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Muse in the Machine

Essays on Poetry and the Anatomy of the Body Politic

T. R. Hummer

Publication Year: 2006

Music, race, politics, and conscience. In these eight essays written over the span of a decade and a half, T. R. Hummer explains how, for him, such abiding concerns revolve around the practice of poetry and the evolution of a culturally responsible personal poetics. Hummer writes about the suicide of poet Vachel Lindsay, the culture wars at the National Endowment for the Arts, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the divided soul of his native American South, and the salving, transcendent practice of musicianship. Inevitably entwined with a personal or cultural component, Hummer's criticism is thus grounded in experience that is always familiar and often straight to the heart in its rightness.

In one of those statements of "poetic purpose" that goes hand in hand with a residency, guest editorship, or lecture tour, Hummer once wrote that "poetry inhabits and enunciates an incommensurable zone between individual and collective, between body and body politic, an area very ill-negotiated by most of us most of the time. Our culture, with its emphasis on the individual mind and body, teaches us very little about how even to think about the nature of this problem. . . . E pluribus unum is a smokescreen: what pluribus; what unum? And yet this phrase is an American mantra, as if it explained something." This is a quintessential Hummer moment: a writer has just given himself a good reason to quit. What Hummer knows must happen next is what The Muse in the Machine is all about.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: The Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

“An Audience”: An initial, much shorter version of this essay was published in the Hawaiian literary journal Manoa, but the piece grew over the years. In 2003 the final form of it was delivered as a...

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pp. 1-6

This is a book born of trouble: a troubled mind, a troubled art, troubled times. I am tempted to say my mind, my art, my times, but to say so would be at best a half truth, because the...

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An Audience

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pp. 7-21

This begins, like so many things, with a mistake I made. In the fall of 1990, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press who was writing a piece about plans for New England Review, the literary quarterly of which I had recently...

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Laughed Off: Canon, Kharakter, and the Dismissal of Vachel Lindsay

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pp. 22-78

It is arguable whether, as Virginia Woolf famously wrote, “on or about December 1910 human character changed.” It is also arguable exactly what she meant when she wrote it. If the usual interpretation—that Woolf is describing the birth...

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“Sen-Sen,” Censorship, Obscenity, Secrecy: Slapping the Face of the Body Politic

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pp. 79-105

In January 1990, when I was editing New England Review, a Texas writer named Ewing Campbell (Weave It like Nightfall; The Rincón Triptych; Piranesi’s Dream) received a National Endowment for the Arts...

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Inside the Avalanche

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pp. 106-110

In the foreword of The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950–1984, Adrienne Rich raises, with typical wisdom and incisiveness, a crucial issue about the relationship between craft and the particular consciousness of any poet:...

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Ex Machina: Reading the Mind of the South

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pp. 111-140

Recently, meditating about poetry and about issues of personal and cultural history generally and class in the American South particularly, I had an urge to look back at W. J. Cash’s classic...

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Revenge of the American Leviathan

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pp. 141-182

During the night of January 1, 1991, I had a dream, which I recorded the following morning: I am in a house that I know to be surrounded by soldiers who are very dangerous. I have no idea what they are up to, but have no...

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“Christ, Start Again”: Robert Penn Warren, a Poet of the South?

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pp. 183-198

I find it interesting and strange that I (of all people) should be called upon to explore the southernness (of all things) of Robert Penn Warren (of all poets). In the first place, Warren’s southernness may at first glance appear—as it did to me when I first...

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The Mechanical Muse

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pp. 199-204

The distance between music and language—the impossibility of describing music in words, of echoing words in music, the incommensurability of phoneme and tone—is both obvious and notorious, but so is their inextricability. No one has expressed this...

Works Cited

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pp. 205-210


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pp. 211-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342788
E-ISBN-10: 0820342785
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820328034
Print-ISBN-10: 0820328030

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: The Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft
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OCLC Number: 759160196
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Muse in the Machine

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Poetry -- Authorship.
  • Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Politics and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • American poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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