The Habitual Poet: Amorak Huey 
Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 11:00AM
Lalanii R. Grant in The Habitual Poet

Installment #58

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to:

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

A: I get lots of books from my local public library. I love the library, all libraries, any libraries. Libraries are maybe humanity’s best invention. Seriously.

Since I started going to AWP in 2009, I buy lots of books at the AWP book fair, which might be AWP’s best invention. I also shop at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I love bookstores, too.


Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

A: Wow, I don’t know how many. Lots. Several hundred. On my summer to-do list is to organize them somehow, maybe alphabetically by author. Maybe I’ll count them then. I’ve read at least part of every single one. I don’t usually read poetry collections cover to cover like novels; instead, I bounce around, a poem here, three poems there, revisiting the ones that seem to be calling me. For the books and authors that grab me most often, I’ll eventually have read every word.


Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

A: Whenever, wherever I can. In bed or out of bed. Give me a book and I’m happy. As I said above, I consume poetry in smaller chunks, mostly. I read novels cover to cover, even bad ones. A book has to be pretty awful for me not to finish it. 


Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

A: Ignatz by Monica Youn. Selected Poems by Mary Ruefle, which I can’t stop picking up. The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly. Oz by Nancy Eimers. The Forest of Sure Things by Megan Snyder-Camp. Rookery by Tracy Brimhall. Sandy Longhorn’s Blood Almanac. Jim Daniels’ Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry. Among others. This week, I bought William Olsen’s Sand Theory, and I’m looking forward to reading that.


Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

A: I read lots of detective/police/lawyer/spy/crime thrillers. John Sandford, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, Barry Eisler, Dennis Lehane – these are my favorite authors in this genre. I read The New York Times online pretty much every day, and I read lots of stuff from Slate. I also read lots of poems that I find through the feed at I’m always discovering new online journals, or going back to the ones I know. I just got the new Beloit Poetry Journal in the mail the other day, and it’s got some great stuff in it.  I’m all over the place, as you can see.


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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

A: Now I sort of wish I wrote at dusk on a dock, because it sounds so nice. I don’t have a predictable writing routine. I write when I can. Sometimes I fit it into the cracks of the rest of my life. Sometimes I make time. Often, I waste time when I could/should have been writing. I write almost entirely on a computer, although once in a while I scratch down the roughest of rough drafts longhand if I’m away from my laptop.


Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

A: It varies widely. Sometimes none. Usually around one a week. Sometimes more. I can’t imagine going a whole month without writing a poem.

The past two Aprils, I’ve done the NaPoWriMo poem-a-day thing, and that’s been a hugely influential experience. Not sure I can handle that kind of productivity more than once a year, but it’s a great thing to do. The key for me is to take it seriously: not just crank out 30 freewritten drafts, but really make an attempt to write 30 fully formed poems. Of course, all 30 don’t end up being salvageable, but I try. Twenty of the 60 poems I wrote in April ’09 and April ’10 have been published or accepted, and there are several more from each batch that I still believe in and am circulating.

April starts in a few days, and I’m looking forward to another exhausting month.


Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

A: No time at all. For me, the writing and revising process are entirely intertwined. I’m revising from the moment I begin drafting. I usually work on a poem obsessively in the early stages. Write, revise, delete, write, write, delete, revise, etc.


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A: I’m not sure my poems are ever done. They just come to stopping points. I’ve revised poems after lengthy periods of thinking they were done, or of thinking they weren’t worth revisiting. I’ve also had some that found their stopping point relatively early in the process.


Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

A:  I have no recollection of doing such a thing.


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A: About two years ago, I started using Duotrope to track my submissions. It’s a great tool.

Once I decide a poem is ready to send out, I try to keep it constantly in circulation, usually at two or three places at once, sometimes as many as four or five. When it comes back, I turn it around within a day or two.

I want to say a word here in support of simultaneous submissions. I never violate a journal’s policy on simultaneous submissions, but I also send much less often to places that don’t take them.


Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

A: A quick check of Duotrope reveals that my last eight responses have been rejections. I always expect an acceptance when I send something out, but by the time I hear back, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s more likely a rejection. Rejections sting, every time, but I’ve gotten better about putting them out of my mind quickly.


Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

A: A mix. I like it that way. I’ve gotten over any snobbishness about print work being in any way inherently superior to online work, but I do still love the artifact of a printed journal, the materiality of it. There’s good stuff being published in both formats, and room in the world for all of it.



Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

A: I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any really bad (or even weird) experiences. The journal editors I’ve worked with are by and large compassionate, dedicated, enthusiastic, generous and well meaning.


Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

A: I get occasional e-mails or Facebook notes from people who liked something I wrote. I’m not going to lie, it’s awesome every single time.



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Practical considerations


Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

A: I teach writing at Grand Valley State University, and have done so since 2008, when I left the newspaper field after 15 years. Moving into this position, where I am surrounded by talented, productive colleagues who care about and value creative writing, and by smart, enthusiastic students who are engaged with learning and growing, has been entirely a good thing for my own writing. I am lucky enough to have poetry be considered part of my day job.  


Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

A: My wife is also a professor in the GVSU Writing Department, and although she’s not a creative writer herself (she has a Ph.D. in rhet/comp), she is entirely supportive of me. Much gratitude is owed. I probably don’t say that often enough.


Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

A: Couldn’t? No. Didn’t? Alas, yes. Fortunately, I think those periods are behind me.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A: Is this a metaphor?


Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

A: Suffering and art don’t have to go hand in hand. I know lots of very talented, artistic people who are well adjusted, happy, productive, and responsible. That’s what I’d like to be, so I’m going to duck this question.


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Random nonsense


Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

A: I spent a long time, probably more than I should have, trying to think of a good answer for this question. I guess the only real answer is: No.


Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address

b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed

c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)

d.) Do none of the above; instead you: _____

A: Show it to her. Not that I would write anything scathing about my mother. She’s always very kind about my poetry, even when she doesn’t remember things happening the way I remember them happening. Hey, they’re my poems.

Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

A: Leave it to my family, I guess. My office is disorganized enough that six months might not be enough time.


Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

A: Capital A, because my pickup-basketball name used to be The A-Train. Not because I am fast, but because I am heavy and don’t change directions well.


Q: Finally, what piece of advice would you most like to share with our readers? (This can be on writing, the writing life, or anything else...)

A: Never whine about writing, or writer’s block, or the writing life, or having your writing criticized, or how hard it is to get published.

Amorak Huey teaches creative and professional writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where he lives with his wife and two children. He holds an MFA from Western Michigan University, and his poems have appeared in Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, Oxford American, Contrary, Linebreak, and many other journals. New poems are forthcoming in The Southern Review, Indiana Review, Harpur Palate, and elsewhere. You can find out more about Amorak at his website ( or follow him on Twitter: @amorak.




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