The name of the title poem—“Brother Salvage: a genizah,” provides a skeleton key to unlock the powerful forces that bind Rick Hilles’s collection. A genizah is a depository, or hiding place, for sacred texts. It performs a double function: to keep hallowed objects safe and to prevent more destructive forces from circulating and causing further harm. Brother Salvage serves exactly this purpose. The poems are heartrending and incisive, preserving stories and lives that should not be forgotten. Yet, through the poet’s eloquent craft, painful histories and images are beautifully and luminously contained. Like scholars sifting through ancient genizahs in search of spiritual and historical insights, readers immersed in Brother Salvage will find, at the heart of the book, the most sacred entity: hope.
The poems in Brother Salvage are the traffic between worlds—between past and present, self and other, beauty and horror. These are passionate acts of retrieval—deeply intelligent and superbly graceful, they bring us news of the human wherever it survives, 'alive and at the brink of shattering.'
Hilles is a poet very much of our moment, one that does not seem to pass. He reflects a tension between realistic depiction even of atrocity and a countervailing decorum based on a deeply sensitive empathic gift. He thinks himself into others, ordinary folk, or near-mythic figures. His cascading images and brilliant metaphors juxtapose everyday life and the Holocaust with precision as well as pathos. Poetry in his hands is a recording mechanism aware it cannot keep up yet also refusing to overlook 'the smallest thing that ever made you want your life.'
Rick Hilles should be commended for taking on the large and risky task ofwriting poems on various cultures and their political histories in thisbook. From the Holocaust to ancient Egyptian mysteries to the work of PaulEluard, Hilles approaches complex dimensions of history in highly craftedand brilliant poems. He is successful because he gives himself the lyricalroom and forms to succeed. Each poem is different, is structured in challenging ways, and resonates with the skill and talent of a young poet coming into his own and bringing the world with him.
It is said that the world must 'remember' or 'never forget.' How can thateffectively prevent anti-Semitism or any other act of mass genocide? Whenhumanity is mentally and emotionally touched to the core with realisticaccounts, then perhaps [it] will be moved to do more than just observe andremark about an experience far beyond [its] knowledge. Brother Salvagedoes just that. ...This reviewer was riveted by the poignancy of theseHolocaust poems.
At one time poetry was praised for its ability to astonish ordinary people. Then television took over, and poetry became a murmuring monotone from the back row. Now Rick Hilles, in his first book, shows us how even life in our time can be astonished.
The narratives that spread their darkness and their enchantment through the beautiful pages of this book—narratives of wartime internment, peacetime separation, assaults on memory and against-all-odds recuperation—are so complex and many-faceted one would have sworn they were beyond the compass of the lyric poem. But Brother Salvage arrives to teach us all over again how much the lyric poem, with manifold grace and perfect limpidity, can do. Rick Hilles wrests brotherhood and blessing, the face of the human, from a savage history.
Shows the power of the narrative in poetry to remind us, in concise and elegant language, of our shared humanity. . . . Between Hilles' mastery of Keats' 'negative capability' and his command of language both elegant yet clear and clean, these poems and their narrators move before the reader's eyes, engage and entice us to listen to stories that, no matter how large or small, deserve to be heard and treasured.
Rick Hilles is assistant professor of English at Vanderbilt University and is the author of the poetry collection Brother Salvage, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. He has been the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholar, a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and a Ruth and Jay C. Halls Fellow at the University of WisconsinÐMadison. Hilles is the recipient of a Whiting WritersÕ Award and the Larry Levis EditorÕs Prize in Poetry from the Missouri Review. He and his wife, the fiction writer Nancy Reisman, live in Nashville.learn more