Department of English

Harlot (No Tell Books, 2007)

Mon, July 7, 2008


"Few poets' roots go deeper than the Romantics; Jill Alexander Essbaum's reach all the way to the Elizabethans.  In her Harlot one hears Herbert and Wyatt and Donne, their parallax view of religion as sex and sex as religion, their delight in sin, their smirking penitence, their penchant for the conceit, their riddles and fables, their fondling and squeezing of language.  But this 'postulant in the Church of the Kiss' is a twenty-first century woman, a 'strange woman' less bowed to confession than hell-bent on fairly bragging of threesomes and more complications than were wet-dreamt of in Mr. W. H.'s philosophy." —H. L. Hix


Jill Alexander Essbaum's poetry has been compared to "a cross between Dorothy Parker and a lap dance" and "John Donne in sexy underwear." Her poems are equal parts religion, rhythm, and ribaldry.  Not a formalist, she prefers the moniker of “formal-ish poet,” or more specifically, a “rhymist.”

A graduate of the universities of Houston and Texas both (BA and MA, respectively), Jill was halfway through a Master of Arts in Religion at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest when her first book Heaven won the 1999 Bakeless Prize and was published by University Press of New England. 

Of Heaven, Bakeless judge Agha Shahid Ali wrote:

"Only the best writers put us right at the site of myth and thus assert, for us, our right to be part of the beginning and end of any world, any heaven.  That Jill Alexander Essbaum does it so quietly, so delicately, and puts herself, and us, at the center of Heaven itself leads me only to envy.  For how else can one convincingly transcend the domestic?  There is simply no self-congratulation in these poems.  Just a graceful, magical way of taking oneself - and one's bare uncertainties - for granted."

In 2003, Jill was a recipient of an NEA literature grant during which time she wrote the collection of erotic sonnets, Oh Forbidden (Pecan Grove Press).

Her poems have appeared in journals both religious and secular, both print and on-line, both famously well-known and thoroughly obscure including The Christian Century, Poetry, Rhino, Coconut, No Tell Motel, The Texas Observer, WOMB, Cranky, The National Poetry Review, Image, 42opus, and many others.

She has taught at Concordia University in Austin, and the University of Texas.  Currently she is preparing for the publication of a fourth book, Necropolis, (neoNuma Arts, Spring 2008), and working on a new manuscript.

Essbaum's site

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