Poet visits Wilkes, encourages undergraduate creativity

On Sept. 13, Wilkes University hosted visiting writer Tom C. Hunley. During the visit he conducted a poetry workshop with students. In the evening he gave a reading of his own poetry from “The State That Springfield Is In,” which feature monologues from The Simpsons characters, and “Here Lies,” a series of poems depicting his death in various different ways.

Visiting from Western Kentucky University, Hunley is a professor in the MFA/BA Creative writing programs. He has authored four poetry collections and has written for literary productions such as “New York Quarterly,” “The Writers Chronicle,” and “Poetry Daily.”

“His work is very real word,” said English Literature Professor Dr. Mischelle B. Anthony, who who met Hunley in January at a poetry conference. Anthony encouraged students who attended the afternoon workshop to use his education background to their advantage through a question and answer session toward the end.

The workshop focused on the workings of both the subconscious and conscious as a team. Taking a technique from his book, “The Poetry Gymnasium: 94 Proven Exercises to Shape Your Best Verse,” Hunley taught the group about the Encyclopedic Braid technique.

Before explaining the Encyclopedic Braid, Hunley discussed how poet David Kirby would create a marriage between stories. One story would be personal, and the other impersonal, taken from the news or world history. The unconscious mind would then form a poem, connecting ideas from both stories.

“Minimize the narrative and try not to tell the story,” Hunley advised. “Avoid focusing on personal experience. Poetry should be centred for the audience and not the poet.”

Taking facts from A. J. Jacobs’ book, “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World,” Hunley told the group that by using his conscious mind to explore the facts, his unconscious mind was able to work and be creative.

He then used the facts from the book and created a poem. By connecting the facts together, the workings of the unconscious mind were revealed. The poem produced, called “Out of Body Experiences,” depicts notions of failure and ambition, whilst tackling the idea of false credit.

“I didn’t know I was thinking about accomplishment versus real credit. As people generally experience way more failures than successes, this isn’t surprising. We can use all these facts to find out what we’re really thinking about.”

Students completing the workshop then used this technique to create their own poetry. Students used facts from “Kesha was born with a tail” to “frost nip is what you get before frost bite,” and “banging your head against a wall burns 150 calories an hour” within their poems.

Hunley said that workshops of this kind can be useful for all types of majors. “Everybody has a good poem in them. Poetry adds an extra pleasure to your life.”

The poet also acknowledged the inspiration young students bring to his own creativity.

“Students keep my imaginations fresh. Young people have a lot of energy, and undergraduates are more risk takers compared to graduates who have had their work rejected and sometimes play it safe. Undergraduate students write with abandon and I also want to write in abandon.”