The Sunday Poem: Conrad Hilberry




Negative Space


Where the body isn’t – that’s how
dancers know me. Sculptors bend
their clay and steel against

my emptiness. Somehow, though I’m
not giving it a thought, I nudge
a shadow from a twist

of bronze or change the way
a breast and elbow size
each other up. Writers like to wrap

white space around their wit,
but I’m not white,
not bound or folded. I’m your

zero with its circumference
erased, an abandoned building
once the building’s gone. Let’s say

a heavy childhood event
has bent your life, shaped
what you’ve become. Now you find

it never happened. Nothing
there at all. That’s me.




About Conrad Hilberry

Conrad Hilberry was born in Ferndale, Michigan, and is a longtime resident of the Great Lakes region. He earned a BA from Oberlin College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; he was a professor of English at Kalamazoo College in Michigan from 1962 to 1998.

Conrad Hilberry working at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (Photo by Katey Schultz courtesy

Hilberry has written twelve collections of poetry, including Encounter on Burrows Hill and Other Poems (1968), Rust (1974), Man in the Attic (1980), Sorting the Smoke: New and Selected Poems (1990), winner of the Iowa Prize, Player Piano: Poems (2000), The Fingernail of Luck (2005), and After-Music (2008). In 2009 he co-authored This Awkward Art: Poems by a Father and Daughter with the poet Jane Hilberry, his daughter.

A master of both free verse and received forms, Hilberry infuses the familiar and everyday with intellectual insight. Poet Henry Taylor has said that Hilberry’s poems possess “the spooky ability to make odd, though rarely surreal, connections. The poems move with quiet authority from the observation of a particular, and of the possibilities surrounding it, to exploration of what might happen next. The miracle is that they do this without arbitrariness.”

Hilberry is also the author of the nonfiction book Luke Karamazov (1987), an account of serial murderers in Kalamazoo. He has co-edited three volumes of “Third Coast” poetry from Michigan—the most recent, New Poems from the Third Coast: Contemporary Michigan Poetry, in 2000.

Hilberry’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry and a Michigan Arts Award.

“Negative Space” © Conrad Hilberry. This poem originally appeared in The Fingernail of Luck (Mayapple Press) and was reprinted with permission from the author.

By | 2016-11-11T21:53:45+00:00 11.26.11|The Sunday Poem, Words|4 Comments

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.


  1. Anna Dibble November 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Dear Michelle,

    I recently discovered Gwarlingo. What a wonderful site!! Have shared it on my personal Facebook page, and set it up to feed through my RSS feeder. Congratulations, and I look forward to more of your fantastic posts.

    Anna Dibble
    Dibble at BEECHER’S NYC – Florence Fabricant in NY Times

    • Michelle Aldredge November 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks Anna! I look forward to being in touch with you here. There are more great poets the pipeline!

  2. Barbara Feige December 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Wow – thanks for the poem, and thanks for the memory of Conrad Hilberry, who was my teacher at Kalamazoo College in the 70s – one of the best. He was a great educator, always positive (not the norm for English profs at the time) and inspirational. I was thinking of him recently, and was happy to find your site, and this poem.

    Not surprised that I like it (the site, that is), as (per the description of the gwarlingo store), I am a former librarian, art teacher, and now an illustrator!

    I am going to share this poem at a book club and will also share your site with this particular bunch of creative women. THANKS.

    • Michelle Aldredge December 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      Hi Barbara,
      I’m so glad you discovered Conrad’s poem and Gwarlingo! You are not the first to write and sing Conrad’s praises. He has a large fan club out there!

      Thanks to my recent article on Brian Selznick’s favorite children’s books, many teachers and librarians are discovering Gwarlingo for the first time. which makes me happier than a tornado in a trailer park, as they say down South.

      Why librarians are stereotyped as dull and bossy is beyond me. In my own personal experience, I’ve found them to be intensely curious about a wide range of topics, smart, and yes, even fun! I owe a lot to both librarians and art teachers, so hat’s off to you.

      Thank you for spreading the word about Gwarlingo to your book club. I hope you’ll be a regular reader. I have a Creative Spaces article and studio visit with writer and illustrator Mordicai Gerstein in the pipeline for 2012!

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