Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry, V.1 (winter 2010/11)

from Mason Broadwell, Three Reviews: Svalina, Galloway, and Hunt

Fault Lines by Tim Hunt
(Omaha, NE: The Backwaters Press, 2009)
99 pages. Paperback: $16.00

Do you remember the narrator in The Big Lebowski? Played by Sam Elliott, I think, with the cowboy hat and huge mustache and looking very out of place in the bowling alley where the Dude hangs out. But it works. T hat’s Tim Hunt’s first book, Fault Lines. I t is a soulful, insightful book of verses that relates stories from the past and present in reflective, surprising ways, always begging us to look beyond the poem into the truth it attempts to capture. “…this is not / a poem,” he says in “Home Again.”

It is the only voice I have
trying to say
those moments and this one
and the miles give me no room to play.

Hunt’s voice is considerably older and more mature than I am used to reading in a first book, which I would like to imagine betokens generations of wisdom passed down by word of mouth in the hills of northern California and finally transcribed by this, their prophet. I had to read these poems slowly: often they are heavier on atmosphere and tone than on detail, as in “The Web;” sometimes they are heavy on detail too, as in “Peet’s,” though they never lose that wonderful ruminating voice. For a younger generation looking for wildness and edge and whatever still survives of postmodern irony (let it go, ya’ll), this book may not be very appealing. This book may not be for everyone, but it is for those who have a past and believe that past is worth remembering. It is for those with functional families that annoy them. It is for those with dysfunctional families they love like crazy. It is for those who have lived long lives of nights and days. It is for those who want to learn how to look back and not regret everything—only some things. It is for those with the kind of family stories that won’t shut up. It is for those to whom landscape is an extension of the soul.

So we may be aiming at an older audience with this book. Hunt often speaks as if he is a grandfather recalling life before [insert currently-malfunctioning modern convenience]. He also often speaks about his grandfather—and his father, mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Family is an important element in these poems, to the point that many of Hunt’s relatives are mentioned by name as he tells their stories. And place is important, too. I count 22 of the book’s 56 poems that contain a town, state, or other map-able location in the title. Family and place. Those two ideas run through his book like the thread that forms the central image of the book’s final poem “Postscript (Threads),” which begins:

Take a thread of cotton,
of creek or of blood,
it doesn’t matter. We are
like children
threading a needle
to stitch carefully
through the very
tips of our fingers…

I like that, and I like those themes. But I have a hard time coming up with a list of colleagues my age who would be as thrilled as I am about a book that does not contain, for instance, an overt description of sex.

At the same time, Hunt establishes himself as a very contemporary poet, whatever the crap that means. (I think it has something to do with ego and asymmetrical haircuts.) “Peet’s” plays with time and the reliability of the narrator in a very reflexive way, producing an engaging meditation on relationships, loss, and the nature of poetry:

I don’t know who you are
as I write pretending I do.
But if you were you and we were sitting in Peet’s,
each detail would draw another.

Tim Hunt is a new voice, maybe, but he is an old voice. His is the voice I imagine the landscape would assume if it wished to tell us the history of the west (and the east and north and south)—a history of farmers, housewives, boys in overalls and little else, girls in hand-me-down gingham before it was a cliché, of hills and wheat and Model A Fords and mules. If the main components of landscape are people, places, and stories, then Tim Hunt is a landscape poet. And as Sam Elliott says simply in The Big Lebowski, “I like your style, Dude.”