Having won a major poetry prize Tim Hunt quit writing poetry for 20 years; instead he studied, taught and wrote as a scholar of American Literature (Jeffers, Kerouac).
Part of it (I came to realize as I puzzled over Robinson Jeffers, his practice and his critical dismissal) had to do with having been taught to think of the page as a surface on which one inscribed writing when what I wanted/needed to do was think on the page as a medium where enacted speech was stored for hearing.
With The Tao of Twang we know in a new way this central issue with the reigning poetics, the competing gospels. Hunt engages our conundrum on the highly intellectual level of the scholar poet, opening the consideration of his poetry as a major statement, or at least a major question.
What if Wallace Stevens imagined talking to a blackbird rather than looking at one, or if William Carlos Williams had pulled back from that red wheelbarrow to include the side yard with the chickens within the frame, or if the “you” in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” replied to “Let us go, then, you and I”?
Well, we would be back to our families, our home towns (in the rural ones, anyway), back to the ideologies, faiths, and aesthetics we came from but to which we now no longer (exactly) belong. The subject matter of these poems stems from a fidelity to “the living tradition” of his working/rural class/western background but his probing intellect on this subject uses the forms, constructs and aesthetics of academia, resulting in an ironic fidelity, root-deep. In his uses of the rich poetic clichés, the puns and profound mentality, mannerisms and aesthetics—the vanishing lingo of the rural west— the cultural caricatures become meaningful archetypes. “In their poem/the words mustn’t be cut away.” “In real stories/what happens is never/the point.” Writing from an “I” you aren’t, can’t be, can’t come from or tell of, to a “you” you’ll never know, a you who is not real, not there, just little scriggly black and white lines: both cultures, it becomes comically clear, are of faith, ideology, belief. “And in this photo that does not//exist the preacher is beyond the frame.” Yes, that is the gospel truth, the twang of the Tao, but for Heaven’s sake, who is the preacher? (Could the enforced taboo of the “I” be the disguised “I” of the ruling class?) Indirectly, delightfully, his poems put the Holy Writ of academia’s canon under the same lens as it puts the culture of his roots.
In all its uses, the Tao is considered to have ineffable qualities that prevent it from being defined or expressed in words. However, the Tao can be known or experienced, and its principles, which can be discerned by observing Nature, can be followed or practiced or in some way entered into relationship with. (Wikipedia)
Hilarious, thought-provoking, deeply philosophical, sometimes almost transhuman, to use Jeffers word, in the mix of subject and form from two different/almost at-war cultures, and with the help of his fantastic ear, you will know the Tao of twang. You will know why redneck Western poets write the way we do. And you will newly ponder, again, our aesthetic assumptions.