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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 those that appear in Loose Sugar (Wesleyan University Press, 1997) and the California mission poems of Cascadia (Wesleyan University Press, 2001).

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 (Wesleyan University Press, 2005); Cascadia; Loose Sugar, which was a finalist for National Book Critic's Circle; Bright Existence (Wesleyan University Press, 1993), a finalist for Pulitzer Prize; Death Tractates (Wesleyan University Press, 1992); Fortress (Wesleyan University Press, 1989); and White Dress (Wesleyan University Press, 1985). Her poems have also been collected in three chapbooks: The Firecage (A+Bend Press, 2000); Autumn Sojourn (Em Press, 1995); and Coffee, 3 A.M. (The Penumbra Press, 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.

Her 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 received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2012. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts And Sciences in 2017 and was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2016.

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.


Bibliography

Poetry

Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013)
Practical Water (Wesleyan University Press, 2011)
Pieces of Air in the Epic (Wesleyan University Press, 2005)
Cascadia (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)
Loose Sugar (Wesleyan University Press, 1997)
Bright Existence (Wesleyan University Press, 1993)
Death Tractates (Wesleyan University Press, 1992)
Fortress (Wesleyan University Press, 1989)
White Dress (Wesleyan University Press, 1985)

Autumn Ritual with Hate Turned Sideways

  —i pull the hate
on a rope ladder to the resting zone…
               H
                   H
                       H
    pull the A on down.
A
     A
          A
           Put that sick A to bed. Get well, A. Pinched
           fire. Bring the T down now
                                                         
                                                                  T
                                                                        T
                                                                              T
    Roman cross before the Christian thing.
Bump bump. Put that T to bed. Put
         that Garamond T
to bed before we kill someone with it. Such as:
    Whack-whack. Weapon contractors in Virginia.
Whack. Get well T. Won’t kill with you.
            Now. Being
         able to breathe for the E,
breathe into the prongs. Slide on its back.
                                                          


   Put the E to bed. Get well, E.
Weird shapes around campfires
         below the mind.
Tiny fires with hurt earth spirits
         as in Aeschylus. Resting letters now
           so they can live—

From Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Used with permission of Wesleyan University Press.

From Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Used with permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman is the author of nine collections of poetry, including Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013). She received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2012 and currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

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

i.

    —& humans walked to the edge of the sand
  through a bank of verbena & fog;  
     they thought they’d never get over
the deaths, but they were starting to. Worry
     about money rested in their phones. Talk of
 candidates had stalled. Some sang. Grays of

   

poem

—So, one by one I pull the lice from your red hair.
One by one I try to split them with my fingernails;

no use, they hold on
as they were taught to. Still, they glisten
like heavenly sparks in the morning light
of the bathroom.

I have to pull extra hard on many of them,
use the