Luther Hughes Interview on A Shiver in the Leaves

by Oct 10, 2022Interviews

 In celebration of the release of Luther Hughes’ latest collection, A Shiver in the Leaves, Managing Poetry Editor Dior J. Stephens sits down with the poet to talk about craft, the wonders of Seattle, and X-Men, among other topics. A Shiver in the Leaves thrives within the intersections of queerness, Blackness, and survival and forges a new prayer of selfhood and reckoning for our communal, hopeful tomorrows. Dive into this excerpt of the moving conversation here and keep an eye out for the full review in our forthcoming Issue 8.1. You can also get a copy of the book here.


 
 
 

Dior J. Stephens: Actually, I would love to start out with the cover the cover. And if you could just tell me a bit more. I’m very visually based as well and I’m just really intrigued by this cover.

Luther Hughes: Yeah. It’s so funny. I feel like I’ve been asked this a lot, but I feel like my answer is always so lackluster. So how the cover came to be, which I think aligns with a lot of how presses do covers—BOA sent me a database of art. So they’re like go through, you know, the art and see what stands out to you. Before that I was very gung-ho on having a Seattle person but I just couldn’t find the right, art, right? My job is working in arts administration so I’m aware of a lot of artists and visual artists. I was like, I was like, Yeah, I can do this– it’s gonna be great. But I couldn’t find the right artists and the right artwork for the book. And so I went through the database, kind of reluctantly… But you know, I’ll go through the database. And so I was going through it, going through them going through them. And then this artist had actually another piece of work that I liked a lot, actually. And I was like, “Oh, this is actually really cool.” … And so I was like, going through and telling my friends I was like, “hey, like, how does how does this look?” They were like, “it’s okay, whatever.” Other artwork, right? Yeah. I showed my boyfriend and was like, how does this other artwork look? He was like, “looks like chicken scratch” and I was like, “Well, I don’t want that to be the response to the cover.” So I was like, Okay, well let me keep going through this artists work because I really am drawn to this artists work.

So I found the current cover by looking through [the database] and it just kind of struck me I think, because the book itself deals with a lot of dualities, a lot of tension between the two, between binaries. I guess you can say love and, you know, violence or depression and like hope and so I feel like the cover really, really illuminated those dualities and that binary and that tension… I went with the cover because of that. Then I learned that the artists, Robert Marks, who passed away in 2020 … worked with BOA over the years and that actually his studio I think is the next to BOA’s building and so it felt really aligned with how the publication of the book was happening. So I felt really drawn because of that, but yeah, it wasn’t like a big like to do…

I will say though, every time I look at the cover, I am really struck by it. I think it really does… hold me in a way that I really need for the book. And of course, the book is, for me? The book is old, right? The book was finished years ago and it’s coming out now. For me the book feels a little departed from when it’s coming out. But the cover I feel like always feels urgent to me in a way that I need the book to feel urgent.

DS: Amazing, amazing. Oh, I’m feeling so called… This is your debut, right? And my debut is coming out in March and I did want to mention that phenomena of, like you said, the work feeling very departed and yet… Wow, I mean… you get to a good space with it. But there is a moment of like, I … been left this! But it’s funny. It’s interesting because I think a lot of people have told me this: that you as the writer, feel that way because you’ve been sitting here toiling with these poems up and down the street, for however many years. But you know, for me, for example, this book [A Shiver in the Leaves] felt very now. Very, very now. That was never even a
concern of mine. Just to speak to that point. Thank you for answering that. And I really do love this cover. I was grateful to also get the artists name. Big art nerd person here.

Okay, we started there. The next question I want to ask is so off the cuff. We’re going to do it. Are you familiar with the X-Men?

LH: Slightly, depending on your question now.

DS: Okay. Would you have a favorite X Men?

LH: I do have a favorite… It’s Nightcrawler– kind of Nightcrawler. I’m going with Nightcrawler, but it is, actually, I always forget because it’s kind of always like adjacent, but it’s Deadpool. And it has been Deadpool since that X-Men game that is slipping my mind I came out in like 2000s..

DS: Oh my God stop which one?

LH: I don’t remember it was … it was like an X-Men game where you can be all of the X-Men and you’re always in group of four doing stuff–

DS: In a group, right?

LH: Yes!

DS: Oh my god. I loved that game. I know exactly what game you’re talking about.

LH: I happen to just choose Deadpool like off the cuff for some reason. That was like: I’ll just use this guy who nobody talks about and literally ever since then he’s been my favorite. And of course Ryan Reynolds was acting as him in the movies. I love a little … I love a white Rom-com. That is like my shit. And so I love Ryan Reynolds. So when I heard he played Deadpool, it filled a lot of my checkboxes. It was just like… Deadpool is my favorite.

DS: Yes. Okay. Wow, this is really funny.. because I thought your answer might be Storm. Because there are so there’s so much of the storm and the wind and those elements are
manifesting here in the manuscript. On page 63 “the wind did what the wind came to do.” I mean, yes– I’m… I love it. I love how much this wind, air, and storm is just moving through the collection as a breath that compels it along with a certain energy that’s just excellent.

Question, kind of adjacent to this. In Seattle, I’m sure this has occurred or is/was a thing. You know back in the day and maybe still to this day, when jazz stations, like, black jazz stations, it would get dark and they’d be like “the quiet storm” or whatever the heck yeah? You know what I’m talking about, right? Okay. Would you say this [A Shiver in the Leaves] is a quiet storm? Or how else would you define the storm of this collection?

LH: That’s a really interesting question. So I do think it is a rather quiet book, in the sense that there is a lot of interiority. It’s all about how I, the writer, is dealing with things that’s happening externally, but it’s all through the lens of, you know, the self and how the self is thinking and operating and interacting with the external things that are happening within the book, within the world. So I do think it is a quiet storm, in that sense. And also, it’s not? Right? Because I feel like the book– even though it is through the lens of thinking and interiority– it’s pretty loud with its emotions. I think it’s a very dramatic book. Actually, reading through it, I was just like, “Okay…. The drama!” But I think it’s … you know, when you’re thinking to yourself, you are a little overdramatized. Right? Everything is so high end. And so, in this sense it feels very loud to me, and in a sense, because I’m reading it, I’m understanding exactly where the poems are coming from. But for sure, I can see people reading it and being like, “Okay, this is a very quiet book”, right? And, you know, it’s during… it’s a it’s kind of a fall book, even though it’s out in the fall it is very, like, a Seattle book where it feels very insular, it feels very inside it feels very, like, you know, um, overcast.

DS: I’m loving it.

LH: What I don’t know if people know is that like… Seattle doesn’t actually storm a lot. We have very few storms here. People say we’re the city of rain, it actually doesn’t like downpour, like either, like we have sprinkles, but mostly sprinkle showers. And so the idea of Seattle, right, being always overcast and thinking a storm is coming. It’s kind of how the book operates. If you think something is coming, right, you think there’s a storm on the horizon? And actually, it’s just the idea of the storm coming, right? The idea of, you know, killing oneself is in the book, but it never actually comes wholistically. So like, that’s the quiet storm of it. Right? That’s, that’s the way I think the quiet storm and Seattle kind of marry each other. Right? It’s the impending doom without actually having to deal with it actually coming and happening.

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“This poem, written in response to Marwan Kassab-Bachi’s painting Three Palestinian Boys (1970), is about, as [Julia] Kristeva put it, ‘what I permanently thrust aside in order to live.’”

—Fargo Nissim Tbakhi
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