Donna Hilbert: Consolation Prize

9:37am | Famed poet Donna Hilbert is appearing this evening at Gatsby Books to do a rare local reading in support of a new anthology, "Solace in So Many Words." Joining her will be the book's editor, Ellen Wade Beals and contributor Joan Corwin, both from Chicago. Lisa Liken, Theresa Mathes and Patti Wahlberg will also be on hand. The reading begins at 7.

Hilbert's catalog includes 4 volumes of poetry, a 'greatest hits' volume, a novella published with one by Gerald Locklin, and the intriguingly titled "Women Who Make Money and the Men Who Love Them." Her second book, "Transforming Matter," captured the attention of critics, editors, and readers with its honest examination of loss, grief, and healing, written after her husband was killed by a DUI while riding his bicycle.

"I have always written about whatever is going on in my life," said Hilbert. "The difference, I think in writing through the grief process is that I wrote about it much sooner than I normally would. The experience is so intense that it takes over normal life and, for me, the only way to survive it it is to make something out of it.

"I am preparing a new 'New and Selected' [volume] for Aortic books," Hilbert continued. "In the 'new' section there are a lot of poems about travel, about the place where I live, about relationships developing and relationships ending. I have a section about writers who have influenced me for better and for worse. There will be a few poems about Barbie. And, an ode to my navigation device, called 'The Angel Garmin.'"

I asked Hilbert if people close to her worried about appearing in her work.

"They tend to be good sports about it," Hilbert answered. "Someone did come up to me after a reading to tell me that I scared her, and she wouldn't want to make me mad! I am sure I have stepped on a few toes and I am sorry for that, but I do take responsibility for what I put in print."

Although Hilbert's work isn't self-published, I asked her if she thought that self-publishing had a negative impact on the poetry market.

"Walt Whitman published himself," said Hilbert, "and that turned out to be a very good thing. I consider myself fortunate that a few kind souls have been willing to put some money on the line on my behalf. I work very hard doing readings and signings so that they at least don't lose money!"

Hilbert's work often reflects a strong sense of place, so I asked her how Long Beach has shaped her work.

"I love my city," Hilbert exclaimed. "I love its diversity, weather, university, art museums. There is a vibrant, inclusive poetry community here, lots of camaraderie, small presses, magazines and a forthcoming festival that I am helping to organize, Beside the City of Angels: A Long Beach Poetry Festival.

"It will [take place on] October 15, 2011 from 10:30 AM until 8:30 PM at the 2nd City Council Gallery," enthused Hilbert. "We will have 22 readers in 8 sessions. Please check the facebook page for the full line-up.

"This is a collaborative effort between Ann Badua, Clint Margrave, Kevin Lee, Paul Kareem Tayyar, Tamara Madison and myself. We are thrilled to be show casing some exciting Long Beach poets as well as terrific ones from outside the area, The all day event is free and open to the public! We are stoked."

Although it makes me sad to say so, it seems that the audience for poetry, while never vast, seems to be dwindling. I asked Hilbert why poetry continues to have relevance.

"I don't think poetry needs to justify itself," Hilbert declared. "It is there for those who need it, for those who enjoy it, for those who are looking for an intense experience with language. It matters to me because I feel most alive and alert to the world around me when I am writing poetry. No other art form has spoken so directly to heart and to my head as has the poetry of others.

"I would like to quote a few lines from the great poet Adam Zagajewski's poem In the Beauty Created by Others': Only in the beauty created/by others is there consolation,/in the music of others and in others' poems. For me, poems offer the greatest consolation, and in this troubled world, consolation is welcome."

Several years ago, Hilbert was the subject of a documentary that focused on the work in "Transforming Matter."

"It was an intense experience," said Hilbert, "turning a painful part of my life that I had already dealt with in poetry into another art form. [Now,] I feel freer to be funny again--something that I really enjoy."


Gatsby Books is located at 5535 E. Spring St., on the North side of Spring, just East of Bellflower Blvd. There is ample parking behind the store. To find out more about Gatsby Books, including special events, visit

Learn more about Donna and her work by visiting

Learn more about Beside the City of Angels: A Long Beach Poetry Festival

Learn more about the 2nd City Council Art Gallery at

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