Amorak Huey is a former newspaper journalist who teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems can be found in The Best American Poetry 2012, The Southern Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Collagist, Linebreak, Rattle, and other print and online journals. Follow him on Twitter: @amorak.
Dillon Welch: In your poem “The Lion Tamer Resolves to Start Telling the Truth,” you hit on some pretty powerful details about an unfortunate career and how it affects both the speaker and those around him. Obviously a lion tamer is a fairly unusual example of a job that would have a whole host of social repercussions. Do you feel that this poem rings true for other, more conventional careers as well?
Amorak Huey: In this poem, I was thinking about public faces and private fears. About performance. How we have to go out in the world and put on a show no matter what’s going on inside. This is true for all of us but would be exacerbated, seems to me, in any show-biz kind of career, including the circus. Is this a kind of dishonesty? What happens if we stop lying to people around us? If we stop lying to ourselves? Is this even possible? I’m guessing probably not. Anyway, those are things I was thinking about when I was writing this one.
Before you sent “The Lion Tamer Resolves to Start Telling the Truth” to Swarm, I read another one of your poems in Bluestem, titled “The Tight Rope Walker Gets High.” Do you intend on coming out with a circus-themed collection at some point? If so, is there a tentative title you had in mind?
In fact, Hyacinth Girl Press recently accepted my chapbook The Insomniac Circus, which includes “Lion Tamer” and “Tight Rope Walker” and a bunch of other circus-performer poems with punny titles. It will be out sometime in 2014.
You’ve mentioned previously that you had a 15-year stint working for a newspaper. What was it that made you decide to leave?
I was lucky enough to leave on my own terms because I was in the right place at the right time to be offered a teaching job. I pretty much feel like newspaper business left me before I left it, though. The job was changing so much, and the things I loved about the work were vanishing, the decisions increasingly being taken out of the hands of local editors and writers and given to SEO consultants hired by the corporations.
Do you think your time with the newspaper gave you a perspective that other writers may not possess?
Plenty of writers bring a clear-eyed perspective on the world to their work, so I don’t claim anything particular that others don’t have. I think and hope I have a journalist’s sense of connection and story, but how that manifests itself in my poetry is probably for others to judge. I think all those years working for newspapers did give me a deeply felt sense of compression, clarity and communication. They also made me view the Oxford comma as an unnecessary extravagance.
If I dig hard enough, will I find an old article or two written by a younger Mr. Huey?
They’re out there. In Tallahassee, I covered a handful of random sports events: Florida State baseball, the MEAC basketball tournament, a Nike Tour golf event. In Kentucky, I covered health care and county government as a beat writer for the newspaper in Elizabethtown. After that, I worked mostly as an editor, with fewer bylines beyond smaller pieces and a column here or there. A good Lexis-Nexis search will get you to some of those articles, I’m sure, though I’m not sure the reward would be worth the effort.
Amorak’s poem, ““The Lion Tamer Resolves to Start Telling the Truth”,” appeared in Swarm’s Spring 2013 issue.