Poet Wins Second NEA Fellowship

Jill Alexander Essbaum, who teaches in the UC Riverside Low Residency MFA program, is honored by the National Endowment for the Arts

Jill Alexander Essbaum

Jill Alexander Essbaum has won a second fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Jill Alexander Essbaum, an acclaimed poet and writing professor at the University of California, Riverside, has won her second National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship.

Essbaum, one of 40 fellowship winners announced today, is the only 2012 recipient from the University of California. She also was named a writing fellow in 2003. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the UC Riverside Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts program in Palm Desert.

“To be honored with one National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in a career is a remarkable honor, but to be honored twice in a single decade is one of the highest accomplishments a writer could hope to achieve,” said Tod Goldberg, administrative director of the Low Residency program.

“Jill Alexander Essbaum has been one of the nation’s most revered poets since her debut collection was released in 2000 and she has continued to inspire and delight readers ever since,” Goldberg added. “Her work pushes the margin between religion and sexuality, trauma and the unshakable faith — and often gallows humor— one must possess in the face of tumult, while continuing to ask the big questions about faith, devotion and loss that all of us struggle to answer.”

She also is a demanding and vigorous professor, he said, “the kind who makes her students better both by example and by her unwavering desire to help each writer meet their potential, and is a colleague who deeply cares about the cause of literature. A member of our core faculty since 2009, Jill has been instrumental in the development of our Low Residency program, helping to turn our upstart endeavor into one of the largest and finest programs in the country.”

Essbaum said she is “insanely, madly, stupendously grateful” for the fellowship, a $25,000 grant that means “I can sigh that blessed sigh of relief that every artist dreams to sigh.”

Currently finishing a collection of poetry, her next work will focus on writing and writing about puns. “A little on the history of jokes … and the jokes I love and why, and how it all has to do with poems,” she said. “Unfortunately — or, is it all too fortunately? — it’s all low-brow, cornpone and 12-year-old boy humor. The best of all kinds.”

Jill Alexander Essbaum was born in Bay City, Texas, and was educated at the University of Houston, the University of Texas, and the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest.

Her first collection of poems, “Heaven” (2000), won the 1999 Bakeless Prize. Other collections include “Harlot” (2007), “Necropolis” (2008), and “The Devastation” (2008). Her work also has appeared in the anthology “Best American Erotic Poems” (2008, edited by David Lehman), and the 2010 and 2011 editions of “The Best American Poetry.” She has served as contributing editor for both The National Poetry Review and the online journal ANTI-.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.

 

Poems by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Easter

is my season
of defeat.

Though all
is green

and death
is done,

I feel alone.
As if the stone

rolled off
from the head

of the tomb
is lodged

in the doorframe
of my room,

and everyone
I’ve ever loved

lives happily
just past

my able reach.
And each time

Jesus rises
I’m reminded

of this marble
fact:

they are not
coming back.

Poem

A clementine
Of inclement climate
Grows tart.

A crocus
Too stoic to open,
Won’t.

Like an oyster
That cloisters a spoil of pearls,
Untouched—

The heart that’s had
Enough
Stays shut.

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