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About this poet

Brenda Hillman was born in Tucson, Arizona, on March 17, 1951. She was educated at Pomona College and received her MFA at the University of Iowa. Her upbringing in a deeply religious Baptist family surfaces in many of her poems, especially in Loose Sugar and the California mission poems of Cascadia.

She is the author of Practical Water (Wesleyan University Press, 2011); Pieces of Air in the Epic (2005); Cascadia (2001); Loose Sugar (1997), which was a finalist for National Book Critic's Circle; Bright Existence (1993), a finalist for Pulitzer Prize; Death Tractates (1992); Fortress (1989); and White Dress (1985). Her poems have also been collected in three chapbooks: The Firecage (2000); Autumn Sojourn (1995); and Coffee, 3 A.M. (1982).

Her work has been called eclectic, mercurial, sensuous, and luminescent. In an interview in Rain Taxi, Hillman said "It is impossible to put boundaries on your words, even if you make a poem. Each word is a maze. So you are full of desire to make a memorable thing and have the form be very dictated by some way that it has to be. But the poem itself is going to undo that intention. It's almost like you're knitting a sweater and something is unraveling it on the other end."

Hillman is also the coeditor, along with Patricia Dienstfrey, of The Grand Permisson: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), and the editor of a collection of Emily Dickinson's poems published by Shambhala Press in 1995.

Hillman is the 2012 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. Her other honors include awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Society of America, along with a Bay Area Book Reviewer's Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award.

Hillman has taught at the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference and the University of California, Berkeley. She holds the Olivia Filippi Chair in Poetry at St. Mary's College in Moraga, California, and lives in the Bay Area with her husband, the poet Robert Hass.

Air In The Epic

Brenda Hillman, 1951
On the under-mothered world in crisis,
the omens agree. A Come herefollows for reader & hero through
the named winds as spirits are
lifted through the ragged colorful o's onbutterflies called fritillarics, tortoise shells &
blues till their vacation settles under
the vein of an aspen leaflike a compass needle stopped in
an avalanche. The students are moving.
You look outside the classroom whereconstruction trucks find little Troys. Dust
rises: part pagan, part looping. Try
to describe the world, you tellthem—but what is a description?
For centuries people carried the epic
inside themselves. (Past the old weatherstripping, a breeze is making some
6th-vowel sounds yyyyyy that will side
with you on the subject of syntaxas into the word wind they
go. A flicker passes by: air
let out of a Corvette tire.)Side stories leaked into the epic,
told by its lover, the world.
The line structure changed. Voices grewto the right of all that.
The epic is carried into school
then to scooped­out chairs. Scratchy holesin acoustic tiles pull whwhoo-- from
paperbacks. There's a type of thought
between trance & logic where teachersrest & the mistake you make
when you're not tired is no breathing.
The class is shuffling, something anisland drink might cure or a
citrus goddess. They were mostly raised
in tanklike SUVs called Caravan orQuest; winds rarely visited them. Their
president says global warming doesn't exist.
Some winds seem warmer here. Some.Warriors are extra light, perhaps from
ponies galloping across the plains.
Iphigenia waits for winds to start. 
Winds stowed in goatskins were meantto be released by wise men:
gusts & siroccos, chinooks, hamsins, whooshes,
blisses, katabatics, Santa Anas, & foehns.Egyptian birds were thought to be
impregnated by winds. The Chinese god
of wind has a red-&-blue caplike a Red Sox fan. Students
dislike even thinking about Agamemnon. You
love the human species when yousee them, even when they load
their backpacks early & check the
tiny screens embedded in their phones.A ponytail hodler switches with light,
beguiled. Iphigenia waits for the good.
Calphas & her father have mistaken theforms of air: Zephyr, Borcas, Eurus
the grouchy east breeze & Notos
bringer of rains. Maybe she cansee bones in the butterfly wings
before they invent the X-ray. Her
father could have removed the sails& rowed to Troy. Nothing makes
sense in war, you say. Throw
away the hunger & the war'sall gone. There's a section between
the between of joy & terror
where the sailors know they shouldn'topen the sack of winds. It
gives the gods more credit. An
oracle is just another nature. There'sa space between the two beeps
of the dump truck where the
voice can rest. Their vowels jointhe names of winds in white
acoustic tiles. A rabbit flies across
the field with Zephyr right behind.Wind comes when warm air descends.
The imagined comes from the imargined.

Brenda Hillman, "Air in the Epic," from Pieces of Air in the Epic, © 2005 by Brenda Hillman. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Brenda Hillman, "Air in the Epic," from Pieces of Air in the Epic, © 2005 by Brenda Hillman. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman was born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1951. She was educated

by this poet

poem
A left margin watches the sea floor approach
 
It takes 30 million years 
It is the first lover
 
More saints     for Augustine's mother

A girl in red shorts shakes Kafka's
The Trial free of some sand
 
A left margin watches the watcher from Dover
 
After the twentieth century     these cliffs
Looked
poem

An Essay

A friend asks, "What was at stake for you in the Eighties?" She's trying to figure out Bay Area Poetry. There was Reagan's New Morning for America. Garfield dolls stuck to the backs of windshields with suction cups. At the beginning of the Eighties I was married & at the end i was not. The Civil

poem
Infinity lifted: 
a gasp of emeralds.
 
I thought I felt 
the tall night trees 
between them,
 
no exactitude, 
a wait not even 
known yet.
 
I held my violet up; 
no smell. 
It made a signal squeak 
inside, bats,
 
lisps of pride;
 
ah, their little things, 
their breath: lungs of a painting,
 
they swept me