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Mary Emeny

Dancer, thinker, activist

A history of this project:

GI Gurdjieff is reputed to have pointed out a truth that we may just be beginning to comprehend.  When  we drive a specie to extinction then we, humans, have to take up the work that that specie did for the planet.  I’ve thought of that often since Hunter died, because what is uniquely human among species, at least as far as we know,  is our capacity to be truly unique, to be a specie of one, a totally authentic being, whose gifts are manifested consistently,  fully and in ways no one can copy.   Few of us actually achieve that, but Hunter was one of those few. No one else can do what Hunter did so consistently, so easily, and with such delight, but this collaboration of artists expresses how his work has taken root and now is expanding here locally, ever more often by people who never met Hunter.  What he did in Amarillo and the Texas panhandle was catalyze an art community,  and give local artists (especially visual artists and poets) the kind of feedback that helped them become more uniquely themselves in their expression.  The artists in this collaborative project are some of those he touched directly and often, and in multiple ways.  This project is a beginning of one whose mission really is to push the arts – not just for the sake of art, though that is certainly core, but for the sake of continuing to expand and deepen our understanding of what it means to be fully alive, creative human beings living in a unique time and community. Our house is filled with works by many of those represented here.

The original little Sixty Five Word Stars, was compiled by friends for his 65th birthday.  He was teaching for a year in Virginia at the time, so a group of us at home  chose 65 of  our favorites from among his hundreds of poems and published a little book as a birthday gift.  We divided it into five of the categories that Hunter used to for cataloging his own poems.  Here I’ll give a little background on many, sort of in chronological order, with a few short additions as they seem appropriate.

Hunter started writing in college.  He graduated in the class of 1955 from Princeton.  Poetry was an elective that he took after dropping the pre-med program.  His first attempts he described as teenage dribble, but one day in New York he went to the Museum of Natural History, and there he said was his first real lesson in writing poetry.  He looked at the descriptions on the dioramas and was amazed at the information they carried with so few words.  His first “real” poem came from that visit.

      Lord Derby’s Eland

Lord Derby’s eland is a browser.
It lives in the dry thorn bush country and with projecting upper lip
Snips off thorn bushes, or parts of them,
Chewing all the sticky prickliness from the thorns,
Chewing and digesting,
Growing bit by bit from a normal antelope into
A giant eland.

At graduation he was presented with the university prize for poetry.  He also received the prize for Art History.

The next 15 years of his life took many turns. After graduation he moved  New Orleans (to learn about jazz and write Everyman’s Book of History: Jackson Square)  and then Sausalito, CA (to learn more about life, including work as the audio recorder for the Farm Tour Radio Show, and as the writer of a film for teen age boys called “As Boys Grow”.)  Val Bleeker was a neighbor and friend in Sausalito. The army then took him to Fort Hood and Fort Hood for basic and advanced training one summer, then to Fort Meade and finally to Korea, which he asked for so he could be discharged in Japan.  Tom McRitchie was an army buddy who secretly told Hunter one day that he was a member of the Bronxville NRA (Nude Runners Association).  

After his army stint he enrolled at Columbia U. for his master’s and PhD, and for three years as an instructor in Art History.  He was also an anti-war activist and coordinator of student dialogue during the Columbia riots in 1968.  In 1969 he was honored as teacher of the year in the Columbia year book. He also was  co-creator with Frank Kuenstler of the Eventorium – a performance space in a loft they shared at 100th St. and Broadway,  for which Red Grooms painted a mural, various artists including Frank Stella displayed works  and other notables came to read and publish a small poetry magazine. (See Consortium) A brief marriage was part of that decade, but after that collapsed he shared a Riverside Drive ground floor apartment with George G (Pivot), and they integrated the neighborhood by inviting Brother Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick to join them (Daffodils).

Several of the other poems in this volume also came from that period,  during which he developed ever deepening delight in sound and rhythm as drivers of poetry, and ever greater skill in turning word meanings and phrases on their heads.  A Ferine Friend of Mine; Peazzerless City; Race; Desire; Six Permissions; Afterthought; Nine Refined Responses to a Boss; The Past is Dim, the Future Innocent; Myth; and Wholly Hallelujah all date from the time in New York.     

In 1971 Hunter was told that too many people were ahead of him on the tenure track at Columbia and that he should look elsewhere for work the next year.  He did, accepting a position as associate professor of Art History at UT in Austin.  His roommate Brother Kirk told him to look up Tom Flower.  That same summer I moved from New York (where I’d been an anti-war activist and had met Brother Kirk) to take a job with the American Friends Service Committee in San Antonio, the job from which Tom Flower was moving on.  Tom had organized the “Fall Peace Planning Offensive” at the Friends Meeting House in Austin in order to introduce me to folks I’d be working with from around the state.  Hunter heard about the gathering and came.  We met in the kitchen.  The rest, as they say, is history.   The Marysongs  came from the first few years when we commuted to be together on weekends.

