A Breath at a Time


60 pages
ISBN 0-88982-110-0
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by Bert Almon

Bert Almon is a professor of English at the University of Alberta and
author of Calling Texas.


Surprisingly, one of these poems is dedicated to Ezra Pound, who would
have rejected their soft Romantic diction and vague treatment of
subject. Hilles plays sentimental changes on words like “breath,”
“ancient,” “kiss,” “tongue,” “dream,” and “flowers,”
and the words are embedded in brief lines that have little rhythmic
variety. His true forebear is not Pound but Bliss Carman, or perhaps the
softer side of Leonard Cohen. God is referred to in an unconvincing,
poeticised way, and there are touches of body mysticism that evoke the
New Age excesses of Robert Bly. The second section of the book has some
poems about the speaker’s parents that offer more precision of
language and situation. But most of the poetry is addressed to a vaguely
described lover: it is a relief when in one poem (“Nothing Is More
Temporary”) she is described as getting out of bed to look for a
cigarette. The same poem ends with a flash of the epigrammatic insight
that Hilles has shown in other collections: “once I would have touched
you / to have convinced you of my tenderness / now I touch you to learn
/ what tenderness is.” But in most of the poems soft diction
approaches the condition of mushiness.


Hilles, Robert., “A Breath at a Time,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/12963.