Contributor Spotlight: Tom Hunley

“First Level,” “Will You Take This,” and “No Wonder the Advice Columnist is Bitter” by Tom C. Hunley appeared in Issue 23 and can be read here.

We’d love to hear a little more about “First Level.”

“First Level” is more autobiographical than most of my poems. In 1983, I was a goofy suburban fourteen-year-old, fanatical about arcade games, deeply interested in but baffled by girls my age, and naïve about the world beyond my little bubble. I think the poem captures that fairly well. I like the internal rhymes in it and the way it captures the way we lived in the alternative worlds created by game designers while not knowing much about the real world.

What was the most difficult part of this particular piece?

I don’t know that any part of it was particularly difficult. The tone is light, and that was a shift from the other poems that I’d been writing as of late. Partly that was the point; I felt like my new manuscript was getting unbearably heavy, tone-wise, and I needed something to lighten it up a bit, which “First Level” accomplishes, I hope.

Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.

I just finished IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN BODY I AM VISITING THE EARTH: POEMS FROM FAR AND WIDE edited by Ilya Kaminsky and others. It’s simply the best anthology that I’ve come across in years, and I’m using it as a textbook next semester.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?

William Shakespeare, who lives and will outlive us all. I would want to drink with him to see what kind of new words he would coin while supping in one of our tv-spattered ale houses.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

My wife and I are raising four kids (three teens and a tween). Our firstborn son has autism, and I’ve been writing poems about him because I think a lot of people out there have never gotten to know anyone quite like him. Our daughter also has special needs. We adopted her from the state foster care system when she was sixteen-and-a-half years old. She’s recovering from a lot of trauma. I’m also writing poems about her and about adjusting to having a new family member. I have two forthcoming books: an expanded second edition of my textbook, THE POETRY GYMNASIUM is under contract with McFarland, and WHAT FEELS LIKE LOVE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS is under contract with C&R Press.

Our thanks to Tom for taking the time to answer a few questions and share his work. Read Tom’s poems “First Level,” “Will You Take This,” and “No Wonder the Advice Columnist is Bitter” here:


Tom C. Hunley has published over 400 poems in journals such as Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, Exquisite Corpse, Green Hills Literary Lantern, National Poetry Review, Paddlefish, River Styx, TriQuarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Writer. His latest collection is Here Lies (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2018). He’s under contract with McFarland for a second edition textbook, The Poetry Gymnasium