Skip to main content

College News

Western Kentucky professor shares some of his poems at Northeast

Western Kentucky professor shares some of his poems at Northeast

NORFOLK, Neb. – Listening to Tom Hunley read his poetry, it seems that it would be difficult to constrain him.

The award-winning writer read from several of his poetry books during his recent visit to Northeast Community College as part of the Visiting Writers Series.
Whether it is writing about his own death – something he spent two years writing poems about – or how characters in the long-running TV show, “The Simpsons,” might see life, he’s not afraid to explore a range of topics.
In fact, the ability to explore a lot of topics through poetry is one of the things that appeals most to Hunley – even if it is challenging.
“Poets, unlike novelists, have to come up with something every day and it can give you anxiety. A novelist has one idea and writes for three years,” Hunley said.
Hunley came up with the idea to write about his own death after he cut himself doing the dishes. He thought, if he cut himself in the right place, he could die.
“Every day, something like that happens where you could conceivably die. It might be a bee sting,” Hunley said, while pointing out poems as he is flipping through the pages of the book. “Here, I’m bitten by a mamba. And here, gangsters. And so forth and so on.”
The name of the book is simply, “Here lies Tom C. Hunley.”
Then there’s a poetry book that features 40 poems from the voices of the characters from “The Simpsons.” Naturally, it is popular with many students.
Take Otto, the bus driver, who is known for his love of 80s heavy metal music, playing air guitar and ingesting drugs. And yet at the same time, Otto sometimes gives advice to the students that is both cool and encourages them to explore their wild side.
The absurdity that such a character as a bus driver is made comical on the show. In Hunley’s poem, he focuses more on Otto’s intellectual side and staying true to his playfulness.
Besides watching a lot of The Simpsons, was there anything else Hunley did to get into the characters for such a book?
“With each one, I just thought, ‘What do I have in common with these characters? What are their issues and where do their issues match up with mine? When I’m pretending to be them, I’m really working out my stuff,” Hunley said with a smile.
Originally, Hunley said he thought he would write a bunch of poems from the voice of Lisa, who he probably relates to most. But as he began to write about more characters, he decided he liked how each of them was turning out.
Hunley has written seven full-length poetry collections. His most recent is “What Feels Like Love: New and Selected Poems.” He also has written seven chapbooks, and two textbooks.
He is a professor of English and creative writing at Western Kentucky University.
Hunley and his wife, Ralina, have two children with special needs. He has written about adoption and autism. Ralina and he grew up in the same town in a suburb of Seattle, although Tom spent his early childhood in northern Indiana.
“I’ve been in Kentucky now longer than any other place. I’ve been there 20 years now,” he said.
Hunley said his first job out of college was working as a public relations director at a community college in Brooklyn while Ralina finished law school.
He also has some connections to Nebraska. Two of his books were published by Wayne State College, where he also recently did some readings. His wife’s cousin, Heidi Hermanson, lives in Omaha and has several published works, including “Cocktails with God.”
The Visiting Writers Series is sponsored by the Northeast Community College English Department. All events are free and open to the public. For further information, contact Bonnie Johnson-Bartee, coordinator, at or call (402) 844-7673.  

Visting Writers Series
Tom Hunley has written extensively on a variety of subjects. His book, “Adjusting to the Lights,” was the winner of the 2020 Rattle Chapbooks Prize. (Northeast Community College)