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 those that appear in Loose Sugar and the California mission poems of Cascadia.

She is the author of Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013); 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 received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2012. 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.

Sediments of Santa Monica

Brenda Hillman, 1951
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 like ribbons on braids or dreads
 
A dream had come right over 
With a sort of severe leakage
 
Ah love let us be true to one another
 
Went down to the ferris wheel
God's Rolodex
 
There were neon spikes around everyone 
Like the Virgin's spikes 

Old punk's mohawk     Evidence of inner fire 

Rode throwing words off     Red current     Light swearing 

Ah love The century 
Had become a little drippy at the end
 
We're still growing but the stitches hurt     Let us be 

True to one another for the world
 
Easy on the myths now 
Make it up     Sleep well

From Cascadia by Brenda Hillman. Copyright © 2001 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with permission of Wesleyan University Press.

From Cascadia by Brenda Hillman. Copyright © 2001 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2012.

by this poet

poem
There are so many types of 
“personal” in poetry. The “I” isa needle some find useful, though
the thread, of course, is shadow. 
In 
poem
December Moon


Oak moon, reed moon—

our friend called;
she was telling the pain
what to think.

I said Look. If you
relax you'll get better.

Better? who wants better,
said a moonbeam
under the wire,

the soul is light's
hypotenuse; the lily
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