poem index

About this poet

Born in New York City on November 27, 1942, Marilyn Hacker was the only child of a working-class Jewish couple, each the first in their families to attend college. Hacker attended the Bronx High School of Science before enrolling at New York University, where she received a BA in Romance Languages in 1964.

Hacker moved to London in 1970, where she worked as a book dealer. With the mentorship of Richard Howard, then the editor of The New American Review, Hacker's first collection of poems, Presentation Piece, was published by the Viking Press in 1974. The collection was both the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets and the recipient of the National Book Award.

In 1976, Hacker's second collection of poems, Separations, was published by Alfred A. Knopf, followed by Taking Notice (Alfred A. Knopf, 1980) and Assumptions (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985). In 1986, Hacker published Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons (Arbor House), an autofictional narrative told mainly through sonnets. In 1990, she published Going Back to the River (Vintage Books), for which she received a Lambda Literary Award.

Hacker's 1994 collection, Winter Numbers (W. W. Norton), details the loss of many of her friends to both AIDS and cancer, and explores her own struggle with breast cancer. The collection, which was in many ways darker than Hacker's previous work, won both the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and a Lambda Literary Award.

Since then, Hacker has published many more collections, including Names (W. W. Norton, 2010); Desesperanto: Poems 1999-2002 (W. W. Norton, 2003); First Cities: Collected Early Poems 1960-1979 (W. W. Norton, 2003); and Squares and Courtyards (W. W. Norton, 2000). A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems 1994-2013, will be published by W. W. Norton in the winter of 2014. 

About Hacker's work, the poet Jan Heller Levi has said:

"I think of her magnificent virtuosity in the face of all the strictures to be silent, to name her fears and her desires, and in the process, to name ours. Let's face it, no one writes about lust and lunch like Marilyn Hacker. No one can jump around in two, sometimes even three, languages and come up with poems that speak for those of us who sometimes barely think we can even communicate in one. And certainly no one has done more, particularly in the last decade of formalism, to demonstrate that form has nothing to do with formula. In villanelles, sestinas, and sonnets—not to mention a variety of forms whose names I can't even pronounce—Marilyn Hacker can journey us on a single page through feelings as confusing as moral certainty to feelings as potentially empowering as unrequited passion."

Hacker is also highly regarded for her criticism, editing, and translation. She served as editor of The Kenyon Review from 1990 to 1994. As translator, she has published Claire Malroux's A Long-Gone Sun (Sheep Meadow Press, 2000) and Birds and Bison (Sheep Meadow Press, 2004); Vénus Khoury-Ghata's collections Here There Was Once a Country (Oberlin College Press, 2001), She Says (Graywolf Press, 2003), and Nettles (Graywolf Press, 2008); Guy Goffette’s Charlestown Blues (Princeton University Press, 2007); Marie Ettiene's King of a Hundred Horsemen: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), which received the PEN Award for poetry in translation; Hédi Kaddour’s Treason (Yale, 2010); Emmanuel Moses’s He and I (Oberlin, 2010); Rachida Madani’s Tales of a Severed Head (Yale, 2012); and Habib Tengour’s Crossings (Post-Apollo Press, 2013). 

Her essay collection, Unauthorized Voices, was published by Michigan in 2010. 

Hacker has received numerous honors, including the Bernard F. Conners Prize from the Paris Review, the John Masefield Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, the PEN Voelcker Award, the Argana International Poetry Prize from the Beit as-Shir/House of Poetry in Morocco, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.

