Essbaum, Jill Alexander

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Essbaum, Jill Alexander


Ethnicity: "White." Education: University of Texas, M.A.; Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, M.A.R.


Home—Austin, TX; Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail—[email protected].


Poet. Concordia University, Austin, TX, faculty member, 2000-05; University of Texas, visiting poet, 2007.


Bakeless Literary Publication Prize for Poetry, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1999, for Heaven; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 2003.



Heaven, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2000.

Oh Forbidden, Pecan Grove Press (San Antonio, TX), 2005.

Harlot, No Tell Books, 2007.

Necropolis, neoNuma Arts (Houston, TX), 2008.

Contributor to periodicals, including Artful Doge, Borderlands, No Tell Motel, 42Opus, Poetry, Image, Christian Century, National Poetry Review, Rhino, and Texas Observer.


Jill Alexander Essbaum made her literary debut with Heaven, a cycle of poems based on the books of the Bible and on the yearly liturgical calendar used by Christians. In addition to retelling stories from Genesis and the New Testament, Essbaum explores the meaning of love from the viewpoint of Eve, the biblical first woman on Earth. Among the topics Essbaum treats in fifty short lyrics and monologues are doubt and faith, in various combinations and experienced by various personages. The work caught the attention of reviewers. Describing Heaven as a work full of "rich expressions of humility and spirituality," Library Journal contributor Judy Clarence described Essbaum's "musical use of language" and ability to deal with the sacred without becoming sentimental, a fault of many devotional lyrics. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, Heaven contains "unabashedly, American gothically religious poems."

"Sadly, but surely," Alexander told CA, "I write to make people love me. I'd like to list nobler reasons (to pronounce deep truths, to explore solutions to humanity's woes, blah blah blah) but any poet who's being honest will fess up and admit that at least some wee corner of her heart is dedicated to endeavors of please-love-me-ness. I never know what it is that I know until I write it.

"My influences are eclectic, varied, and ever-changing. Currently I'm charmed by the following people: Simon Armitage, A.E. Stallings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, St. Augustine, John Bunyan, Nick Cave (who changed, no saved, my life), Ted Hughes, Don Paterson, Ken Rumble, and Bruce Covey, Simone Weil, Sylvia Plath, and many, many others. I am also heavily influenced by the cadence of voices in 1940s old-time radio thrillers like The Whistler or Suspense.

"When I write, I have to hear the line. I can't say where it comes from, but a little voice seems to whisper it to me. That's not how the poem gets written, though, just how it starts. Honestly? I start with a first line. Often I start with a first and last line—something to work toward. It is best if I can also start with a title. That occurs in about fifty percent of my poems. Writing poems is about luck. A poem gets made by grace alone. There's a hocus-pocus to poeming. I can't explain it.

"I am chiefly inspired by the delights of the spirit and the pleasures (read lusts) of the flesh. In the last couple of years, my writing has taken on a sharper edge. It's bleaker and a little less forgiving. The verbs are meaner. The nouns are less fair. I've had a lot of loss (deaths of friends, family) in the last few years, and the despairs have caught up to the poems."



Library Journal, October 1, 2000, Judy Clarence, review of Heaven, p. 107.

Publishers Weekly, August 14, 2000, review of Heaven, p. 350.