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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).

Her most recent collection is Extra Hidden Life, among the Days (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). She is also 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

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 Letters Learn to Breathe Twice

When the danger of fire has passed,
  the children (even when wanting to text)
form letters with pencils,
   tracing gray skin around
the unsayable while geese honk              ~
     overhead oñ-oñ-oñ- in their                    ~ ~
wedge of funny adults. The children                   ~  ~ ~
       try to be normal, though                            ~ ~
no one knows what normal is …

      In nearby gardens, the unwanted
dandelion: Taraxacum officionale. A large
squash prepares for harvest, its S-shaped
      stem with moisture bent.
Children braid languages & some
      are praised for confidence but who
praises the garden for all that breath?

The cheerful mild constant anxiety
      of your childhood turned
to writing, then meaning came
with its invincible glare—; the page
    had borders but no limit—
& you loved letters then,
               their breath allowed not
to decide as it curved between
skin-bearer & the being said—

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 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
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
poem
The bride tree puts down its roots
below the phyla. It is there
when we die & when we are born,
middle & upper branches reaching
the planet heart by the billions
during a revolution we don’t see.

Quarks & leptons are cooling
on their infant stems, spinning the spinning
brain of matter, fled to
poem
Days are unusual. The owl sends
           out 5 zeroes from the pines
           plus one small silver nothing. Where
            	do they float? Maybe out to
           sea, where jellyfish are aging left
& right. They have some nerve.
           Today, no new wars, probably. No
big button. The owl could be
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