Famous Poets who went to High School in Tucson: Brenda Hillman and Mark Doty

Elizabeth FalconElizabeth Falcón is an MFA poetry student at the University of Arizona. She is also the Education Intern at the UA Poetry Center and maintains the Poetry Center's education blog, WordPlay. She is a TPAC rostered teaching artist and has taught several residencies at Corbett Elementary School in Tucson. In addition to pursuing her own writing, she aspires to help children fall in love with poetry as a teaching artist in the schools.

Brenda Hillman

I remember reading Brenda Hillman's Cascadia as a teenager, before I understood craft, before I understood much of anything about poetry, before I really discovered that I even liked poetry. Actually, it might have been that book that made me think of poetry, Maybe I like this stuff after all. Cascadia broke all the rules I had ever understood about poetry, about narrative, about making sense. What I loved about it most was that there was such a physical space carved out by the words on the page. The words used the page as a canvas, rather than being forced to fill it.  I was captivated, even though I had no context for California or the Pacific Northwest, to which the title, Cascadia, refers.

A few years later, I was able to take a workshop with Brenda Hillman, and I still remember the first writing exercise she gave us. She said, "Write ten beautiful lines." They didn't have to be connected, or make sense, she just asked us to write the most beautiful lines we could create, one at a time, until we had ten. Through focusing on the lines as separate entities, as tiny moments that could stand alone, disconnected from everything else, the exercise helped me discover a new way of paying attention to language, where each word could dramatically change the entire world of a line.

Brenda Hillman was born in Tucson in 1951 and attended Rincon High School. From there, Hillman went on to attend Pomona College and the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she received her MFA. She has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, among others. Her books include Fortress (1989), Death Tractates (1992), Loose Sugar (1997), Cascadia (2001), Pieces of Air in the Epic (2007), and Practical Water (2010). She teaches at St. Mary's College in California.

In an interview with Poets & Writers, Hillman says of Cascadia,

"'Place' of course is and isn't metaphoric. When I need a snack a place isn't a metaphor, it's a refrigerator. Except in rare transcendental times, shifting internal geographies must be managed in relation to external ones. The question of place takes us automatically to the problems of reality and the ideal....The book Cascadia seems granitic in that it was written under various kinds of emotional pressure. It is conglomerate and metamorphic in that it seems like a gathering of materials about change."

Read the full interview here: http://www.pw.org/content/interview_poet_brenda_hillman?cmnt_all=1

An early version of Hillman's poem, "A Geology" from Cascadia can be heard on voca, the Poetry Center's AVL collection, along with several other poems from her other books, Loose Sugar, Bright Existence, and Death Tractates.

Brenda Hillman reads for the Poetry Center in 1997

Mark Doty

Mark Doty went to High School with Brenda Hillman at Rincon High and they even took a creative writing class together. However, Doty was so inspired by Richard Shelton that he dropped out of high school to attend the University of Arizona so that he could work with Richard Shelton. Later he dropped out of the U of A too, but went on to receive a BA from Drake University and an MFA from Goddard College.

Doty's Poetry is another poet rooted in place, and preoccupied with the nature of naming things. Listening to him read, you hear his rhythmic, syncopated, lines as they sculpt images in the mind. You could dance to the rhythms of the language as he reads. Narrative, lyric, sensual, imagistic. Every line you can almost see, touch, taste as if you were there; a cascade of scenes flash across the mind in every poem, fast-paced, fleeting, not quite enough time to linger an any particular image.

Of Mark Doty's work, Gerald Stern says, "Mark Doty writes with absolute exactitude, with one eye on the ideal or absolute and one on the real; the ghost of Walt Whitman on one hand, and a laundromat on 16th Street in New York, on the other. There is not a finer, more delicate, more sublime poet writing today in the English language."[2]

Doty's Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008.  His eight books of poems include School of the Arts, Source, and My Alexandria. He has also published four volumes of nonfiction prose: Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Heaven's Coast, Firebird and Dog Years, which was a New York Times bestseller in 2007. His work has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, two Lambda Literary Awards and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. He is the only American poet to have received the T.S. Eliot Prize in the U.K., and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill and Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at Rutgers University in New York.

Mark Doty read at the Poetry Center in 1993 from three of his books, Atlantis, My Alexandria, and Bethlehem in Broad Daylight. You can hear the recording of this event on voca, the Poetry Center's AVL collection.

Find other amazing and diverse poets by browsing the Poetry Center's ever-growing AVL Collection at http://voca.arizona.edu!


[1] http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/brenda-hillman

[2] http://www.blueflowerarts.com/mark-doty





Created on: 
Monday, October 10, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents