T. R. Hummer was born in remote rural Mississippi in 1950. His 9th book of poems, The Infinity Sessions, will be published by LSU Press in Spring 2005; his poems have earned a grant from the NEA, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Richard Wright Prize for Literary Excellence, the Hanes Poetry Prize, and two Pushcart Prizes. He has been editor of Quarterly West, Cimarron Review, Kenyon Review, and New England Review; he currently lives in Athens, GA, where he edits The Georgia Review.
1. What is the first poem you ever loved? Why?
"Love" is always an ambiguous word. The first poem with which I can recall becoming obsessed (about this I can be more precise) was Poe's "Annabel Lee," which like many of us I first encountered when I was in junior high school. I had read some poetry before, but generally without much interest. This poem provided a different experience from anything I had ever encountered - it was about something, of course (the infamous "death of a beautiful woman"), but even more it was about its own music. About the same time I was becoming obsessed also with music, and so the gesture was significant to me. I read an enormous amount of Poe around that time, and it mattered.
2. What is something/someone non-“literary” you read which may surprise your peers/colleagues? Why do you read it/them?
Jazz album liner notes. I read them because I love jazz, and liner notes are often the best (sometimes only) source of information about musicians, especially obscure ones.
3. How important is philosophy to your writing? Why?
Philosophy is very important to my poetry because I find I can steal from philosophers. Many of them are excellent writers. I'm more interested, often, in the way they write than in what they thought. Furthermore, there's a certain productive tension, for me, between poetry and philosophy. Wallace Stevens summed it up well when he wrote (I paraphrase from memory) that philosophy is the official description of reality and poetry is an unofficial one. Unofficial descriptions of reality always revel in ripping off officialdom.
4. Who are some of your favorite non-Anglo-American writers? Why?
V. S. Naipaul, for his delectable nastiness. Derek Walcott, for his stunning virtuosity. Yusef Komunyakaa, for his flexible music. Toni Morrison because she's Toni Morrison, and that's good enough for me. Others by the dozens.
5. Do you read a lot of poetry? If so, how important is it to your writing?
I read tons of poetry. It is essential to my writing.
6. What is something which your peers/colleagues may assume you’ve read but haven’t? Why haven’t you?
Gravity's Rainbow. I have tried reading Gravity's Rainbow many times and I always give it up, because, to put it one way, it seems an over-inflated self-important bore, or to put it another way, it (in my opinion) stinks.
7. How would you explain what a poem is to my seven year old?
I wouldn't. I would ask your seven year old to explain what a poem is to me.
8. Do you believe in a Role for the Poet? If so, how does it differ from the Role of the Citizen?
"Believe in" is not a phrase I make use of. I am certain that there are many possible "Roles for the Poet," that one chooses one's allegiances, and that the choices one makes in this realm determine almost everything. The poet is a citizen; the citizen is not necessarily a poet, and those who are not will make other kinds of choices. Vis-a-vis "citizenship," the poet's electives range between these poles: Auden's "poetry makes nothing happen," and Milosz's "what good is a poetry that does not change nations?"
9. Word associations (the first word which comes to mind; be honest):
10. What is the relationship between the text and the body in your writing?
I am convinced that poetry is quite literally an endless negotiation between the individual body and the body politic. The text is the poem's body. As such, particular texts operate like little infectious agents, creating a toxin here, an antibody there; in the process, like a group of children sharing in the day care center germ pool, we all (theoretically) grow stronger.