Beaver tails and dragonfly spies


Having beaten out 60 other poetic hopefuls to earn a spot on the bill at last Tuesday’s poetry reading—the first in this season’s Emerging Writers Series—Geoff Hilsabeck, a student in the University’s Master of Arts in Humanities program, shuffled toward the podium in Classics 21. The room was full; people crowded the couches and windowsills and lined the walls. Hilsabeck flashed a shy smile.

“There will be some swearing at some point,” he said. “I hope that’s not a problem for anybody.”

It wasn’t. From time to time Hilsabeck, whose work has been published in a chapbook called The Keeper of Secrets, whacked his audience with something serious, but mostly he kept them chuckling through more than half a dozen poems with lithe and lively wordplay and imagery that tended toward the surreal. From a poem called “Providing Assistance”:

Taken by storm
a swarm of sparrows
picked feathers under the overhang and listened.
We all did.
I even paid extra for two good seats,
a dragonfly, a cinched bouquet.
I leashed the dragonfly
with floss and trained it as a spy.

Hilsabeck shared the stage with poet Sam White, a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop who teaches at the University of Rhode Island. White’s first book of poems, The Goddess of the Hunt is Not Herself, was published this year. It is a quiet and contemplative collection that owes its title, White said, to an artist he once dated, who created an entire exhibit by photographing herself with beaver tails sticking out of her mouth. “I met her and saw the photos at the same instant,” White explained. “I was so struck by everything about her.”

In “Life in a Big Sweater,” White mused: “I am unshod, / like an aged whisker from the lawn. / I am under you, on top. / Far off a light blinks / in the deep stretch of a window. / Part of me lives in a crow’s beak. / Part of me is nest.”


Photo: Geoff Hilsabeck.

October 19, 2005