Born in Bay City, Texas, poet and editor Jill Alexander Essbaum was educated at the University of Houston, the University of Texas and the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. Influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Simon Armitage and Sylvia Plath, Essbaum’s poems bring together sex, divinity and wordplay, blithely working with received forms and displaying a nuanced attention to rhyme and meter. Speaking to this unusual combination of themes in an interview with Eratosphere, Essbaum suggests that “the pairing of sexual and religious expression seems wrong to our post-modern American ears . . . because we’re all (no matter what we believe or don’t) direct inheritors of a Puritan heritage that disdains human physicality . . . in lieu of pursuits of the spirit alone.”
See here. A pit of snakes.
Look there. The rock of your rages.
And I’m in a cable-cage, slinking down your shaft.
You fondle that hefty What if. . . ? as if
To hurl it. All the other holes
Are blatant hells.
A dragline scrapes our fossicked floor.
I am the ether. You are the ore.
(from ‘What Isn’t Mine’)
“Known for their remarkable mix of eroticism and religiosity,” writes Rick Marlatt in a Coldfront review of Necropolis, “Jill Alexander Essbaum’s poems vibrate with well-proportioned rhymes, unforgettable imagery and a unique realization of form.” Form and content are mutually reinforcing in Essbaum’s work; as a speaker wavers between anger and longing, the poem alternates end-stopped and enjambed lines. Precipices and borders reappear throughout her poems as the site “where / the lapse / of passage / happens”. Her work pushes at the edges of comprehension and investigates the impermeable division between man and God, lover and beloved.
You thumb your beads. You scry the glass.
Night creeps to its precipice
And the broken rim of reason breaks
Again. An obsidian sky betrays you.
Every serrate shadow flays you.
(from ‘4:13 AM’)
Essbaum’s debut collection of poems, Heaven (2000), won the 1999 Bakeless Prize. Other collections include Harlot (2007) and Necropolis (2008). Her work has been included in the anthology Best American Erotic Poems (2008, edited by David Lehman). The recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Essbaum has served as an editor for the online journal ANTI- and has also edited for the Nanopress Project.
Another peal has tolled.
I’ve told the sum of my appeals.
I need not watch for fox.
They do not congregate at dawn.
But I would,
were I one.
Essbaum lives in Austin, Texas and teaches at the University of California, Riverside–Palm Desert low-residency program.
The Devastation (chapbook), Cooper Dillon Books, San Diego, CA, 2009
Necropolis, neoNuma Arts, Houston, TX, 2008
Harlot, No Tell Books, Reston, VA, 2007
Heaven, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH, 2000
Coldfront: review of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Necropolis
Eratosphere: interview with Jill Alexander Essbaum
Poetry magazine podcast: Poems Can Stop Bulldozers
Poetry magazine podcast: Why Can’t Lust Be Love?
Poetry Society of America: Q&A: American Poetry with Jill Alexander Essbaum