Thomas Gibney, ’08, graduated from Richmond with a degree in Latin American and Iberian studies; Emily Hunt, ’07, graduated with a degree in studio art. Thanks to experiences at Richmond, from influential professors to studying abroad to creative writing electives, both are now published poets.

Throughout college, Gibney had interests that shifted and changed, with Spanish being the only constant. In his senior year, though, he was reminded that poetry—particularly the performative kind—was his passion.

“I credit Brian Henry for really getting me back into writing,” Gibney said. “I’d been out of touch with words for a while and he gave me an eye into the contemporary poetry scene, which really impressed me.”

Gibney recalls reading A Ballad for Metka Krasovec by Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun in Henry’s class, a book that made Gibney a fast and avid admirer of Salamun’s work.

“That book completely haunted my conscience, got right down to the marrow of it in such a fabulous and unsettling fashion,” he said. “I devoured his work—he was interacting with words in a way I’d never heard before.”

When Henry brought Salamun to Richmond as the English department’s Distinguished Visiting Writer in the spring of 2008, Gibney jumped at the chance to take a one-on-one tutorial with his favorite poet during his last semester at Richmond.

“I gave him my manuscripts and poems and he challenged me on them every step of the way,” Gibney said. “That man changed my relationship with words.”

Salamun encouraged Gibney to submit one of his pieces, “Poems You Read Out Loud,” to Scantily Clad Press for publication. Scantily Clad is an electronic press, which publishes chapbooks by a variety of voices—from first time writers to well-known poets such as Salamun and Henry.

“‘Poems You Read Out Loud’ is a sort of mourning song set in South America, sung aloud in the tradition of vagabond poets like Rumi, who wandered and sang their poems as a gesture of lament over a lost love or lost brethren,” Gibney said of his first published piece.

Gibney now lives in New York, where he continues to send out his work and is making name for himself on the open mic circuit, performing his poetry in front of audiences.

While studying abroad in London, Emily Hunt, ’07, was inspired to create an art project using the inexpensive, old books for sale at local street markets. When she returned to Richmond for her senior year, she began to explore the idea of altering the text of a book by erasing words to create a new narrative.

“I realized, after talking with a few of my professors, that the idea wasn’t so original and that the process of erasure has an extensive history to it,” she said.

Most significantly, Hunt learned about A Humument, an altered Victorian novel by British artist Tom Phillips. In the 1970s, Phillips had also been intrigued by old books in the London markets and began painting over pages of the books to transform the narratives; he has since published four volumes of his work.

Rather than start a project that was essentially the same as Phillips’, Hunt decided to alter A Humument after one of her professors gave her a copy of the work. Over the winter holidays, she began opening the book at random and taking notes on combinations of words that struck her. She slowly pieced a narrative together before going on to scratch away text with an X-Acto knife.

“It was exciting to start a project with a thick, ornate book, rather than with a single blank page,” said Hunt, who saved the fuzzy balls of lint that piled up as a result of the scratching and displayed them with the book in a painted, collaged cigarette carton. The final product was titled Um Um: A Novel to Lips.

After graduation, Hunt went to work at the Academy of American Poets, where she wrote a review of a book called Whim Man Mammon, by Abraham Smith. She loved the book so much that she E-mailed the editors of Action Books and asked if they needed help with their press. It turned out they were looking for someone to work on the Web site of their online quarterly, Action, Yes.

“Thanks to my thesis professor, Jeremy Drummond, I learned Web site editing skills, which came in handy,” said Hunt.

When she met with Action, Yes editor John Woods, he asked to see her work and he liked Um Um enough to want it included in the quarterly’s next issue.

“I was studying poetry with Brian Henry the semester I started Um Um and all the things I was learning from him and my art professors seemed to collide in this project,” Hunt said, reflecting back on the work. “The text is neither a poem nor a story; it’s more like a collage, which was my primary medium in the studio.”

Hunt still works at the Academy of American Poets as the awards and program associate and is in the process of applying to MFA programs in art and poetry.

“Wherever I end up,” Hunt said, “I want to continue making art and reading and writing poetry.”