Geoffrey Hilsabeck on two equally impossible pursuits.

Geoffrey Hilsabeck

Geoffrey Hilsabeck

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…

What do you write and how do you write it?
I write poems and essays, mostly in the morning. How do I write–I’m not sure what you mean. Will you clarify?
I mean…say a little bit more about when/where you write and revise? Utensils used?
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.
What can you tell us about your day job?

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.

I don’t hear much about boarding schools these days. I must admit I think of Dead Poets’ Society and Catcher in the Rye— do either of these share anything with your experience?
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?)
What inspires you as writer?
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?
Yes, I think curiosity is a feeling. What are you curious about lately?
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.

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