Poet-in-residence Hilles to discuss what’s left behind in today’s Brown Bag



Many may think of the word “vanishing” as one with negative connotations — things that are lost forever.

Rick Hilles wanted to think of it in a different way, focusing on what people leave behind rather than what they lose.

“In the making of an artwork, there’s this hope that we’re leaving behind something that will last and that will speak to others long after we’re here,” Hilles said. “I think it is more humbling than not when one sees what becomes of writing, of poetry, of other art forms.”

Hilles is the poet-in-residence for Week Six at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, and his Brown Bag, “What Thou Lovest Well Remains — Or Does It?” will be at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. He is the author of multiple collections of poetry, and his work has appeared in Harper’s and The New Republic.

Hilles said his Brown Bag takes its title from poet Ezra Pound’s “Canto 81.”

“I think there’s something very hopeful in that premise,” Hilles said.

Hilles wanted to approach the theme of the week, “Vanishing,” in connection with poetry, imagination and the creation of art. Hilles said it’s easy to think of vanishing elegiacally, “as mourning the things that we lose.”

“But maybe there are other ways of thinking about vanishing,” Hilles said. “So in this talk, I’ll be taking some liberties in order to think of the many different meanings of vanishing, some of which might actually be quite hopeful and heartening.”

Hilles plans to look at the work of poets as a way of giving light to the more hopeful side of vanishing. He said poets like Claudia Rankine, Nick Flynn, Gary Snyder, Erin Belieu, Mark Strand and Edward Hirsch all touch on this concept within their work.

There are countless examples of works of art that stand the test of time, and poetry can do the same, Hilles said. The world can make people justifiably cynical, but artistic production is a way to combat those cynical notions.

“What I’m mostly hoping is that I’ll get a chance to articulate some inspiring — and hopefully exhilarating — ideas in keeping with the week’s theme,” Hilles said. “I’m hoping that people will leave with maybe a different sense of what vanishing might mean to them and that it also might include not just reasons for sadness or more somber feelings, but reasons that might be more hopeful and give them more reason to continue in an abundant way.”

He also hopes to engage his audience in the week’s theme in a way that doesn’t upset their stomachs.

“For a lunchtime talk, you hope it sits well with their tummies and contributes to the nutrients that they’re getting in that way, too,” Hilles said.