Lillian-Yvonne Bertram

2014 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship;
2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Finalist


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My writing is wide-ranging and concerns the malleability of language and forms. I am interested in the intersections of the innovative and experimental with aspects race, gender, and the more-than-human world. My work is ground in inquiry, ways of knowing, and how language can (and cannot) communicate experiences felt in body and mind. Even at its most cerebral my work is centered in notions of embodiment and the lived experience of seeing and being seen. My practice and process includes photographic and video work and mixed media composition. Current projects include computational poetics and emerging technologies, spell-casting, and collaborative writing.

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise is an offering to those of us for whom normalcy is the constant shift between a sense of location and dislocation. The shrewdness of these poems accumulates into a critique of our American desires and failures. The precision of Bertram’s lyrical and agile language is born out of the specificity of her gaze on what subliminally feels like a road trip through the towns that make up this country. These unforgettable poems awaken images so masterfully that reading and seeing become one thing: ‘We are claimed by middle country/where the river is cooked to steam in the factory belly/& every quivering shadow is missing its father.’ This award winning collection is an American portrait in which the poems are themselves, in Bertram’s words, ‘the elliptical mystery or the grief that walks different on everyone…’ It’s exhilarating to read poetry that pushes reading into the realm of experience. 

—Claudia Rankine, Final Judge, 2010 Benjamin Saltman Award

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where she teaches in the UMass Boston MFA in Creative Writing Program. She has previously taught at St. Lawrence University, Ithaca College, and Williams College. She was recently named the new director of the Chautauqua Institution Writers’ Festival. 

She is the author of the poetry collections Personal Science (Tupelo Press, 2017); a slice from the cake made of air (Red Hen Press 2016); and But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise (Red Hen Press, 2012), chosen by Claudia Rankine as the winner of the 2010 Benjamin Saltman Award. Bertram’s other publications include the chapbook cutthroat glamours (Phantom Books, 2012), winner of the Phantom Books chapbook award; the artist book Grand Dessein (commissioned by Container Press), a mixed media artifact that meditates on the work and writing of the artist Paul Klee and was recently acquired by the Special Collections library at St. Lawrence University; and Tierra Fisurada, a Spanish poetry chapbook published in Argentina (Editoriales del Duende, 2002). She collaborated with the artist Laylah Ali for the exhibition booklet of her 2017 art show The Acephalous Series

Bertram has published poetry, prose, and essays in numerous journals, her honors include a 2017 Harvard University Woodberry Poetry Room Creative Grant, a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, finalist nomination for the 2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Cave Canem, and others. Her essay “To find kisses pressed in books: 100 Years of Gwendolyn Brooks” was featured on the Poetry Foundation’s website in the fall of 2016, where she has previously blogged for Harriet, the Poetry Foundation’s blog.

All titles by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram