Geoffrey Hilsabeck is a poet and essayist and English teacher at boarding school on the East coast. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for poetry, he has a chapbook published with Song Cave; it is sold out, but lucky for us, the press allows readers to download a copy and discover Geoffrey’s prosey and poetic investigation of “elegy to energy and back again” in Vaudeville (or as Geoffrey describes, a look at “how Americans entertained themselves before television.”)
I recently asked him a few questions about his writing life and teaching at a boarding school…
I write poems and essays, mostly in the morning. How do I write–I’m not sure what you mean. Will you clarify?
I write pretty much only in the mornings: I wake up at six, make coffee and a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, and write until it’s time to go to class or take the dog for a walk. Not having as much time to write has changed my approach to revision, since I just don’t have the luxury of obsessing over lines and sentences the way I used to; that being said, writing and revising are pretty much one and the same for me.I like Mead composition books, which I get for free from the school store, and non-mechanical pencils; the German company Kum makes an excellent pencil sharpener, although one of these days I’m going to invest in a wall-mounted one. I avoid typing anything into my computer for as long as possible.
I teach English at a boarding school, which is a day and night job. Surprisingly, though, boarding school life does allow for some writing, since I don’t have to waste any time in the car commuting. I love teaching. I’m fascinated and frustrated by it in much the same way–or to the same degree–as writing; to me, they are very different but equally impossible pursuits. Writing is pretty solitary, of course, and so the intense sociality of teaching provides a nice complement to that. I don’t think I’d be happy doing only one or the other, although I do wish I had more time for both.
Boarding school…it certainly looks a lot like Dead Poets Society, but the demands on students these days make for a rather different lifestyle. Also, students seem a lot happier than the characters in Dead Poets Society and Catcher in the Rye. (Perhaps the two are related?)
I suppose I take inspiration from what I read, mostly, I think–but who knows, really–is it reading that moves me first to write. I am moved to write by, what, feelings maybe? Less happiness and sadness though than wonder and fear. And love, of course. Is curiosity a feeling?
I’m still very curious about how Americans entertained themselves before television (hence the essay “Vaudeville”). I’m curious about outer space. I’m curious where poetry can take me, psychologically and spiritually.