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Poetry

Eating from the skull of the fallen angel

Music, myth and the spiritual in the poetry of Kim Hunter

MT Photo: Doug Coombe
"Every hand to the drum": Hunter.
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Published 1/28/2009

Detroiter Kim Hunter's new collection of poems, edge of the time zone, is a winding road lined with imagery, political thought and courageous dreaming. That beautiful stretch of imagination parallels a real-life journey. As much as it represents his own growth as a poet and an advocate of poetry, it charts changes and realities he's observed in the world around him, especially in the realms of politics, media and race.

"I'm obsessed with the interplay between capitalism and media," he says. "And the dehumanization that can happen when those two things cross."

Hunter makes his living working as a regional media team leader for the U.S. Census Bureau. But he spends a tremendous amount of time and energy writing and promoting poetry in Detroit, something he's been doing for almost three decades. With local poet James Hart III he runs the Woodward Line monthly poetry series at the Detroit Artists Market. Hunter also produces a Podcast poetry project at the Detroit Public Library, which has featured city poet laureate Naomi Long Madgett and local poets Terry Blackhawk and Dennis Teichman.

"Detroit has as strong a poetry legacy and scene as any place on the planet," Hunter says. "And that needs to be exposed to the planet. I chose to do the Podcast project, because the Internet is one of the ways to make that exposure happen."

After he finished his BA in mass communications at Wayne State University, Hunter, along with Ismael Ahmed, co-created an award-winning multi-cultural radio program called Radio Free Earth on WDET 101.9 FM. The show ran from 1990 till 1996.

While the focus was music, Hunter featured an interview and reading by a different poet each week. His roster included Gil Scott-Heron, the Last Poets, Anne Waldman and Jim Carroll.

"Ismael and I founded, produced, and hosted the show," Hunter says. "It meant a lot of very late nights working. We were on the air four nights per week. But we were able to showcase some amazing talent. It was extremely important to me that we included the writers."

Hunter worked as a segment host on Detroit Public Television's one-time arts program Backstage Pass. He's taught poetry and creative writing as a poet-in-residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Project at Mumford High School, Thurgood Marshall Elementary School and Greenfield Park Elementary School in Detroit. He did a similar teaching residency at Boysville, a facility for adjudicated youth in Monroe. His work was recognized in 1993 and 1994, when he was named one of Detroit's emerging leaders by the Metro Times.

In the mid-1980s, Hunter was a reader at the legendary LINES: New Writing program at the Detroit Institute of Arts. His poetry has appeared in several journals and the anthologies: Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry (Wayne State University Press), Rainbow Darkness: An Anthology of African American Poetry (Miami University Press) and Hipology: Horizons in Poetry (Broadside Press). The latter was edited by Ron Allen, the well-known Detroit poet (relocated to Los Angeles in recent years) who inspired Hunter to be, as he puts it, "gut and wild."

In 2001, Hunter's first collection of poems, borne on slow knives, came out on Past Tents Press. Much like his new book, it was eloquent and unafraid, at times grim and raw, but always driving toward truth. He calls it more diverse, as it covered a much longer span of time and included some poems that were written when he was still in college. Copies of borne on slow knives were delivered to his publisher's house on 9/11. "We were just sitting on the porch staring into space," Hunter says. "It was a strange and powerful day for the book to arrive."

Now edge of the time zone is being published by a new local press, White Print Inc., just after Barack Obama's inauguration. The timing reminds Hunter why he's doing what he's doing, why he's poured so much of himself into his own writing and promoting poetry in general.

"I do it because I believe in it," he says. "I do it because it gives me sustenance. And I believe it can give sustenance to others — spiritual, political, social, human sustenance."

His new poems bear that same conviction, the same maturity, wisdom and generosity that Hunter, now 53, conveys in conversation. In the opening poem, "the lover of all things," ego and self-concern drift away as empowerment comes from being part of something greater:

we will eat from the skull
of the fallen angel
sing birds
be fish
in the ocean of the sun
be the noise of the planet
grinding against itself
like a lover
beat the drum of
of our ancestors' skins
stretched over the split earth
every hand to the drum
we turn the world

Music, myth and spirituality give shape to Hunter's ideas. Experience and an open mind give his verse texture and depth. He says having a great mentor doesn't hurt either. When he was at Wayne State and working for the university newspaper, The South End, he met and befriended fellow student Tyrone Williams. Williams is now a successful poet and professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati. To this day, the two exchange ideas and poetry via e-mail and converse on the phone.

"I've learned so much from Tyrone," Hunter says. "He gets me down to the muscle, the sinew, the thing that makes the poem move."

Poems like "stagger lee sees the error of his ways" and "i ain't ya monkey" have that kind of immediate, pulsing life in them. And in the book's title poem — a time-sifting take on the tale of Adam and Eve — the mechanics are evident as Hunter reworks myth and turns an old familiar story into something new and unexpected:

and the woman said
i like an apple that bites back
that talks to the desire
i was born with
fruit as a river to the ocean
and the man cried
what about the voice of the serpent
and the woman said
it's not the snake but the fruit
what is there is there
because of my desire
i have called this thing forth
i have eaten nothing
but the fire in my heart

Hunter says putting out his first collection of poetry in eight years taught him a lot. He hopes this book shows a maturity, a deepening of sensibility, and a heightened respect for the craft to which he's devoted so much of his life.

There will be a book release and signing for edge of the time zone at the Detroit Artists Market (4719 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30. Call 313-832-8540 or see whiteprintinc.com for more information.

Norene Smith is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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