Father and Daughter Poets–Jane and Conrad Hilberry–3 Questions

I was very intrigued to discover a book of poetry written by a father and daughter pair of poets–This Awkward Art: Poems by a Father and Daughter.
And so I asked both Jane and Conrad Hilberry the same interview questions. Intriguing answers below!

Conrad Hilberry:

Personal relationship to the poetic line.

I’ve written in forms—villanelles, sonnets, limericks—so those iambic or anapestic patterns are imprinted somewhere inside me. When I’m writing free verse, the iambs keep showing up. My ordinary conversation may be iambic, for all I know. Probably everybody’s conversation has that pattern running through it. Try marking out an ordinary sentence—that one, for example.

/ / x / x / x / x / x
Try marking out an ordinary sentence

Iambic patterns run through everything we say, whether we’ve been writing poems or not.

But that wasn’t exactly your question. In writing a poem, the line becomes a structural unit, sometimes complete in itself but more often running over, connecting with what comes before and after. Even though the sentence continues, the line has a kind of integrity. I suppose you could say you have a personal relationship to each of those lines.

Relationship between words and the human body.

Well, words come from the body. The lungs, the throat, the tongue—they all have their say. Legs and arms and groin get in there too. We might think of a poem as a workout at the gym, patterns the exercise coach has prescribed, with some flourishes of our own thrown in: yoga postures, flips, a sweaty stretch on the stationary bike.

Anything to dislike about being a poet.

Writing poems is a pleasure, even when it’s difficult or when the product isn’t worth keeping. But being a poet? No, that sounds as though you know how to do it.


What is your personal aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc?

I don’t write in meter so I’m not counting syllables or stresses, but I give a lot of attention to line breaks and use them to create tension, or to downplay it. I love the interplay between the unit of syntax (the sentence) and the formal unit (the line). That’s what poets have to work with that prose writers don’t have, and it allows for more complexity both
in rhythm and meaning.

Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

I had to edit the word “body” out of some poems in the manuscript of my book Body Painting because I had used it so often. In ways that are so fundamental that they’re almost hard to express, poetry, for me, is tied to the body. Intuition comes from the body, and a lot of what I do when I’m writing is to pay attention to what wants to happen intuitively, whether or not it makes sense to me. And there is a sense of physical
rightness when a poem is finished. I stand up and read poems aloud when I’m revising, and I’ll feel a little hitch in a physical way when something’s not right. So then I have to work on it until I can read the poem out loud and my body is happy with it.

Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Feeling like I never write as much or as well as I could. On the other hand, writing a poem that you know really works—that’s the
best feeling in the world.

Poem and bio from Conrad:


What’s going on here at the desk?
Half cup of tea, an elbow, pear,

hand writing something down.
Three-thirty and it’s getting dark.

You need me, yellow hat
down almost to my chin. Can’t

look around. Still, I spill a plate
of light right in your lap.

No need to wipe it up. Some meals
evaporate—these are the healthy ones,

feeding the hippocampus,
leaving few crumbs.

Conrad Hilberry, retired professor at Kalamazoo College, has published a half dozen books of poems, the most recent being After-Music (Wayne State University Press, 2008) and This Awkward Art, a collection pairing his poems with those of his daughter Jane Hilberry (Mayapple Press, 2009).

. . . and from Jane

All A’s

My heart learned to sit at its desk
and fold its hands, learned not to scratch
bad words into wood, not to shove
kids at recess. My heart began
to hang its coat on its own peg,
to sip milk, slightly warm, through a straw,
to print the answer on the line,
to ascend through reading groups:
Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue.
My heart got all A’s.
A for Alone. A for Always.

Jane Hilberry teaches Creative Writing and literature at Colorado College and serves as a facilitator for arts-based leadership courses at The Banff Centre in Canada. Her book Body Painting (Red Hen Press 2005) won the Colorado Book Award for Poetry. Her most recent project, with her father Conrad Hilberry, is This Awkward Art: Poems by a Father and Daughter.