Few wordsmiths have the perspective and nuance to illustrate life on the South Fork with all its glitzy summer glamour, blue skies and Birkin bags alongside the wonderfully bleak, grey and intimately local offseason. Poet Lucas Hunt deftly manages to paint both pictures, while also revealing his own conflicted heart, in Hamptons, his latest collection from Thane & Prose.
Hunt’s book delivers a collage of moments from his 14 years living in Springs and Hampton Bays, starting with his time in the Southampton College MFA program and continuing with years as a literary agent, Hunt & Light poetry publisher (as The Gentleman Poet) and man about town. He’s resided in Long Island City for the last four years, but Hunt still returns to the East End regularly to write, work and socialize, most often in Montauk and on the North Fork.
Hunt, 42, explains that his vision of the Hamptons, and life in general, is deeply informed by working-class roots growing up the son of an oil well driller in Grant Wood, Iowa, a “landscape of baseball parks, barnyard barbecues, and Lutheran Sunday school.” Hamptons is the follow up to his first collection with Thane & Prose, Iowa, which explores those early years. The publisher, Thane Boulton, commissioned Hunt to create a five-book series, each representing a meaningful place in his story—Iowa, Hamptons, New York, Paris, Rome. “He wanted to go big,” Hunt says of Boulton, a rare find in today’s publishing world. “He’s kind of like an angel,” the poet adds. “He believes in the old world of publishing.” People just don’t order five books of poetry anymore.
“Iowa is where I grew up as a boy,” Hunt says, noting Hamptons has the same voice as his first collection. It’s more mature, but the words are still those of a young poet. “I always dreamed of getting out of Iowa,” he explains, describing the struggle in his first book. “This is more rejoicing. It’s kind of just playful—the Hamptons is really playful.” But the book is deeper than that.
Hunt’s poems take readers along to lavish parties and rubbing elbows with well-heeled guests, but they also describe crashing such events as an anonymous plus-one. We join him sipping beer from paper bags, throwing rocks at rats on Accabonac Harbor, or musing about migrant workers, squirrels and October “When mums and Montauk daisies are all that’s left.” We see the Hamptons hidden to most who don’t actually live here.
“There’s a growth and progression there as an artist, but also [in Hunt’s case] a working-class artist, which is not something a lot of people think of,” Hunt says. “It’s kind of a unique opportunity to be there as an artist. You know people who get into parties,” he continues. “I use trespassing as a theme in the book because I grew up Lutheran,” Hunt adds, noting that it’s not all elegance and wealth. He also examines the Hamptons’ dark side and reveals his battles with depression. “When summer is over it gets kind of sh–ty, after Labor Day, after the hangover,” the poet concedes, but he comes regularly to write and enjoy our shores, even in the offseason. “I still feel like my home is in the Hamptons,” Hunt says, showing appreciation for the region’s cyclical nature.
The next book in his five-volume opus, New York, is already half-finished, and he hopes to publish by 2020 or 2021. The collection will follow Hunt’s career as an auctioneer and fundraiser in the city where he’s worked with the Poetry Society of New York, written for Rag & Bone at Bloomingdales and created interactive poems for the Typewriter Poets. Paris and Rome will follow in due time. “It’s always there when we need it, poetry, like religion or family,” he says.
Hunt will read from and sign Hamptons at Tenet in Southampton on Saturday, May 25 at 5 p.m., and at Amagansett Library on Sunday, May 26 at 2 p.m. Additional events will follow in the Hamptons and NYC. Visit lucashunt.com for more info.