Talking the Web, the Simpsons, and 'lerts' with poet Tom Hunley
Published: February 1, 2011
Before Internet access became widespread, poets had one publishing
option. We aimed at print journals because that was the way to earn
recognition and brand our work. Within a few short years, however,
online journals began to blossom and even blue chip journals like Poetry established websites. For Kentucky poet Tom Hunley, those journals are one good thing the Web offers.
Kay B. Day
Asked about the impact of the Internet on his poems, Hunley quipped, “In
the words of Homer J. Simpson: ‘The Internet? Is that thing still
Hunley does acknowledge benefits from the medium initially dismissed by academic poets in the early stages.
“I never got much into Spoetry, Spam-lit, Googlism or Flarf,” Hunley
said. “I appreciate the energy some poets are putting into finding ways
to use the Internet to make it new.”
Hunley also appreciates the speedy access to information. Perhaps most
of all it’s about the journals. “Some of the online literary journals
are delightful. I’m the book review editor of one called Poemeleon,
and the editor Cati Porter has really made maximum use of the
technology, including audio, video and other exciting things that reach
beyond what a print journal can do.”
Online poetry workshops are another matter, however. “I’m not a big fan
of workshops in general. That is, in part, the subject of my book, Teaching Poetry Writing: A Five-Canon Approach.”
Hunley, who teaches at Western Kentucky University, said while he was working on his book Octopus,
he spent time at the well-known online workshop Gazebo. “There were
some very good poets on the board, but some of the loudest voices were
amateurish crackpots,” he said.
Unlike some others, however, Hunley doesn’t see the Web as a poetry killer. “There’s always been bad poetry around,” he said, “in print and now online. Some city newspapers still print ‘poetry’ from their communities and publishers continue to kill trees for the sake of doggerel … There’s no reason to be afraid of bad poetry. Sometimes it keeps people off the streets. Sometimes it leads to good poetry.”
Hunley has a new book coming out that should prove useful to any poet hoping to hone skills. The Poetry Gymnasium, forthcoming from McFarland & Co., delivers 95 poetry writing exercises, specific learning objectives, historical background on poetic subgenres, and model poems by both published poets and some of the students Hunley has taught.
Hunley said, “The Poetry Gymnasium continues work I did while researching and writing Teaching Poetry Writing. That book was for teachers; this one is for students and poets. I hope poets will buy it for themselves, I hope writing groups use it. I hope professors use it as a reference and as a textbook.”
Does Hunley ever research material for poems? He does, and in more ways than one.
The quote from The Simpsons isn’t the only aspect of the long-time series Hunley finds intriguing. He said he’s working on a sequence of poems in the voices of characters from the TV show. “As research I’ve already bought a half-dozen books by people intellectualizing about The Simpsons.”
Hunley points out the show has also surfaced in presentations at academic conferences and in scholarly articles. There’s a perk for the poet’s research. “With this particular project,” he said, “I legitimately claim that I’m doing research while I watch cartoons during my sabbatical from the university.”
Hunley has even driven to shabbily-chic resorts like South of the Border on the East coast, something he called “a kind of research trip.”
|Hunley also explains his concept of “encyclopedic braids.” That’s the term he gives some of his poems. “In those,” he said, “rather than foregrounding rhythm or imagery or narrative or whatever, I try to find connections between various unrelated oddball facts. I do book research for those and others written in the braided narrative style after the manner of poets such as David Kirby, Albert Goldbarth and Richard Jackson.”|
Kirby was actually on Hunley’s doctoral committee. Asked if Kirby is as funny as some of his poems, Hunley said, “David is seriously funny…”
Hunley also praises Kirby, a poet considered by many to be one of the most creative living poets in the U.S. “He’s an omnivorous reader, a master book reviewer, an erudite scholar, and an award-winning professor in addition to being one of the few poets around who came up with a truly original style.” Hunley recommended an article in Southern Review, "The Invention of the Kirby Poem."
Hunley said he drove 3,000 miles “with my understanding wife, her little dog and whatever we could carry” because of Kirby. Hunley also has an interview with Kirby in an upcoming issue of Five Points.
Hunley has established a solid track record of success in his field. In addition to Octopus and his latest book The Poetry Gymnasium, his book Greatest Hits was released in 2010 by Pudding House. Hunley’s poems have been featured three times on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and multiple times on Verse Daily. His poems appear regularly in quality journals like North American Review and New York Quarterly and his work has also appeared in The Writer.
Ask enough questions and it will become evident Hunley’s well-crafted poems are a product of far more than scholarship or research. Hunley said, “Even dining with interesting people and paying attention to what they say can be research, or giving a bum a dollar but only if he tells you a story first. I think D.H. Lawrence once referred to poems as ‘little acts of attention,’ and I want to be alert, because, as the old bumper sticker says, 'this country needs more lerts.' If that means reading a scholarly journal or an encyclopedia, okay, but sometimes it just means smelling the roses or touching the thistles or looking closely into my wife’s eyes and paying attention to what she’s saying and how she’s saying it. Or watching The Simpsons.”
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for
The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International,
The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see www.kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.