“The State That Springfield Is In” by Tom C. Hunley. Richmond, Va.: Split Lip Press, 2016. 69 pages, $13 (paperback).
Since 1987, when the Simpson family debuted on television on “The Tracey Ullman Show,” characters including Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and several other citizens of Springfield who interact with this prototypical dysfunctional family on a regular basis have become major figures in American popular culture.
Now professor Tom C. Hunley, who teaches poetry and creative writing at Western Kentucky University, has produced a book of poems featuring the Simpsons and their Springfield community. In her introduction to the book, Denise Du Varnay, co-author of “The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield,” wrote: “Springfield is a microcosm of the United States, not in any state but all states. ‘The Simpsons’ belongs to all of us, and is, in a way, a reflection of all of us, no matter where we live, what we do, or what color we are.”
Hunley weaves several references to English literature and popular culture into his poems on characters such as the Simpson family, Mrs. Krabappel, Chief Wiggum, Principal Skinner, Milhouse, Mr. Burns, Smithers, Apu, Troy McClure and Krusty the Clown. Although Bart remains a mischievous 10-year-old in the television show, Hunley includes a poem “Bart Simpson, All Grown Up.” This piece opens with Bart’s classic line “I didn’t do it” and closes with “Ay Caramba!,” but it also explores Bart’s marriage to Jessica Lovejoy and his reflection of what happened to Homer and Marge. His statement that “Jessica thinks I cheated on her, but she didn’t see me do it. She can’t prove it” shows consistency with his 10-year-old persona, but his comments about his Mom and Dad reflect both growth and regret. In “Jihadist Homer,” Bart says “Eat my shorts” and “pulls down his pants, revealing a Danish Mohammed cartoon stenciled on his shorts.” Homer then suicide-bombs Mayor Quimby’s office and ends up in the afterlife with his 72 virgins “and he sees why they’re still virgins.”
In his concluding notes section, the author reveals that “while these poems are ostensibly about ‘The Simpsons,’ they’re actually about me, about my inner life.” After explaining how several of the poems reflect his own views or experiences, Hunley said: “This book of poems is the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written.”
“The State That Springfield Is In” is enjoyable reading recommended for anyone familiar with “The Simpsons” and also for those who understand poetry as a mirror that reflects life and its multifarious perspectives and insights.
— Reviewed by Richard D. Weigel, Western Kentucky University History Department.