Rivers have long stirred the poetic and literary imagination, and the Hillsborough is no exception. Here we share some examples of poems inspired by the Hillsborough, whether by its pristine upper reaches or its busy urban enviironment.

Many of these poems were commissioned by the City of Tampa for its Riverwalk Portal project and are used by perrmission here. For more on the Roverwalk portal visit: http://www.tampaportal.org/content/map

Gianna Russo

Gianna Russo

Gianna Russo is the author of the poetry collection, Moonflower (Kitsune Books, 2011), which is a Florida Book Awards bronze medal winner, Florida Publishers Association Presidents’ Award silver medal winner, and Eric Hofer First Horizons finalist.  She is founding editor of YellowJacket Press, Florida’s only publisher of poetry chapbook manuscripts, for which she won a 2011 Creative Loafing Best of the Bay Award.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has published poems in Tampa Review, Ekphrasis, Crab Orchard Review, Apalachee Review, Florida Review, Florida Humanities Council Forum, Karamu, The Bloomsbury Review, The Sun, Poet Lore, saw palm, The MacGuffin, and Calyx, among others.Her creative nonfiction has appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.  She teaches at St. Leo University, where she is also managing editor of Sandhill Review, and lives in Tampa. Contact:  russo15@juno.com; www.yellowjacketpress.org. For more river poems by Gianna, please see here.

Plant’s Palace

Once she sat like a grande dame on her throne,
crowned with 6 minarets, 6 crescent moons.
Rich Northerners with months to spare arrived
by train or steamer for their health and pleasure.
They called the hotel “a dream of Southern Splendor,”
a poem in latticework and brick.
The guest rooms ensured a balmy sleep,
orange blossom-full and opulent.
Everything about her was exotic.
Winters, she reigned in this Land of Lovely Dreams;
Summers, she sat empty as the coal bin in July.

But that was long before you and me.
Once she was a fairyland in the heart of the semi-tropics.
Alone, her silver spires etched Tampa’s sky,
just in time for the 20th century.

Squint and You’ll See It

The river is like syrup,
and floating in its sweetness are cruise ships to take you to Nowhere,
wonderful Nowhere, that beckons you right past noon in this sun,
lures you into the channel where the wind ruffles your hair,
urges you past the cranes rusting at the port industrial site,
past the gray holding tanks, past Gulf Marine Repair and the tugboat named River Belle,
past the condos on Harbor Island painted sunnily as the Meditarranean.
Nowhere calls you out onto the bay, lures you to the gulf , and then, and then,
your mind unclasps and Nowhere becomes a real port-of-call,
a green flash at sunset, a red sky at night, a true destination of rest and joy
that you can get to just by standing on a sidewalk by a river near downtown,
just like this.


The seagulls gather like old-time believers behind the Convention Center.
In identical gray vests, they decree their faith in fish and human hand-outs.
Some agitate over the way the wind blows,
some testify in high voices the wonders of minnows and french fries.
Seagulls are tide-readers, evangelists of moon & cloud.
Watch them congregate like the pure of heart,
sounding a come-and-get-it while the gettin’s good,

Silvia Curbelo

Silvia Curbelo

Silvia Curbelo is the author of three poetry collections, The Secret History of Water (Anhinga Press), Ambush, winner of the Main Street Rag chapbook contest, and The Geography of Leaving (Silverfish Review Press). Awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, the Cintas Foundation and the Writer's Voice, as well as the Jessica Nobel Maxwell Poetry Prize from American Poetry Review. Her poems have been published in literary magazines and more than two dozen anthologies. A new book of poems, Falling Landscape, is forthcoming from Anhinga Press. A native of Cuba, Silvia has lived in Tampa all her adult life.

Small Craft Warnings

When the day slips out of context
When wind shifts in its tracks
and the sails fold in on themselves

When birds let go of their shadows
When weeds unlock a hidden garden
When the clouds part and the smoke clears

and the day stretches to its vanishing point
like a story that begins in a house by the river
and ends anywhere the sky goes

River Music

Let the water rise in you, let it
fill all the spaces in your head, let it
slip through your windows and doors, let it
drench everything you know, the room
and all its ruined voices, the burned out
couches and chairs, the television
always on, let it drag
itself through you
taking the river with it,
its work song, its small humming,
a prayer like an old shoe the current ferries
to the vanishing point, let it
empty itself in you, a kind of thirst,
an inkling, moth of light filling
your mouth with wings, let the gravity
of stones sink through it
for all the sleepless nights,
pink slips, betrayals, the empty
boat of your desires drifting
in a place so deep the land
slips away from its moorings

The Secret History of Water

In an attic room near the river
a child leans out the impossibly
high window to watch so much
dark water going past.
There is no true color for it.
There is no precise word for it either.
Say flood. Say stream.
Say immeasurable thirst.
You can feel it rising.

Jeff Karon

Jeff Karon

Jeff Karon teaches in the English Department at the University of South Florida. He is a poet, essayist, freelance editor, and the owner of a tutoring and training business, The Honorable Classroom. He contributed a series of haiku about the river; the haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, composed in 17 syllables divided into three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, and often addressing the natural world. He has also written a longer poem: Resurrection River.


The river never
runs dry.  Tell me tomorrow
when the rains come back.

