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Gillian Conoley (born 1955) is an American poet, the author of seven collections of poetry. Her work has been anthologized widely, most recently in Norton’s American Hybrid, Counterpath’s Postmodern Lyricisms, Mondadori’s Nuova Poesia Americana (Italian), and Best American Poetry. Conoley's poetry has appeared in Conjunctions, New American Writing, American Poetry Review, The Canary, A Public Space, Carnet de Rouge, Jacket, Or, Fence, Verse, Ironwood, jubilat, Zyzzyva, Ploughshares, the Denver Quarterly, the Missouri Review and other publications. A recipient of the Jerome J. Seshtack Poetry Prize from The American Poetry Review, as well as several Pushcart Prizes, she is Professor and Poet-in-Residence at Sonoma State University, where she is the founder and editor of Volt. She has taught as a Visiting Poet at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, the University of Denver, Vermont College, and Tulane University.
Conoley's work is difficult to classify into any discrete poetic category. Haunted by narrative, linguistically alive, the work is inventive and exploratory, certainly influenced by such movements as Language Poetry and the French Symbolists, Conoley's poems are often meditations on culture which may contain multiple dictions and narrative directions. Language itself seems to be of particular interest. Barbara Guest has said of her work, "The poems of Gillian Conoley lead us up to then step just out of sight where an ordinary sign begins. They beckon us from where an invisible power distorts; a sudden view appears of innocence aslant."
Born in 1955 in Austin, Texas, Conoley grew up in Taylor, a nearby farming community. Conoley holds a BA in Journalism from Southern Methodist University and an MFA from the Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her earlier work (Some Gangster Pain, Tall Stranger) contained more straightforward narratives and was resonant with the desperado atmospherics of Conoley's native state. The next four books became more and more linguistically inventive, without ever entirely abandoning narrative.
In Profane Halo, Conoley takes her title from the Italian philosopher and critic Giorgio Agamben’s notion of a post-rapturous world whose figures and creatures roam the earth, striving to find new community, new meaning. Post-allegorical, post-apocalyptic, these poems continue Conoley’s exploration into the impossible questions of grace and redemption, self and other, death in life, language and being, democracy and song. As Barbara Guest says of the book, "Out of the old beliefs a new language speaks. We said this yesterday, and today the words are stronger. I am taken by surprise by the wit and jeopardy, by the way an ending is avoided on the surface of the book’s meaning. I am excited by the triumph of this writing." Rain Taxi says of her work: "All the pleasures and dangers of the work achieve a brilliant suspension, like particles of dust in air… a time-stopping grace in quantum improvisations of form."
Her most recent collection, The Plot Genie (2009), takes its title from a 1930s writer's aid used by pulp fiction writers and screen writers alike. In this work, a murky underworld is constantly created and recreated, peopled by hapless characters waiting to be “dialed up” and sent along multiple and fragmentary narratives. Conoley's The Plot Genie includes characters of her own invention, contemporary film actors stripped of their veneer by the rapid, shape-shifting powers of the plot genie, and characters from other, older texts, such as Frankenstein. In this book the plot genie itself becomes a character, a force neither fully in charge nor culpable, much like our leaders or guides today.
Conoley is currently translating some work of the French poet Henri Michaux, works which have yet to be brought forth into English.
Awards and honors
Her honors and awards include four Pushcart Prize publications, a Fund for Poetry Award, the Academy of American Poets Award, a fellowship from the Washington State Arts Commission, residency at the MacDowell Colony and a grant from the Northwest Institute for Advanced Study.
- Some Gangster Pain (Carnegie Mellon, 1987), winner of the Great Lakes Colleges New Writer Award
- Tall Stranger (Carnegie Mellon, 1991), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
- Beckon (Carnegie Mellon, 1996)
- Lovers in the Used World (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001)
- Profane Halo (Verse Press/Wave Books, 2005)
- Fatherless Afternoon (Editions Ferris)
- The Plot Genie (Omnidawn Publishing, 2009)
- "DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH: FULL-TIME FACULTY PROFILES". Sonoma State University. Retrieved 23 January 2011.