Black Moss Press

Robert Hilles on Line

Robert Hilles, a long time Black Moss Poet and past recipient of the Governor General’s award for Cantos from a Small Room, focuses on capturing the quiet moments of life, his writing style is lyric and captivating.


The poetry your write is largely about your life; Line honours your mother and celebrates her life, Shimmer focuses on your wife and the love that you share, and still others focus on the small moments of every day. How do you decide what gets turned into poems and what doesn’t?

I don’t always consciously direct the poems. However, both those sets of poems had very specific driving forces. In the case of Shimmer those poems grew out of a deeply seeded love for my wife Rain. There wasn’t any other way to get at such rooted feelings except through poetry. The precision and metaphors of poetry mimic best the guttural sensations of love. For that reason, whenever I want to convey deep feelings, as I did in that book, it is poetry I turn to. Now that I write both fiction and poetry the main difference for me is that poems tend to be more immediate and concentrated while fiction is expansive.


How have your life experiences changed the way you write over time?

My life experiences have significantly changed the way I write. There are core principles that have remained, but my perspectives are now dramatically different. A simple example of that is in my early poems I wrote from the perspective of the child. Later, when I became a parent, I wrote from that perspective. Life experiences have deepened and broadened what I write. I have understandings now that weren’t possible when I was younger. As I have aged, I have also started to write fiction and that shift to story has felt a logical progression because fiction has allowed me to explore new elements of writing. But I still continue to write poetry because for me poems have more emotional grounding. They unearth the truest feelings and can be more timeless and not as subject to trends or fashion. Although poetry often seems momentary and ephemeral it is in fact steadfast and enduring.


In 1994 your book Cantos from a Small Room won the Governor General Award. Can you tell us how that felt and how it has influenced your writing today?

That was a very exciting experience, but I don’t think it directly influenced my writing other than to encourage me to persist.

What are you working on next?

I have completed a book of short stories tentatively called, Release, and I am now working on a book of prose poems called, A Piece of Rag Wrapped Gold. The subtitle of that is Poems of the Atomic Age and the poems in that book weave together the aftermath of the Chernobyl Disaster, Particle Physics, and Love – all through the prism of The Atomic Age. I have also completed a novel set in Thailand called Don’t Hang Your Soul On That which will be published in 2021.


Can you share your favourite poets with us and tell us how they have impacted your poetry?

I have many favourite poets so there are too many to name them all here but a few in particular have been instrumental in me finding my poetic voice. They include in no particular order: John Keats from whom I learned the importance of Negative Capability and revising for deeper meanings. Ezra Pound from whom I learned the importance of making it new. Sylvia Plath from whom I learned the importance of linking metaphor to the personal. Al Purdy from whom I learned the importance of the place and the self. Sharon Olds from whom I learned the importance of writing about family. Philip Levine from whom I learned the importance of personal details. Seamus Heaney from whom I’ve learned the importance of music and surprise. Christopher Wiseman from whom I learned the importance of craft and trusting the imagination. Federico Lorca from whom I learned the importance of passion and the unpredictable. Claire Harris from whom I learned the importance of tireless revisions. Robert Kroetsch from whom I learned the importance of the local and specificity. Phyllis Webb from whom I learned the importance of cutting to just the essential words. Erin Moure from whom I learned the importance of assertion and invention. Marty Gervais from whom I learned the importance of humour, humility, and the understated. Bronwen Wallace from whom I learned the importance of writing about feelings. Roo Borson from whom I learned the importance of a surprising image. That is not a complete list and have left out many other favourites and important influences.

Poems from Lines

Organic Love

Love is made of soil

Clay, wind, rock, and bone

The way an apple

Rounds and ripens to pulp and juice

So love ripens


At an apple orchard

You pick one

And offer it to me

And I pick another and offer it to you

Love deepens

Is round and ripe


King Apples

Today we picked King apples

At a friend’s on Salt Spring

And a buck with six-point antlers

Grazed nearby

It looked up once to notice us

But that was all

Otherwise we were just

People in the way

Of all the apples on the ground


Love is like that you said

Later in the car

I pondered that

As I kept headlights

True to the road

I watched for deer as I drove

And thought about apples falling

And your sense of love

How complicated can it be

This feeling that gyrates

In both of us

But has no compass


We are like those

Apples poised to fall

In a day or two most of them

Will drop to the ground

And that buck and other deer

Will quickly eat them up

I bit into one as I drove

And it was the ripest apple

I had ever tasted


When we reached home

I aimed the headlights

At the house

So you could

Unlock the front door

Love goes on and on and on

It isn’t what stops

It isn’t what stops

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