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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)

Girl Sleuth

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 oleander & pulpy
caves with the click-click of the wren & the shkrrrr of the thrasher,
                 a skinny pretenda is learning
to read till the missing Brenda
                 is found. Drop of syllables like olives near the saguaro.
Nancy Drew will find the secret in raincoats & wednesdays
                 & sticks. Nancy whose spine is yellow
                 or blue will find the brenda in 1962,
Nancy                 who has no mother,
                 who takes suggestions from her father & ignores them.

Gleam goes the wren ignoring the thorn. They cannot tell the difference.
Click of the smart dog’s nails on linoleum.
                                  Nancy bends over the clues,
of brenda’s locket & dress. Word by word
                 between syllables a clue. Where has the summer gone, the autumn—
are they missing too? Maybe Nancy
                 will parse the secret & read the book report on Nancy Drew:
“neat pretty sly cute.” Syllable by syllable
                 & still no brenda! Nancy
puts her hand to her forehead; is the missing
girl in the iron bird? is the clue to the girl in the locket?

From Practical Waters. Copyright © 2009 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

From Practical Waters. Copyright © 2009 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted by 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

  —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

poem

Turns out bacteria communicate in color.
     They warn each other in teal
  or celadon & humans assign
meaning to this, saying they are distressed
      or full of longing. The wood rat
    makes a nest of H’s; it hoards
the seven tiny silences. Crows in the pine
can count

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