Paul Hunter, a poet, musician, instrument-maker, teacher, and editor and publisher, has produced letterpress books and broadsides under the imprint of Wood Works Press in Seattle. He talks about his works.
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Finally tonight, another in our occasional series on poets and poetry. Tonight, Paul Hunter of Seattle. His latest collection of poems is called "Ripening."
PAUL HUNTER, Poet:
I'm Paul Hunter, and I'm a letterpress publisher, and poet, and a writer, and an explorer in various ways, and I also make musical instruments, repair them. All of those are modes of expression and contacts with the world.
I mean, for most of my adult life now, I've been finding broken instruments or people give me broken instruments, and I fix them, and they get another life. There's a part of me that's so cheered by that, and it may be part of the same thing that happens with words, with language, that you take a phrase, you take a phrase, you take a set of phrases that are shopworn, that people have had around them and not recognized, and take them and put them into a context that gives them a sharpened meaning of freshness.
"For the Miracle."
In the shop its bench work-scarred
long planks run under the window
where grease meets paint meets sawtooth chisel
where an engine would be heaved to take apart
and at one end vise jaws parted
having said the final word let go
and on shelves underfoot rows of coffee cans
to sort by size wingnut from locknut
from wood screw machine screw
bent nail fence steeple hose clamp
and beyond all around broken things
brought here for the miracle
alongside things in their rude beginnings
that may yet be finished and praised
amid things in the way once too often
that may become raw materials
and out of their great beyond serve in turn as
patch or knife blade or chair rung
to be of use once again
My father grew up on a chicken farm in Erlanger, Kentucky. As a kid, we spent a few weeks in the summer on my Uncle Edwin's farm. And then I started working on farms myself. Most of my adult life has not been spent on farms, but it's the lens through which I see the world. It formed who I was in a very immediate and real way.
And I think my father let me do it because he thought I would learn a lesson about staying away from effortful drudgery, and I learned exactly the opposite lesson, that most of those people led modest lives, virtuous lives. Those people were substantial and modest in ways that I try to emulate.
Say spring too wet for plowing
runs axle-deep into July
or the August oven never quite fires up
before an early killing frost
say it rains the whole summer
or you catch root mold or blight
go a parching year without a drop
There you stand in the field
one with all the others
frail tottering headless at a loss
though still with work to be done
to clear away or turn under
mow rake or burn off this failure
if there is to be another crop
The way that I tell if it's a poem is, when I'm finished, if it's still mysterious. Does it remain mysterious? Has it exhausted its subject or, in some way, is its subject perennial and fresh?