UT’s requrements did not match Hunter’s teaching style at all because with classes of 200 students,  personal  interaction was almost impossible.  After three years he took a leave of absence, and then moved to San Antonio to teach San Antonio college instead. Meantime my work led us to meet Charlie and Pauline, an ex-priest/nun couple working to improve conditions in Texas prisons.  We also met a gentle Jesuit priest named Hooty McCown, with whom we kept in touch even after moving to Amarillo in 1978. (He Asks to be Here was Hunter’s answer to a postcard he sent after our son’s birth.)  In 1974 my job had ended, and we moved to Castroville, a little Alsatian town 20 miles west of San Antonio, where we lived until moving to the Amarillo area. We rented an old Alsatian house between city hall and the fire department.  On our first night there, the siren’s went off at midnight, inspiring Turn. Other poems of that period included  Instep; Willie; Southwest Humanities Extension Poem; Meet; Tomatoes;and Easter Morning;.           

January 1st 1978 we moved to the ranch outside Amarillo, Texas, that has been in my family since 1880.  We took over a tiny house on one corner of the ranch, made it livable, added on two  adobe additions and during all that discovered I was pregnant.  Flight describes the pregnancy a bit. My third pregnancy brought  Good-bye to Some Space which documented feelings in leaving that house for one down the road more suited to family life and where I still live.  The majority of the FAMILY section came from those  several years. Despite the challenges and fatigue of raising children, there was always laughter, as much from Hunter’s response to frustrations as to the children’s exploits.  One of Hunter’s self-stated missions was to “make fun of the world”.

Almost all the poems not listed above have come during our 30 years together here.  Buck is famed, wheelchair bound cowboy poet Buck Ramsey and September Morn was written for his daughter Amanda. Outlook, is for Scott Hyde, a widely recognized innovator in photography who moved here in 1990 and was for years perhaps Hunter’s closest friend.  Marie was another friend and Uncle Tim my uncle (for whom our son Timothy was named). Sandia Morn was about a walk taken during a stay with a family in Albuquerque who raised handicapped foster children.  Some of his best loved are ones in response to this environment and culture.  Lasso came shortly after we moved here, Plainsong, a few years later.  Burnt Britches was in response to an early morning drive around Taos, NM in the rain listening to “Someone done me wrong” songs on the radio, A Dress, the response to a visiting Sunday morning speaker at the Unitarian Fellowship we attend.  Daybreak Café came at a long gone little store in Bushland where coffee and a note pad occupied him while a truck tire was being repaired, again.

A final note about Philigion.  Hunter always had a  strained relationship with religion.  He was sent to Episcopal boarding schools beginning at age 8, and there had religion forced upon him, for which he grew ever greater distaste, particularly at what seemed ungenuine and dogmatic.  Yet, when he sat down with his heart open and a pen in his hand, his understanding was profound, as in Rennaisance, and scathingingly insightful (as in Theologram).  One day he showed me his revelation, the philosophy that guided the last decade of his life.  
                                                        I am God
                                                        God is beyond me
                                                        The tree in the seed
                                                        The seed in the tree.

Hunter taught Art History at WT (then West Texas State) for 10 years, carrying a full load, including graduate students for a part time salary.  The arts were not appreciated at that time as they are now. Nor did the WT administration appreciate Hunter’s challenge to that administration’s incompetence and injustice. He showed up to teach in August of 1989 to be told he didn’t have a job. Department chair and friend Steve Mays had to tell him, and himself resigned  the next year.  But that dismissal began the journey toward development of an artist community in Amarillo that continues to grow today.

The first adventure in that direction was The Lost Circus, a cooperative art gallery on Polk Street, Amarillo’s main downtown drag.  Several of the artists involved in this project were part of the Lost Circus, including Lightnin’ McDuff, David Corbin, Deanne Conner, John Romero, Brent Flennikan,  and Ann Crouch.  The Lost Circus lasted two years, falling apart while Hunter taught (and we lived) in Anchorage during the school year of 1990-91.


The mid-nineties brought  Friday morning breakfasts at the Blue Front Café, which continue today as an open gathering time and place for local and visiting artists.  Next came a new cooperative space, thanks to the leadership of Ann Crouch,  at Amarillo’s original mall, Sunset Center which was owned by her husband.  After he passed away, and at Hunter’s suggestion, she opened up the entire mall for artist studios.  It is now full.  The Memorial service for Hunter was held there, in a huge party space that was once JC Penny’s.  The walls were filled with art and all the chairs in the building seated only half of those who attended.  David Corbin later created the Art Guardian as a memorial to Hunter. It stands watch over the mall’s north entrance.
For his last 9 years Hunter wrote Artbeat, a weekly column for the Sunday paper.  His passion was to prove to folks in Amarillo that they didn’t need to go to Santa Fe to see art, and he used the column to illuminate what was being done here and to encourage it.  For months after his death people would stop me to say how much they missed that column.

Now the Process Art House has opened, a further iteration of experimentation and collaboration by local artists.  
Jacob Breeden formulated the concept and created the space with the help of other area artists and friends.

I asked Carlos Cuevos  to reproduce (with Hunter’s corrections) the 65 Word Star book, which many had recently wished to see.   He and Jacob visited and this collaborative project was born.  I can imagine no more  fitting tribute to Hunter or beginning of The Art Pusher Project.