Hilles’ Brown Bag identifies vitality with sustainability, eco-poetry



Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

Like most children, Rick Hilles’ mother read to him at a young age, but few consider that experience to be archetypal.

Hilles, poet-in-residence for Week Nine, compared reading and writing poetry in his life to a newborn drinking his or her mother’s milk — they are vital nutrients in surviving.

Hilles, an assistant professor of English at Vanderbilt University, will present a Brown Bag lecture, “On Poetry and Sustainability,” at 12:15 p.m. today on the Alumni Hall porch.

“I’m trying to find ways to talk about how poetry both sustains us on a personal level by providing a nutrient we can’t get anywhere else and also how poetry writing might be another way of helping us write about things in the way that are more sustainable,” Hilles said.

He is interested in the entirety of sustainability, whether it is climate change or global warming, and many of the things he will discuss identifies as poetry and the environment — or “eco-poetic.”

“It does seem like in our generation, we have to reckon with these issues of sustainability — whether it’s buying solar panels or whatever one does to live more sustainably. It seems like our survival as a species,” Hilles said.

His lecture will examine how the consciousness, love and a desire to protect the natural world might inform one’s poetry and will interrogate the delicate line between making art and making the world a better place.

“I feel as long as I’ve been writing poetry, it has changed my life,” Hilles said. “It has made me see differently. It has made me live differently. I can’t probably overestimate how much it has changed my life and made me live in a way that makes me want to improve my surroundings.”

When Hilles teaches, he feels the environment is similar to a garden — germination and pollination happens, and he hopes his lecture will allow attendees to expand and transition in a dynamic way.

Clara Silverstein, director of the Writers’ Center, said Hilles’ love for poetry is most evident when he’s teaching — and he has a great smile.

Hilles has been recognized with a Camargo Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholarship and a Whiting Award. He authored two collections of poetry — A Map of the Lost World and Brother Salvage, which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.