Who Are Your Favorite Poets?

By Camille Dungy April 10, 2014  |  community, Faculty, Poetry, Publishing, Readings, Regional Events, Writing  |  no responses

When I am asked, as I am almost weekly asked, if I can list my favorite poets, I recount a list of five to ten writers.  The list invariably includes Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman.  Imagine how excited I am that these two writers are coming to Fort Collins to celebrate National Poetry Month at CSU.

When people ask me who my favorite poets are, I understand them to be asking what writers they might want to read.  I want to offer poets who will expand the questioner’s sense of what poetry can do and be. The reason I tell people to read Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman, and the reason we’re lucky to have these poets on campus on April 24th (Lory Student Center, North Ballroom, 7:30 pm), is because Hass and Hillman are visionary poets.  Their work expands our vision of what the world can be, of how the world can be.

In both their writing and their lives, Hass and Hillman directly engage natural and human history, civics and political science, sociology, parenting, grandparenting, and early childhood development, biology, astronomy, and mathematics. In their poetry we learn about the impact of human settlement on rock formations in the American west, of the history of indigenous people groups in California, of the toll of factory farming on young Latinos, and of the intersections between ancient drive for myth making and one grown man’s complicated childhood memories of his mother.  Certainly we might expect to learn a little more about late-20th century literary theory when we read poetry, but would you expect to learn how and why the harbor in Seattle was deepened?

There was a time when poets were the people who transmitted specialized knowledge to the public.  The work of Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman follows in this tradition. Hass served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. In his public role, he chose to take poetry to places, “where poets don’t go,” he once told Francis X. Clines in the New York Times.  Many consider his tenure as the poet laureate to be the turning point for this previously largely ceremonial position.  As a result of his work with businesses, political leaders, environmental leaders, and school across the country, many contemporary US poet laureates have chosen to take a more active role in increasing our nature’s culture of literature and compassion.

Hillman, too, has bridged the civic and literary worlds.  A political activist and fierce environmentalists, she writes with the passion of one who knows silence cannot be an option.

These poems matter to me, these poems move me, because the Earth, all of the changeable, Living Earth, matters so deeply to the ones who have written them.

The Hass bibliography includes seven individually authored books of poetry, two major collections of essays, and several edited collections. Hillman has published nine books and edited several anthologies.  Their prizes, including for Hass a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, A National Book Critics Circle Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship, and for Hillman a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts are too numerous for me to fully recount.  Anyway, I want you to use your time to follow the links at the bottom of this page and read some of their poetry.

Come, on April 24th, to hear for yourself why these are two of our country’s most important poets.

Now read this Brenda Hillman: “Partita for Sparrows” and “The Eighties: An Essay.”

Now read this Robert Hass: “Privilege of Being” and “Meditation at Lagunitas.”

Camille Dungy

camille.dungy@colostate.edu

Camille T. Dungy is the author of Smith Blue, Suck on the Marrow, and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison.  She edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, and co-edited the From the Fishouse poetry anthology. Her honors include an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, a California Book Award silver medal, and a fellowship from the NEA.  In the Fall of 2013, Dungy joined the faculty of the CSU English Department as a professor.

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