#66: An Interview with Poet Lucas Hunt, by Paul Florez
January 7, 2015
When I was fifteen years old, my dad bought me “How To Be A Gentleman” at Brooks Brothers. I didn’t appreciate the gift at the time, and snarled when he suggested I trade my JNCO jeans for a pair of wool trousers. Sacrilegious!
Now, nearly seventeen years later, the JNCOs are gone and what remains is a weather-beaten copy of a book that has guided me through all walks of life. As I’ve come to learn, being a gentleman is no easy feat, and few posses the harmonious balance of confidence, selflessness, and sartorial savviness.
A few years ago, while staying at his apartment during a weekend trip at the Hamptons, I became good friends with poet Lucas Hunt. A gracious host and impeccable wordsmith, he embodied everything a gentleman should be.
Known as the Gentleman Poet, Lucas’ work has appeared in The New York Times, East Hampton Star, Confrontation, and Fiction Writers Review. He’s published two collections of poetry to critical acclaim and is one of the founding agents at Orchard Literary.
I recently sat down with Lucas at the chic Hotel Delmano in Brooklyn to discuss his MFA experience at Southampton College, his publishing venture Hunt & Light, and his friendship with fellow writer Simon Van Booy (author of “The Illusion of Separateness”).
Lucas, thanks for sitting down with me today. Let’s dive into your MFA experience. How did you decide on Southampton College?
I came to Southampton College as an undergraduate to join my best friend Simon Van Booy who was in the master’s program there. We were writing partners for many years and planned to live in the same area. So after several years of being pen pals, he moved to Southampton College from England, and I helped him get set up out there. I thought it was definitely a nice place to live, and then transferred as an undergraduate.
Hold up…you and Simon began your friendship as pen pals? That’s amazing!
Yea, we met in Swansea, Wales and then we wrote to each other weekly for years. It was always the plan to live in the same area.
Jumping back to your experience at Southampton. What was the program like?
I’d just come from the University of Iowa’s undergraduate poetry program. It was highly competitive. So I was feeling very happy that I’d gotten a high level workshopping as an undergraduate as well as getting into graduate classes at Iowa. So when I came to Southampton, I was happy to be in an environment where it was less competitive. I’d already developed my craft to where I just wanted to work on my poetry.
As an MFA student myself, it’s jarring when your peers are in competition with you. No two books are the same and the end game for everyone is to get published.
Exactly. The object of the program was to complete a publishable work of art. It was midway through the program when I hooked up with a Texan publisher called Vagabond Press. So I’m in the middle of graduate school and the end game, like you said, was to create this publishable work, and I found a publisher.
It’s very difficult to find a publisher, especially as a student. That must’ve been relieving.
In that sense Southampton was very ideal because they were going through a transition at the time, from Long Island University to Stony Brook. It was nice because I was able to do my own thing.
How did the university’s transition as well as your book deal impact your studies?
I told my teachers I had this book offer, and asked what should I do. They said, “I don’t know because the college is going out of business.”
Wow! That’s terrifying to hear.
I asked, “What does that mean?” They said I could go to Brooklyn, and take classes there or I can stay, write the book, and see what happens. True story. So the college goes out of business, Stony Brook buys it and they acquire our records. Meanwhile, I’m working on my book, it gets published. Then years later I get an invitation from the college saying, “Please come and read as a distinguished alumni of the program.” Which was lovely because I never graduated. They graduated me and they put me on their alumni list. I did what they wanted me to do but I never actually finished. I just turned in my thesis.
Did you get a diploma?
No. I got a newsletter. [laughs]
Tell me about your press, Hunt & Light.
Hunt & Light was founded to give back to poetry, by hand publishing one beautiful collection of poetry per year, and then actively supporting that poet for the duration of the year, working as agent, publicist, event planner, etc., to get their work the broadest audience possible. I asked a bunch of poet, book selling, and publicity friends for advice and help, so getting our first book out became this great passionate collaboration. More than 150 people attended the launch at Poets House last year. This coming year, Hunt & Light will publish Constellations by Esther Mathieu, a lovely collection by an inspiring new voice.
How did the press come about?
It was born of a collaboration between friends, and the dream to give a poet the royal treatment, in terms of editing, publishing, and promoting. After working 7 years as an agent in commercial book publishing, while simultaneously trying to get my own poetry attention, I realized the virtue of simply sharing poetry and poets with people.
So you provide the entire publishing experience and a mentor?
We are asking each poet to help Hunt & Light usher the next poet into the publishing arena. Our first poet, Matthew Frazier, has been hugely supportive in building the platform which Esther Mathieu will be standing upon. This way, our original intent to give back, will carry on from poet to poet, as the press evolves. It’s kind of a buddy system.
What’s the story behind Foxy, Hunt & Light’s adorable colophon?
Foxy is pursued in the hunt by mortality, but by the mythical grace of poetry, becomes light and grows wings, thereby escaping the usual fate. I guess Hunt & Light is about forever in some way.
Lucas Hunt has written two volumes of poetry, Lives and Light on the Concrete. His poems have appeared in The Southampton Review, Confrontation, Anderbo, and have been anthologized in Meet The Writers and Long Island Sounds. He is the recipient of a John Steinbeck Award for poetry.
Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA in fiction at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Queerty, and The Advocate. You can follow his misadventures over on twitter @mrpaulflorez.