From the author

Notes on the Poems

These three poems are part of a chapbook-length series of circus-themed poems with puns in the titles. I’m interested in the idea of life as performance, in the masks we wear every day, and to me the circus is very much the embodiment of those ideas: this gaudy extravagant show under the big top, but away from the crowd, the people lead this exhausting gritty life— travel and hard work and I assume fairly low pay. I think being a circus performer is a pretty blue-collar, dirt-under-the-nails kind of job— the fancy costumes and amazing feats. So I wanted to play with these notions, and I wrote a poem called “The Sword Swallower Wonders What’s the Point,” and then I wrote about a tight rope walker, and then came the lion tamer and the trapeze artists, and I just kept going.

Despite the humorous (or at least, trying to be humorous) titles, the poems in general all turned out to be fairly dark, somewhat to my surprise; it makes sense since they’re sort of about what happens when the bright lights turn off. I haven’t had any luck finding a publisher for the chapbook, so I’m thinking of scattering them through a longer manuscript, because I think that central notion of performance— putting on a show for the people in front of us— through a lot of my work. I don’t know. Maybe that’s what all poetry is about: scraping off the surface we show to the world. That sounds kind of painful, which perhaps poetry should be sometimes.

Notes on Reading

Reading is essential. For everyone, not just for writers, but for sure you can’t write without reading. Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time— the tools— write. Simple as that.” And, yeah, he’s right. Whenever I’m struggling with my own writing, I use other writers like jumper cables, to give myself a jolt of energy. Works amazingly well.

The books I’m reading with excitement these days include Etch and Blur by Jamie Thomas, Predatory by Glenn Shaheen, The Rookery by Traci Brimhall, How the Losers Love What’s Lost by Patrick Ryan Frank, On the Other Side, Blue by Collier Nogues, The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly. Others, too. I read a lot. There’s a stack of books on my desk and another one on my bedside table. I’ve been carrying around Erin Belieu’s Black Box and Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s But a Storm Is Blowing From Paradise in my bookbag and pulling them out whenever I get a free minute during the day.

Poets I return to include Catie Rosemurgy, Mary Ruefle, David Kirby, Robert Lowell, Bob Hicok. These are all poets whose use of language gets my blood moving.

Besides poetry, I also read a lot of thriller/mystery/detective novels. My favorite authors in this genre include John Sandford, James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Thomas Perry, Donald Harstad. What I value in this genre is good, clean prose that stays out of the way of the story, combined with a compelling, fast-moving plot, and a strong central character. I think reading mysteries helps me remember that all writing needs forward momentum.

Originally published in Willow Springs 70

About Amorak Huey

Amorak Huey spent 15 years as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Florida, Kentucky, and Michigan, before leaving the business in 2008 to teach writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He holds an MFA from Western Michigan University. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, PANK, Linebreak, Indiana Review, Poet Lore, and other print and online journals, and one of his pieces will appear in The Best American Poetry 2012. In addition to the circus chapbook, he has a completed manuscript of poems about and inspired by the blues, and yet another manuscript that has something do with fairy tales, something do with pop culture, and something to do with the letter X.