In this slim, cross-genre volume of verse, Hillstrom explores humanity’s greatest potential with verve and vitality.
Amidst the rubble of a war-torn city, a grandmother becomes the charge d’affaires for a group of orphans. Seeking shelter for the night, they break away from the file of departing refugees to make camp. Thus opens the story within a story, a fragmented effort with vignettes of stage direction woven with verse that reflect the now-fragmented lives of the conflict’s survivors. As night falls, the matron begins telling the children stories about an exiled welder, woman and poet–three symbolic personae that represent the hope of breaking civilization’s war-rebirth continuum. Alluding to both biblical and modern conflict, Hillstrom creates a vacuum of timelessness, and with this mechanism, the parable becomes one of generations and the passing on of wisdom through the poet. Indeed, the book’s dominant theme is the poet’s development and maturity, yet not to the exclusion of the other characters. Hillstrom’s volume is ambitious, its achievement not in an excessive or flamboyant use of verbiage, but rather in its careful tautness of vagaries. With overtones of solidarity and social responsibility, the author uses the welder, woman and poet to represent forces that–through selflessness and sacrifice–work toward achieving harmony in the new civilization built from ruins of the past. In the Socratic/Platonic tradition, the poet-philosopher is the seer–the visionary martyr who is persecuted and killed for spreading awareness. Evoking ideas ranging from ancient Babylon to labor activist Joe Hill, and conjuring imagery of Eden with the archetypal earthen woman and the all-knowing poet, the pages burn with wonderful allegorical matter that elicit the big question of whether humanity learns from history. In Hillstrom’s view, war’s destruction becomes a hopeful opportunity to re-create with awareness, and civilization’s enlightenment is the implied objective of the poet-philosopher. But in the end, how the future unfolds will be determined by the children.
Adroit language textured with edifying insights, verse that is engaging and alive.