Biography of Marilyn Hacker
Born in New York City on November 27, 1942, Marilyn Hacker was the only child of a working-class Jewish couple, each the first in their families to attend college. Hacker attended the Bronx High School of Science before enrolling at New York University, where she received a BA in Romance Languages in 1964.
Hacker moved to London in 1970, where she worked as a book dealer. With the mentorship of Richard Howard, then the editor of The New American Review, Hacker’s first collection of poems, Presentation Piece, was published by the Viking Press in 1974. The collection was both the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets and the recipient of the National Book Award.
In 1976, Hacker’s second collection of poems, Separations, was published by Alfred A. Knopf, followed by Taking Notice (Alfred A. Knopf, 1980) and Assumptions (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985). In 1986, Hacker published Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons (Arbor House), an autofictional narrative told mainly through sonnets. In 1990, she published Going Back to the River (Vintage Books), for which she received a Lambda Literary Award.
Hacker’s 1994 collection, Winter Numbers (W. W. Norton), details the loss of many of her friends to both AIDS and cancer, and explores her own struggle with breast cancer. The collection, which was in many ways darker than Hacker’s previous work, won both the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and a Lambda Literary Award.
Since then, Hacker has published many more collections, including A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems 1994-2013 (W. W. Norton, 2015); Names (W. W. Norton, 2010); Desesperanto: Poems 1999-2002 (W. W. Norton, 2003); First Cities: Collected Early Poems 1960-1979 (W. W. Norton, 2003); and Squares and Courtyards (W. W. Norton, 2000).
About Hacker’s work, the poet Jan Heller Levi has said:
“I think of her magnificent virtuosity in the face of all the strictures to be silent, to name her fears and her desires, and in the process, to name ours. Let’s face it, no one writes about lust and lunch like Marilyn Hacker. No one can jump around in two, sometimes even three, languages and come up with poems that speak for those of us who sometimes barely think we can even communicate in one. And certainly no one has done more, particularly in the last decade of formalism, to demonstrate that form has nothing to do with formula. In villanelles, sestinas, and sonnets—not to mention a variety of forms whose names I can’t even pronounce—Marilyn Hacker can journey us on a single page through feelings as confusing as moral certainty to feelings as potentially empowering as unrequited passion.”
Hacker is also highly regarded for her criticism, editing, and translation. She served as editor of The Kenyon Review from 1990 to 1994. As translator, she has published Claire Malroux’s A Long-Gone Sun (Sheep Meadow Press, 2000) and Birds and Bison (Sheep Meadow Press, 2004); Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s collections Here There Was Once a Country (Oberlin College Press, 2001), She Says (Graywolf Press, 2003), and Nettles (Graywolf Press, 2008); Guy Goffette’s Charlestown Blues (Princeton University Press, 2007); Marie Ettiene’s King of a Hundred Horsemen: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), which received the PEN Award for poetry in translation; Hédi Kaddour’s Treason (Yale, 2010); Emmanuel Moses’s He and I (Oberlin, 2010); Rachida Madani’s Tales of a Severed Head (Yale, 2012); and Habib Tengour’s Crossings (Post-Apollo Press, 2013).
Her essay collection, Unauthorized Voices, was published by Michigan in 2010.
Hacker has received numerous honors, including the Bernard F. Conners Prize from the Paris Review, the John Masefield Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, the PEN Voelcker Award, the Argana International Poetry Prize from the Beit as-Shir/House of Poetry in Morocco, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.
In 2008, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Paris.
Marilyn Hacker Poems
Her brown falcon perches above the sink as steaming water forks over my hands. Below the wrists they shrivel and turn pink. I am in exile in my own land.
Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches, repeats old news: arrogance, ignorance, war. A cinder-block wall shared by two houses
This is for Elsa, also known as Liz, an ample-bosomed gospel singer: five discrete malignancies in one full breast. This is for auburn Jacqueline, who is
Nearly A Valediction
You happened to me. I was happened to like an abandoned building by a bull- dozer, like the van that missed my skull happened a two-inch gash across my chin.
After Joseph Roth Parce que c'était lui; parce que c'était moi. Montaigne, De L'amitië
We pace each other for a long time. I packed my anger with the beef jerky. You are the baby on the mountain. I am in a cold stream where I led you.
Rune Of The Finland Woman
For Sára Karig "You are so wise," the reindeer said, "you can bind the winds of the world in a single strand."—H. C. Andersen, "The Snow Queen"
It is the boy in me who's looking out the window, while someone across the street mends a pillowcase, clouds shift, the gutter spout pours rain, someone else lights a cigarette?
Scars On Paper
An unwrapped icon, too potent to touch, she freed my breasts from the camp Empire dress. Now one of them's the shadow of a breast with a lost object's half-life, with as much
for Audre Lorde and Sonny Wainwright Twice in my quickly disappearing forties someone called while someone I loved and I were
For K. J., Leaving And Coming Back
August First: it was a year ago we drove down from St.-Guilhem-le-Désert to open the house in St. Guiraud
Paragraphs From A Day-Book
Cherry-ripe: dark sweet burlats, scarlet reverchons firm-fleshed and tart in the mouth bigarreaux, peach-and-white napoléons as the harvest moves north
Wine again. The downside of any evening's bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution : stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple's site of bombardment.
James has cancer. Catherine has cancer. Melvin has AIDS. Whom will I call, and get no answer? My old friends, my new friends who are old,
It is the boy in me who's looking out
the window, while someone across the street
mends a pillowcase, clouds shift, the gutter spout
pours rain, someone else lights a cigarette?
(Because he flinched, because he didn't whirl
around, face them, because he didn't hurl
the challenge back—"Fascists?"—not "Faggots"—Swine!
he briefly wonders—if he were a girl . . .)