1. Why did you start writing?
"For me, the answer starts with reading. Reading has always been one of my very favorite things in the world. The way a story or a poem gets inside my body, makes me feel, reminds me that I’m alive? Just amazing. And there’s this incredibly cool doubleness that you feel when something really transports you. You’re in Narnia or Oz or Earthsea or lost in the language of some remarkable poem, and you’re on this cool adventure with the characters in the book, grieving or loving or wondering and wandering alongside the speaker of the poem, but you’re also you, alive in the moment, in some physical actual place in the world. Both at once. At some point, I began to want to create something that might somehow make someone else feel what reading makes me feel. I always think of it as this ache in the back of the throat, this intense wistfulness. I think what it comes down to in the end: the beauty and possibility of human connection. I write and read for that connection. It’s a kind of touch. A kind of love."
2. How long did it take you to complete Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy? When did you realize that you had material to write a book about fatherhood and American machoism?
"The earliest poem in the book was written in 2012; the most recent was written in 2020 and added during the final editing stage. Most were written between 2015 and 2017, and somewhere in that time period I realized many of my poems were exploring these themes so maybe there was a book in it. I tend to be a 'one poem at a time' kind of writer, rather than working in projects, so I have to write a lot of poems before I start seeing connections between them that might yield a collection."
3. Do you find it is easier to write poetry books now that you’ve published several of them?
"There’s a certain placidity that comes with experience, I guess, a bit less fear that no one will ever read anything you write. But easier? No, not really. Writing is hard, always, and the last thing I wrote doesn’t do any of the work on the next thing. No amount of publishing success will write the next poem for me. I still have to sit down and put words on the page. I still have to answer the questions: what is a poem? What is this poem? What does this poem love, what does it grieve? And those answers are new every time, even when they’re the same answers."
4. You have this interesting series, One Poem at a Time, where you interview writers about one of their poems. How did you come up with this idea?
"It’s an excuse to get poets I admire talking about their work. I try to stay away from questions of interpretation, of 'what did you mean by this image, that metaphor.' I’m interested in questions of process, of choices we make as we write, of what we want our readers to experience in our poems, and in questions of what shapes a poet’s relationship with their own poems. I try to honor the poems by reading them deeply before coming up with the questions. I was inspired by Ruben Quesada’s Poetry Today interviews at the Kenyon Review blog, by the old First Book Interview series from Kate Greenstreet and Keith Montesano, and by a number of interview podcasts: David Naimon’s Between the Covers; Rachel Zucker’s Commonplace; Gabrielle Bates, Dujie Tuhat and Luther Hughes’ The Poet Salon, and Kevin Young on The New Yorker Poetry Podcast."
5. You collaborated with W. Todd Kaneko to create a poetry chapbook, Slash / Slash, that is scheduled for publication in June. This is the second time you worked together. How did the experiences compare, and what did you learn from them? What advice do you have for collaborating authors?
"Collaborating on the textbook and anthology we wrote for Bloomsbury made collaborating on the chapbook possible. We learned a lot about each other’s process and style, and we learned to set aside ego and work in service of the work, the words. That was, I think, easier and more natural when working in the academic or pedagogical mode. It’s normal for professional documents to be written by a team, right, and the product is more important than the particular voice or vision of any single author. But that’s not usually how we think about art, about making poems. So when we learned to collaborate, to work together, we were able to think about the Slash project differently — not as his or mine, but truly ours. It was a great experience, and I very much recommend working collaboratively to all poets. I guess my advice is just that: try it. Find someone you want to work with and make something together."
6. You are writing a novel. How does that differ from creating poetry?
"The scope of the project requires this kind of sustained attention over a long period of time that doesn’t come naturally to me. As I mentioned above, I tend to write poems as poems rather than as part of a project, so breaks in my writing life don’t hurt the process much. Write some poems, take some time away, then come back and write more poems. But with the novel, that time away makes getting back to the project really challenging. It’s hard. At least it is for me. It’s also super strange to be 90-some-thousand words into a project, working on a third draft of that project, and still have utterly no idea if it’s going to end up as a readable or publishable thing. That’s more words than all four of my books of poems combined."
7. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"I don’t get to decide what they take away, but I hope they take something. I have said before that I don’t think a poem is done until someone reads it. To be read is a gift."
8. What other project(s) do you hope to take on someday?
"So many projects. Too many, probably. I have to finish that dumb novel, I have a chapbook in progress that I want to make into a kind of hybrid prose/poetry thing, and I’ve begun working on a craft book about poetry and punctuation. The other thing on my mind right now is a cyberpunk-inspired role-playing game set in a near-future Michigan. That might be the one I’m most excited about, to be honest."
9. What writing advice do you find totally useless?
"Any advice that purports to be one size fits all. There are no universal rules. Write every day? Show, don’t tell? Sure, sometimes, in some cases, for some people. But not always, not for every writer, and not at every point in your writing life."
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"I think I probably talk about it plenty, at least if you’re around me in real life. but I love watching my son play goalkeeper. He’s 16, taller than I am, and he loves soccer. He’s been playing since he was 4. Watching his high school team play last fall was like this tiny oasis of normalcy in the middle of a pandemic and a truly challenging semester of online/hybrid teaching. We were masked and socially distanced in the stands, and the players were masked on the field, but for those 90 minutes, I was able to tune out the world and my problems and just watch soccer, entirely in the moment. It was a gift."
Hear Amorak read his poem "Half-Life with Bumper Stickers."
Amorak Huey’s fourth book of poems is Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress Publications, 2021). Co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018) and the chapbook Slash/Slash (Diode, 2021), Huey teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His previous books are Boom Box (Sundress, 2019), Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank, 2018), and Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015), as well as two chapbooks.
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