Brenda Hillman

Griffin Poetry Prize 2014
International Winner


Book: Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire

Poet: Brenda Hillman

Publisher: Wesleyan University Press

Click here to read an excerpt.



Brenda Hillman, Griffin Poetry Prize 2014 International Shortlist

Brenda Hillman, Griffin Poetry Prize 2014 International Shortlist

Brenda Hillman was born in Tucson, Arizona and spent part of her early childhood in Brazil. After receiving her BA from Pomona College, she attended the University of Iowa, where she received her MFA. Wesleyan University Press has published nine collections of Hillman’s poetry, including Practical Water (2009), for which she was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry and Seasonal Works With Letters on Fire which was longlisted for the National Book Award. In 2010, Hillman co-translated Jeongrye Choi’s book of poems, Instances. Hillman has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, two Pushcart Prizes, a Holloway Fellowship from the University of California at Berkeley and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award for Poetry. Hillman serves as a professor and poet-in-residence at St. Mary’s College in Morago, California. She is also a member of the permanent faculties of Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

Judges’ Citation

Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire concludes Brenda Hillman’s tetralogy on the four elements of classical thought. She steers wildly but ably through another day of teaching, a ceremonial equinox, the distress of bee colony collapse; space junk, political obstruction, military drones, administrative headaches, and everything in between. The ‘newt under the laurel’ and ‘the herring purring through the eelgrass’ don’t escape her arc of acuity. Seasonal Works appears to be one of the most inclusive books a hyper-active imagination could wring out of the actual. The symbols of the alphabet come alive and perform acrobatic marvels. Phonetical bird calls join in on cue. The mighty challenges of now are fully engaged. The book performs an ‘anarchic music’ and stimulates a craving for undiluted love, and a rollicking fury for justice that only its widely variant forms can sustain. This is a unique work. Its letters are on fire.”


Fire – its physical, symbolic, political, and spiritual forms – is the fourth and final subject in Brenda Hillman’s masterful series on the elements. Her previous volumes – Cascadia, Pieces of Air in the Epic, and Practical Water – have addressed earth, air and water. Here, Hillman evokes fire as metaphor and as event to chart subtle changes of seasons during financial breakdown, environmental crisis and street movements for social justice; she gathers factual data, earthly rhythms, chants to the dead, journal entries and lyric fragments in the service of a radical animism. In the polyphony of Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, the poet fuses the visionary, the political and the personal to summon music and fire at once, calling the reader to be alive to the senses and to reimagine a common life.

Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.

At The Solstice, A Yellow Fragment

Our lord of literature
visits my love,
they have gone below,
they have lost their way
among the tablets
of the dead — ;

    preeeee — dark energy — woodrat
in the pine, furred thing
& the fine,
a suffering among syllables, stops
winter drops from cold,     cold,
miracle night     (a fox
deep in its hole under yellow
thumbs of the chanterelles,
(no: gold. Gold thumbs, Goldman Sachs
pays no tax … (baby goats
in the pen, not blaming God, |
not blaming them —

(alias: buried egg of the shallow-helmet turtle
[Actinemys marmorata]
alias: thanks for calling the White House
comment line))))

For your life had stamina
from a childhood among priests
& far in the night,
beyond the human realm, a cry
released the density of nature —

From Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire by Brenda Hillman
Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman

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Photo credit: Brett Hall Jones

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