The ancient Chinese
watched cranes exercise their natures—
we waddle instead.

If a can floats by,
at least someone was walking
here—throw it away.

Like black, moistened pens,
rowboats glide up to the walls,
signatures ready.

River kings and queens
yet servants to sweat and salt—
beating their thin oars.


We hired him to restore what we thought
needed restoring, some muddy history
cocooned in concrete and Yield signs.

We city dwellers were jaw-slacked
against our wills, suckered by stories
of Jamaican goats and roosters raised

for the spotlight: mumbo jumbo and hoodoo
incantations, the razzle dazzle of fresh herbs
and dead dirt, as though we hadn’t a clue

about what grows where, and how to turn over
a single clod of earth.  He flew in from somewhere,
gathering us in some plaza that had forgotten

its Spanish surname.  He stamped on the ground
somehow—even though it was covered and shrouded
and all that bureaucratic slag—he stamped on the ground

while pulling out bits of plastic and Styrofoam which he cast
upon the water, shouting, “See how I have made a bird, a waterfowl,
a duck even; and now it swims and swirls and flows along like any of its cousins!”

We city dwellers waited into the dusk, expected the bureaucratic slaggers to descend
upon the resurrection man, that canny fraud who had turned out his old pockets on us.
But the dusk refused to deepen.  We were lightly shadowed.   The river paid us little mind.

Our shadows in tow, we were resurrected along the river. 
We were resurrection men and women.
This is how rivers live again.

Rhonda J. Nelson

Rhonda J. Nelson

Winner of Writers Exchange 2000, sponsored by Poets & Writers, Inc. (NY), a Florida Division of Cultural Affairs Fellow for year 2000-2001, a recipient of the Hillsborough County Individual Artists grant (2004), and a two-time recipient of the Hillsborough County Arts Council Emerging Artist award. She is the poet creative director for Irritable Tribe of Poets. Collections include: Musical Chair (Anhinga Press, 2004), The Undertow (Rattapallax Press, 2001), and Shadows & Light, (Tampa Bay Review Press, 1991).   Audio collections include:  Kahlo, Rhonda J. Nelson with Irritable Tribe of Poets, and Irritable Tribe of Poets Live at the Salvador Dali Museum. Her poems have been published in journals such as: Ekphrasis, Angel Face, Slipstream, The Panhandler, Survivor Magazine, Asheville Review, Apalachee Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Book of Hope, The Dexter Review, New CollAge, and Sandhill Review.


Daylight floats, swells the clouds,
rain falls on the river.
Solitary sea cow with singular calf,
slow dancing, peaceful manatees.

Paddle-tailed mermaids,
drifting like slow motion film,
graze the shallows.
Mangrove leaves and Turtle grass.

The same lyric
for forty five million years.


The water wants to play piano
But its fingers are tributaries
Wants to play harp
But capillaries fill with rain
Humidity sticks to the treble clef
Bass clef hides behind a silver cloud, howling
The earth crawls under its star blanket
And listens for what comes next

Extinct (excerpt from Inlet)

Sometimes when the moon is full
I feel her pull me away from shore.
In the warm, dark night
the seed of me roots in the depth

of her absence.  Low tide.
Illusion moving out beyond the eddies.
I can't see her fin, yet can't keep her
image from evaporating at sunrise.

And I want nothing more
than to ask, Where ya' been? What took you
so long to come home?

Community Stepping Stones Youth

In November 2010, poet and artist Samantha Samson taught a lesson at Community Stepping Stones, a program in Sulphur Springs that uses art to allow at-risk youth to express themselves in creative ways. Together with Samson, CSS students, staff, and volunteers wrote collaborative poems inspired by their beautiful location on the Hillsborough, at Mann-Waggoner Park.

Poems used by permission of Community Stepping Stones; visit them at http://communitysteppingstones.org

Poem 1: by Ian K., Kathleen, Mark, Havilah, and Victoria
The Hillsborough River is dark
Rivers are hard to see through
Random patterns on the water
Is like a freezer it's cold
Water makes it hard to stay warm
as sunlight touches the waves
waves swoosh right over you
are alive.

Poem 2: by Amanda, Ashley, and Aaliyah
The river is slimy, grimy
There are many animals living in the river
It flows with the current
waves wash ashore, leaving debris
we should pick up trash by the river to make it look nice.
I love to sit by the river
supplies water for all living things
It's fun to go canoeing on the river.
I love to go to the river and read
The river can be a fun place!

Poem 4: by Anonymous 
The river is full of life
The river needs life to live
The creatures that live here are not like what they appear
before my very eyes, like a buzzing fly
as the birds fly they catch a glance
blue, and yellow, many species of every kind
of animal that swims with effortless grace
the sunlight was so graceful and beautiful
the lake we see is unique
kind of experience, unlike any I have had before!

Poem 3: by Alex, Ashley, and Peter
Your brackish waters are full of life
Falling from branches, pushing towards shore
The shore is where I sit
as I try not to squessh the animals beneath me
or you, without a float.
There's always something floating in the river.
The sun glistening upon your waters, as the sun begins to say,
without a trace.
Sometimes I trace the stars in my mind.
Calm and collective when in me, river's presence
of an absent turtle, with a log or two.