In 2008, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

She lives in Paris.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems 1994-2013 (W. W. Norton, forthcoming 2015). 
Names (W. W. Norton, 2010)
Desesperanto: Poems 1999-2002 (W. W. Norton, 2003)
First Cities: Collected Early Poems 1960-1979 (W. W. Norton, 2003)
Squares and Courtyards (W. W. Norton, 2000)
Selected Poems: 1965-1990 (W. W. Norton, 1994)
Winter Numbers (W. W. Norton, 1994)
Going Back to the River (Vintage Books, 1990)
Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons (Arbor House, 1986)
Assumptions (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985)
Taking Notice (Alfred A. Knopf, 1980)
Separations (Alfred A. Knopf, 1976)
Presentation Piece (Viking Press, 1974)


Translation

King of a Hundred Horsemen: Poems by Marie Ettiene (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)
Nettles by Vénus Khoury-Ghata (Graywolf Press, 2008)
Birds and Bison by Claire Malroux (Sheep Meadow Press, 2004)
She Says by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, (Graywolf Press, 2003)
Here There Was Once a Country by Vénus Khoury-Ghata (Oberlin College Press, 2001)
A Long-Gone Sun by Claire Malroux (Sheep Meadow Press, 2000)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

For K. J., Leaving and Coming Back

Marilyn Hacker, 1942
August First: it was a year ago
we drove down from St.-Guilhem-le-Désert
to open the house in St. Guiraud

rented unseen.  I'd stay; you'd go; that's where
our paths diverged.  I'd settle down to work,
you'd start the next month of your Wanderjahr.

I turned the iron key in the rusted lock
(it came, like a detective-story clue,
in a manila envelope, postmarked

elsewhere, unmarked otherwise) while you
stood behind me in the midday heat.
Somnolent shudders marked our progress.  Two

horses grazed on a roof across the street.
You didn't believe me until you turned around.
They were both old, one mottled gray, one white.

Past the kitchen's russet dark, we found
bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace:
Verlaine, L'Étranger, Notes from the Underground.

Through an archway, a fresh-plastered staircase
led steeply upward.  In a white room stood
a white-clad brass bed. Sunlight in your face

came from the tree-filled window.  "You did good."
We laid crisp sheets we would inaugurate
that night, rescued from the grenier a wood-

en table we put under the window.  Date 
our homes from that one, to which you returned
the last week of August, on a late

bus, in shorts, like a crew-cut, sunburned
bidasse.  Sunburned, in shorts, a new haircut,
with Auden and a racing pulse I'd earned

by "not being sentimental about 
you,"  I sprinted to "La Populaire."
You walked into my arms when you got out.

At a two minute bus stop, who would care?
"La Populaire" puffed onward to Millau
while we hiked up to the hiatus where

we'd left ourselves when you left St. Guiraud
after an unambiguous decade
of friendship, and some months of something new.

A long week before either of us said
a compromising word acknowledging
what happened every night in the brass bed

and every bird-heralded blue morning
was something we could claim and keep and use;
was, like the house, a place where we could bring

our road-worn, weary selves.
  Now, we've a pause
in a year we wouldn't have wagered on.
Dusk climbs the tiled roof opposite; the blue's

still sun-soaked; it's a week now since you've gone
to be a daughter in the capital.
(I came north with you as far as Beaune.)

I cook things you don't like.  Sometimes I fall
asleep, book open, one A.M., sometimes
I long for you all night in Provencal

or langue d'oc, or wish I could, when I'm 
too much awake.  My early walk, my late
walk mark the day's measures like rhyme.

(There's nothing I hate---perhaps I hate
the adipose deposits on my thighs
---as much as having to stay put and wait!)

Although a day alone cuts tight or lies
too limp sometimes, I know what I didn't know
a year ago, that makes it the right size:
owned certainty; perpetual surprise.

From Selected Poems 1965-1990 by Marilyn Hacker, published by W. W. Norton, Inc. Copyright © 1994 Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission.

Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker

Born in New York City on November 27, 1942, Marilyn Hacker

by this poet

poem

Wine again. The downside of any evening’s
bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution :
stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple’s
site of bombardment.

Tortured syntax, thorned thoughts, vocabulary
like a forest littered with unexploded
cluster bombs, no exit except
poem
Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread
and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches,
repeats old news: arrogance, ignorance, war.
A cinder-block wall shared by two houses
is new rubble. On one side was a kitchen
sink and a cupboard, on the other was
a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs.
poem

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.