris Agreement in 2016, it brought us hope of an eco-friendlier world. Then in that same year, we elected a President who vowed to cancel our membership. We had finally made substantial progress only to be roped us back into despair. The future has never been guaranteed. From now until the end of time we will constantly be in a medium of unknowing. This is exemplified in Hillman’s “Pacific Storms” as it shows this cycle: Baffled dread one day, hope the next; hope shifts; dread returns, then that also lifts. 71, lines 1-4)
Like anticipating a storm, we must also always be prepared for unexpected changes. We are in a cycle of despair and hope. When we see an approaching storm, we are aware of the damage it may bring, but we also know it will not last forever. These lines seem to bring comfort, as if a mother saying “it is all going to be okay”. Although “okay” may be the extinction of species and increased desertification, whatever happens; life will continue. This may be a grimmer world than we wish to live in, but life for the human race will endure. We must get through the bad days, to reach the decent.
Pacific Storms” follows a pattern of four words per line, twenty-four lines total, all with the same indent. Uniformity. When I think of storms rolling in, I think of a clear gray boundary like the right-hand side of the poem. A line separating the blue skies from the dark gray mass that seems to be overtaking the former with each passing second. I have never visited the Pacific Ocean, but being from Southwest Michigan, I have had my fair share of watching storms come across Lake Michigan. With so much vastness of both cloud and water, one feels a bit fearful in their miniscule state.
Yet, our feet remain planted with mouths agape as we stare up in awe at the force of nature that is about to overtake us. And that is an experience I share with poetry as well. You know there is a powerful force, one in which you will no control over the effects it has on you, but you are too drawn to the beauty to realize what it may do to you. You may laugh, become angered, or weep. You may even be thrown around in a state of disillusion. The title of this poem alone drew me in; the connection of a storm to both its beauty and force. Poetry is often thought as something beautiful, something lovers would o as an expression.
Yet often, like the initial look of the storm, one may forget the force that lies behind each stanza. Hillman’s underlying connection between the two allows for a clearer understanding of the true stre beauty. This power allows her poetry to comment on the uncertainty of the future; the influence hidden within the beauty gives her merit. poetry hides behind its I distinctly remember an image of a river delta my eighth grade year. It was used in my Earth Science class in the hope that the visual aid would help me remember the definition. In a likewise anner, Hillman uses the imagery of a delta shape to elaborate and highlight her poem. See Figure 1)
This shape is unique to this poem, no other work in the book has this same figure. And through this shape, the whole poem seems to be leading us to one particular line. This tip of the arrow reads, “& streams that are sometimes enough” (line 7). Sometimes enough. That seems to be a phrase that resonates with us more and more every day. Sometimes enough votes to block a bill that will hurt more people than it will help, sometimes enough people raising their voice to speak on the behalf of an animal who cannot. Sometimes not enough. Always uncertain.
Which leads us to the next question, “We must do something but what, / she asks” (lines 8-9). What can we do to make the sometimes an always? I do not think I could answer that if I wanted to, but the conversation needs to be started. And that is what Hillman is trying to do, spark conversation. Poetry taps into places that we do not know of and rips it open, it triggers something in us that makes us desire to understand. Poetry is often shrouded in uncertainty, often with the poet designing it that way so readers can have their wn personal experiences with the work. Sometimes uncertainty is good.
Uncertainty can lead to inquiry; inquiry can lead to change. Even though some situations seem doomed, if one wants it enough, they can make the efforts to try and prevent what seems inevitable. Fear caused by uncertainty is the strongest force of action. The word “Future” (line 11) is the only word to be capitalized in the entire poem in which does not start a sentence. The future always seems to be so far off, but in reality, it is imminent. Someone’s future became a reality today when they said “I do” oday, when an ultrasound became a body. Futures occur every day.
As much as we want to pretend that the future is off in the distance and we have time to prepare, the reality of the matter is that the future is now. Hillman acknowledges the fact that this occurs, “The unknown / Future waits wrapped in itself like / a larva, almost alive and awake_” (lines 10-12). The concluding hyphen signals continuation. To where is the question. Will the larva emerge in a negative state? Will it emerge a blank canvas? That is the thing about the future; it is unpredictable. No one an foresee it, but our choices today can help shape it into something we are pleased with.
Positive actions today will benefit us tomorrow. When it comes to the environment, recycling, energy conservation, and research all point to the larvae hatching with hope. One must never lose hope, for once they do; they no longer continue to fight. And if we choose to step back and let the world make decisions for us, we no longer even face a world of uncertainty. We simply exist. Only time will tell of the extent in which humans will damage the environment. With any hope, it will not be as severe as some re predicting.
Making the choices to save our planet will take the entire human species, not a mere few who see the value in our planet over profit. Poets like Hillman remind us of our uncertain future in the way of words over statistics. It is through her style that audiences see the potential damage our planet is facing. “Literature is power” and poetry keeps true to that phrase. We live in an uncertain world; we need every facet possible to address the potential issues at hand. It is work like Hillman’s that allow me to hope that uncertainty will end in positivity.