On Thursday, February 29th at 7:30 pm, Poet and writer Amorak Huey will be reading some of his work for the Spring 2024 Prout Chapel Reading Series at Bowling Green State University. The reading will be held in the Prout Chapel on the BGSU campus. The event is open to the public.

Amorak Huey, a poet and writer, has authored four poetry collections, including Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress Publications, 2021) and Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank Books, 2018). He co-authored Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic, 2024) and won the Diode Editions Chapbook Prize for Slash/Slash (Diode Editions, 2021). Currently a Professor of English at Bowling Green State University, Huey hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and has a rich literary background.

Assistant Editor, Ahmad Bilal interviewed Amorak Huey for the blog.

Ahmad Bilal: You’ve had a fascinating journey from journalism to poetry. How has your experience as a journalist influenced your approach to poetry, and vice versa?

Amorak Huey: I have a couple answers for this question. The first one has to do with language: my years as a copy editor were spent considering the sentence. How efficient is this sentence at delivering information? How does it connect to the sentence before, the sentence after? What work does each word here do? Are they necessary, and if they’re not necessary, are they important in some other way? I think (hope) this practice has shaped my poetry.

The second answer has to do with audience, purpose, the larger world. When you’re writing or editing at a newspaper, you have a very clear sense of audience and purpose with every story, every image, every headline. You’re communicating in a very real sense with a very real and very local audience: the 65,000 people in the Tallahassee area who subscribe to this paper or grab it from a newspaper box because they care about what’s happening in their community, for instance. So, you always have them in mind. I hope this practice, too, carries into my poetry: a sense that I’m writing to a real, human audience interested in what I have to say about the world, in how I make sense of the mess that is the human experience. 

AB: Your poetry often combines humor and social commentary, as seen in titles like Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy. How do you perceive the impact of this blend within your poetic work?

AH: I don’t know if I think deliberately about the effect or rhetorical outcome of blending these things, humor and commentary. At least not when I’m writing a poem; if I were writing, say, a newspaper column or a speech, it would be different. But in a poem, for me, it’s more about how we’re always operating at multiple levels of language. Think about code-switching, how we’re all using different diction and vocabulary for different facets of our life. Poems are looking for layers of meaning, right, like, instead of code-switching it’s code-layering — all the versions of yourself can be present at once in a poem. We contain multitudes, etc., so yeah, sometimes the joke-making self and the grief-drowning self and the self with something important to say about the planet (among myriad other selves) — in a poem, they can converge, coexist, contradict each other. 

AB: In your poem “BROKEN SONNET WITH CLIMATE CHANGE AND OFFICE HOURS,” how effective do you find the use of dialogue in addressing intergenerational perspectives on climate change?

AH: Effective within the confines of that particular poem? No idea. That’s a question for a reader, not the poet. But as a reader, I do have a fondness for dialogue in poetry. There’s something about the use of quotation marks that changes the poem’s relationship to truth; the quote marks are a kind of promise that what’s inside them is what a person (perhaps an imaginary one) actually said, though certainly a poem has no obligation to keep that promise. And of course, dialogue is a great way to explicitly give a poem multiple voices, to explore contrast and juxtaposition. 

AB: You’ve also published several chapbooks. What draws you to this shorter form, and how does your approach differ when writing chapbooks versus full-length collections?

AH: For me, a chapbook happens when I have something I’m interested in exploring for 10-15 poems or so. A chapbook is the perfect container for something like this. As a reader, I prefer chapbooks that stand alone, that aren’t just a bunch of loosely connected poems that will eventually also be published in full-length. As a writer, I’m not really a project poet, not enough to fill out a whole collection. My attention span, my willingness to listen to myself go on the same topic — it tends to cut off after a chapbook’s worth of poems. I can’t imagine writing 48-60 or however many poems that are as tightly connected as a chapbook allows. I would bore myself way before that point. I’ve said before that I don’t write books, I write poems, which can cause problems late in the process when it’s time to assemble my poems into a manuscript. So, I tend to have to write double or triple the number of poems a book needs before finding the ones that speak to each other, that coalesce into some larger form: the book. 

AB: Co-authoring a textbook on poetry is a unique endeavor. How did you and W. Todd Kaneko approach creating Poetry: A Writers’ Guide and Anthology? What insights did you gain from collaborating on this project?

AH: Our process began by spending a lot of time talking and thinking about what we wanted the book to be like, what sections and ideas we wanted to include. Helped that our offices were right across the hall from each other at the time (again, the value of local community). Once we had a rough outline, we just each drafted the chapters and sections and dumped them into a Google folder; once we had everything drafted, we went in and edited each other’s work. Because we trusted each other, because we knew we were on the same page about the direction of the book, it was easy to set ego aside and know that the other’s edits were always about moving the project forward, helping it find its final form. We learned a lot about our own writing process and about trust. After we finished that first edition, we also collaborated on a collection of poems about the rock guitarist Slash, following virtually the exact same process. Because we’d done the textbook that way, we had the kind of trust you need to let someone else mess around in your creative work, right? By the end, these were not Todd’s poems or my poems, but our poems, which is kind of magical place for a project to end up. The chapbook is called Slash/Slash, and diode editions published it. 

AB: As a professor and an active writer, how do you engage with the literary community? What advice do you have for emerging poets seeking to connect with other writers and readers?

AH: My advice is: find your people and hold onto them. Make cool shit with your friends. Share your work with people who are excited about what you’re doing. Don’t think of it in any kind of mercenary or reciprocal sense—what can I get out of this—but because you value the kind of connection, the kind of relationships that art makes possible. It’s not about collecting followers on social media or networking on LinkedIn or whatever, it’s about finding people who value what you value, people you can talk to about reading, or writing, or the beautiful messy chaotic work of shaping our lives into and around art.

––Ahmad Bilal, Mid-American Review