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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).

Hillman has authored several full-length collections, the most recent of which is Extra Hidden Life, among the Days(Wesleyan University Press, 2018). 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

Extra Hidden Life, among the Days (Wesleyan University Press, 2018)
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)

The Family Sells the Family Gun

               a prose ballad
 

i only held it once but thought about it often as you think about those times when your life had stood both loaded & unloaded

One brother knew of its existence having seen it where it languished in the famed green storage unit from which it had been transferred to the bank-box but we never quite knew when

Information our father had & something he was squeamish about or proud of at the same time the way Protestants are about genitals

We believed it was a Luger—maybe taken from a soldier—in the War our father trained for but didn’t ever get to because he was wounded in the knee—“sustained” is the word they use—sustained a wound—in infantry maneuvers before his men were mostly killed after D-Day—

When his ashes in the desert grave were lying we took the weapon from the bank-box

i put it quickly in my handbag to get it past the teller—the holster was the smoothest leather—brown & heavy —the yawning L-shape of the Luger Google says Georg Luger designed in 1898 —the holster smooth as the jackets of German soldiers in the movies & what had they done to make the cowhide smooth like that & what had they done to the cow

We thought of burying it in the desert but if you Google burying a firearm it changes to a search for buying a firearm

You can also look up how to load a semi-automatic weapon on YouTube where a white man with thick hands & a wedding band shows you how to check for rounds in what order & tells you how to handle it with your dominant hand

We couldn’t take it to the cops even in my handbag though Arizona is open carry & you can take it anywhere in public but the cops can shoot you if you take your gun to their station

One young Tucson cop named Matt agreed to come to us & checked the magazine & said it was unloaded— looked upon us with excruciatingly mild pity — said this relic might be worth some money & stroked it the way some boys do

i couldn’t tell what the brothers were thinking— it felt like a tragedy but reversible—our father’s ghost stood like a tall working summer like Hamlet’s father’s ghost appearing only in the day & good naturedly telling people not do the killing but still trying to control the actions of the play

You can think about ghostly word weapons nonstop Let’s just take a shot at it She was going great guns He loved her but couldn’t quite pull the trigger Better to just bite the bullet Kill an hour or two

& for some reason maybe sorrow for our father’s power/lack of power i felt a twinge when my brother whisked the tiny heavy out of there —my life had stood a secret little hiddenly shameful semi-automatic firearm & When at night Our good day done i guard my Master’s head

My younger brother sold it for $600 at a Tucson gun shop—one of those outfits where the master paces behind the counter offering advice on collecting & is so proud of his stash

It was a Tuesday i think—a Tuesday inside history where America is lost—& what should we do with the cash

From Extra Hidden Life, among the Days. Copyright © 2018 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with the permission of the author and Wesleyan University Press.

From Extra Hidden Life, among the Days. Copyright © 2018 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with the permission of the author and Wesleyan University Press.

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman is the author of ten poetry collections, including Extra Hidden Life, among the Days (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). 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
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

—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

poem

A brenda is missing—where is she?
Summon the seeds & weeds, the desert whooshes. Phone the finch
with the crowded beak;      a little pretenda
                 is learning to read
in the afternoon light near the cactus caves. Near