2016 Poetry Month: An Interview With Nicolas Hundley

Nicolas Hundley's first book, The Revolver in the Hive, won the 2012 Poets Out Loud Editor's Prize and was published by Fordham University Press in 2013. His poems have appeared in Green Mountains Review, FIELD, Massachusetts Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, Verse, LIT, Conduit, and other publications. He attended the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Last year in an email, John Ashbery, upon finding out that I live in Austin, asked me if I knew of you. He told me that he had never met you, but used your line "Did they mention a shawl?" from your poem "Gothic Novel" for an epigraph in his book, Breezeway. In my interview with him, he mentioned you as one of the promising young poets that he had been reading lately. What do you think you are doing specifically in your poems that can garner the attentions of a major poet like John Ashbery?

It was a great surprise and honor to be noticed by John Ashbery, whose work has inspired my own writing. I believe we admire many of the same writers--Elizabeth Bishop, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, James Tate, to name a few. Perhaps he detects their influence in my work. In an email to me, Mr. Ashbery described some lines of mine as "Firbankian." In my poems, I suppose, I often try to juxtapose darker elements with the camp and type of prose one might find in Ronald Firbank.

What attracts you specifically to prose poetry?

Writing prose poetry was something of an accident for me. One day, I just stopped adding line breaks, probably out of laziness. Over time, I became interested in how the form impacts the rhythm of a poem. I feel prose can generate more momentum--and urgency--without line breaks to disrupt the flow.

I find I use a different voice for prose poems--it's more maximal, probably as a result of how I write and revise them. I develop my prose poems by adding to them. My poems in verse tend to be sparser and make greater leaps without as much connective tissue.

Let's go back to what you said for my first question, "I often try to juxtapose darker elements with the camp." Why is this? What draws you to these two components?

I find that writing about darker or loftier subjects inherently involves a certain amount of excess and theatricality. So, if I'm going to write about death and grief, for instance, I feel I should "own it" to some degree. In general, I feel that camp doesn't always undermine a serious poem, and that it can, I hope, be used to make it more poignant.

Much of my first book, "The Revolver in the Hive," uses the elegy as a form, which I find difficult to use without veering into sentimentality. By adding elements of camp, I suppose was trying to balance this impulse. Grief and camp might seem at odds with each other. But I feel grief lends itself to this treatment, because grief can become indulgent and exaggerated.

Are you currently working on another collection of poetry? If so, what are you hoping to accomplish with your writing that you have not attempted before?

I'm working on a new collection, albeit at a slower pace than I'd like. At this point, I'm not writing with much of a conscious agenda to accomplish any great feat, beyond making the poems work on an individual level. That's hard enough on its own! I'm just trying to encourage their eccentricities and avoid steering them too much with a preconceived notion of where they should go. Later on, I'll be more concerned with how they fit together when I begin to curate a book.

In terms of form, I'm experimenting increasingly with longer sequences and the serial poem. I would say many of my new poems are more thematically disparate than those in my first book, so I'm exploring ways to unite them instead through voice, imagery, and mood, both individually and collectively. That said, certain preoccupations are emerging: god, faith, hygiene.

Do you think the internet, social media, and similar Information Age technologies have contributed to the well-being of poetry?

In many ways, the internet and social media have helped to foster poetry communities. It has become easier to connect with other poets, learn about events, and get introduced to new writers and work. I'm not currently teaching or affiliated with a creative writing program, so sites like Facebook and various blogs have been useful for staying up on new work and issues.

On the other hand, the internet and social media have reduced the anonymity that I feel is important to the experience of poetry. It now seems necessary for poets to develop personal brands online and do a good deal of self-promotion through social media. I wonder to what extent this affects readers' relationships with a work or a poet.

Tell us about your writing and editing methods.

I write first drafts in notebooks, normally during lunch breaks. I have several haunts near my office, including various libraries and cafes. Having a time constraint is beneficial for me, as I'm forced to get as much down as I can without being self-conscious.

Then, I transcribe and revise during weekends and evenings. Afterward, I stick them in a drawer or folder and try to forget them. Months later, when I can look at them afresh, I go back to the notebook to expand or pursue different directions. Typically, my poems undergo several revisions and drafts. Some arrive after only one draft, but those are rare.

What are your interests outside of poetry? How do you integrate these interests into your poetry?

Beyond fiction and poetry, I get inspiration from film, music, and visual art. Though, I don't often directly respond to particular paintings or songs, for instance, in my poems. Rather, I respond to them by evoking their mood or logic.

My writing is more likely drawn directly from everyday experience--even what some might consider "unglamorous" aspects, like work. I've held various jobs in state government, where I've been exposed to a good amount of bureaucracy and bureaucratic language. Over time, I've become fascinated with bureaucratic language--its jargon, ambiguity, and clinical voice--and the unintentional beauty that it occasionally produces. I'm intrigued by the thought that any experience or language can be incorporated into a poem.