Day 14 VCCA: Conrad Hilberry and Other Inspirations
And so they leave: Goodbye Mark. Goodbye Sharon. Goodbye Ronit, Martha, Belle. Goodbye dear poet Marjorie. But hello! Hello Conrad Hilberry, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Masha Hamilton, and (OMG!) Alice McDermott!
This is the ebb and flow of VCCA, where most folks stay for two weeks and the rest stay for one to two months. I fall somewhere in between, having been granted a 5-week fellowship. Another handful leave this week, a small boatload arrives tomorrow, in a few days my “VCCA bff’s” Ester and Ingrid depart. It’s almost enough to drive one to distraction…except that life here is not unlike a nunnery, so delightfully devoid of distraction. The only good thing about a fellow Fellow’s departure is that it is often preceded by a public reading or open studio, which in addition to fine company and crafted work, also involve wine and chocolate.
But still…to steer my mind from the departures, I’d like to invite you to join me in meeting my delightful new studio neighbor, Mr. Conrad Hilberry. We tend to overlap for tea in the Studio Barn kitchen in the afternoons and it’s all I can do to keep from pinching his cheeks every time I see him. Saturday night I got to watch him toast a marshmallow. Sunday he accidentally rode my bicycle all the way to church and back, mistaking it for one of the public bikes. Today I caught him sneaking some chips from an unclaimed bag of groceries (so dear!). What’s not to love about a man who smiles every time you see him, who doesn’t let age change his ambition, and whose writer’s desk is as humble and honorable as they come:
Conrad Hilberry. God help me. What a guy. And if that desk isn’t striking enough, how about this smile? Mom, Dad: I think I’ve found a man I’m finally willing to bring home. Hah.
But an introduction to Conrad wouldn’t be complete without a poem. Here’s one I got to hear him read in person the other night when he and two other Fellows delivered a fine poetry reading fireside in the Fellows Residence.
CONRAD HILBERRY: Cherry Pie
We’re all acquainted with the airy
crowd—a stalk of celery dipped
in cottage cheese, a thimble
of soy milk, a few green grapes.
I invite them over here: between
two butter crusts, my sour
flesh so deeply sugared it
astounds the mouth.
To coax it all to bed, a downy
pillow of whipped cream.
Try me, you organics.
Light the oven.
Let me show you how
the juice can leap, when nature
shares the sheets with art.
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I fell in love with that man when he came to Interlochen in 2001(ish?) and did a class and a reading. Such an open honest, caring man. Love his poetry. I cherish my signed copy of Player Piano. And if I'm recalling correctly, I think he may have hugged everyone in the class as we left. Sound like him?
Now I know why I'm not having any luck reaching Con in Kalamazoo! My loss is your (and VCCA's) gain. Thanks for your vivid picture of Con at VCCA–it is the next best thing to seeing him in person in Kalamazoo this week (without the hug, though). Please tell him hello from Nancy.