The work of Emily Hunt, with its sonic brilliance grounded by its precise sense of affect, offers a gorgeous reminder that poetry is most itself when it conveys what no other medium could. The gestalt of each poem leaves me astounded. At the level of the line, her poems instigate this uncanny, unpredictable rhythm. Open to the surprise of the observable image, her work reconfigures the way in which I read the given world, and suggests that everyday resistances to violence, whether economic or gender-based, might take place through the subtlest of gestures. In this way, Hunt’s poetry enacts the argument of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, which examines the gulf between “user” and “consumer,” in a homage to the daily creative acts of ordinary people who sidestep the economic forces that would ordinarily consume us.
Hunt’s gift for lineation and tone comes to the fore in this excerpt from “Company”—a longer, multi-part poem whose unnamed speaker works for minimum wage “at an iPhone app-based flowery delivery start-up called BloomThat in San Francisco in 2015.” In the specificities of time and place, of gig-economy apps, instant delivery, and high rent—with its “shampoo bottles lined up / in staggered rows / on the chipped sill / left by those who lived here / last year, years before” —we recognize not only the post-crash Bay Area but also the insecure age in which many of us live now. Here, “last year” stands alongside “years before,” a state of parataxis that places half-empty shampoo bottles in a (long) line behind the bank-guaranteed financial collapse of 2008.
This haunting detail—an age and its anxiety summarized in a line of shampoo bottles—stems from the consciousness of an employee who also eats one of the decorative kumquats that has fallen to the warehouse floor: “I have one and taste the chemicals.” Even when the complex atmosphere of the flower company, with its “limp green bags of water, cool like toy organs,” will not lift, as if oppressive fog, the speaker continues to seize empirical delight. She affords herself—a small act of resistance?—room to feel attached to, and interested in the flowers. The reader, too, soon feels attached to this adroit speaker, exhausted from her day job, who listens to a radio app on her iPhone and recalls TV shows while working—she’s a speaker of and for our time. And so, to experience this excerpt from “Company” is to experience a master poet at work.