T. R. Hummer

Major Works

Photo courtesy of T. R. Hummer

Photo courtesy of T. R. Hummer

  • The Muse in the Machine: Essays on Poetry And the Anatomy of the Body Politic (The Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft) (April 2006)
  • Bluegrass Wasteland: Selected Poems 1978-2003 (2005)
  • The Infinity Sessions: Poems with Dave Smith (Southern Messenger Poets) 2005
  • Useless Virtues (2001)
  • Walt Whitman in Hell: Poems (1996)
  • The Unfeigned-Word: Fifteen Years of New England Review (1993) with Jersild
  • The Eighteen-Thousand-Ton Olympic Dream (1990)
  • Kenyon Review (1988) (Editor)
  • Lower-Class Heresy (1987)
  • The Passion of the Right-Angled Man (1985)
  • The Angelic Orders (1982)
  • Translation of Light (1976)
  • Apologia (Short Story)
  • The Mechanical Muse

Biography of T. R. Hummer

by Jennie Smith (SHS) 2003

Terry R. Hummer was born August 7, 1950, in Noxubee County in Macon, Mississippi. on the farm of his parents, Charles Vernon and Marion Kate Hummer. He played the saxophone all through high school in rock and roll bands (see photo below) and then went to the University of Southern Mississippi and the Center for Writers. Hummer studied with Gordon Weaver and D.C. Berry and attained his B. A. in 1972 and his M. A. in 1974.

Hummer then lived in Jackson, Mississippi, for three years where he worked for the Mississippi Arts Commission. His book Translation of Light, a limited edition from Cedar Creek Press, was delivered by mail to him on the day his first daughter Theo was born.

In 1977 Hummer went to the University of Utah, where he studied with Dave Smith.  Hummer was the editor of Quarterly West in 1979. He accomplished his goal of receiving his Ph.D. in 1980 and took his first academic post in a creative writing program at Oklahoma State University. During these years he was also a poetry editor of The Cimarron Review.

Hummer began playing the saxophone again with a western swing and country rock group. He also published his first two full length books of poetry, The Angelic Orders(LSU Press 1982) and The Passion of the Right-Angled Man (U. of Illinois Press 1984). In 1984 he relocated to Kenyon College. After a year in the Kenyon-Exeter Program in England, he began giving many appearances at Middlebury College and the University of California at Irvine. He also became editor of the Kenyon Review. In 1987 he completed Lower-Class Heresy, which was published by the University of Illinois.

In 1989 he returned to Middlebury and the position of editor for the New England Review. In 1990 he published his book The 18,000-Ton Olympic Dream, but it didn’t sell as well. Hummer applied and got a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry. In 1993 he moved to the University of Oregon where he became director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing. He then completed and published his book of poems, Walt Whitman in Hell (LSU Press 1996).

In the fall of 1997, after twenty years, he came back to the South. He became Senior Poet in the MFA Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. He remarried and wrote another book of poems Useless Virtues (LSU Press 2001). His second daughter, Jackson, was born. He played tenor and baritone saxophone in Richmond with a based blues band called Little Ronnie and the Grand Dukes (Young and Evil, Planetary Records 2001). He left the band to take the prestigious position of editor of The Georgia Review. He moved to the University of Georgia in Athens with his wife Stephanie and his younger daughter Jackson. His daughter Theo did not move to Athens.

Hummer has also written short stories and dozens of essays, reviews, and book chapters. His work has appeared in such publications as The New Yorker and Harper’s and in leading literary journals including The Georgia Review. He has also won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and twice the Pushcart Prize for Poetry.

T. R. Hummer at left playing saxophone in high school. Photo courtesy of drummer Bobby Mann.

T. R. Hummer at left playing saxophone in high school. Photo courtesy of drummer Bobby Mann.

Update: 2015

Bluegrass Wasteland: Selected Poems 1978-2003 (2005) was published in the United Kingdom and contains poems from Terry Hummer’s seven collections of poetry. He is considered one of America’s most distinguished poets. Hummer also published in 2006 The Muse in the Machine: Essays on Poetry And the Anatomy of the Body Politic.  On Oct. 1, 2011 a concert series on PBS by AmeriCamera presented a blending of poetry and music conceived by Arizona State University English Professor T.R. Hummer and international band leader Billy Cioffi, a graduate student in the School of English at ASU.  Hummer now teaches at  Arizona State University in Tempe where he is Director of Creative Writing .

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Review of Lower Class Heresy

By Jennie Smith (SHS)

Lower-Class Heresy is a deep but straight-forward anthology of poems. Hummer focuses on specific details in his life. He finds a certain point in his life and makes it completely and totally real to the reader. It’s so important that it’s unbelievable the way he points out his past and connects it with the present day.

Hummer makes everything relevant, especially to me. He made some of his poems about his childhood in the South. I know exactly where he is coming from, and I can especially elate to the poems, Empty Backstreet in a Small Southern Town and The Ideal. He uses many words that touch the heart. The way he describes the scenery in the poems makes you imagine a vision that you’re actually in the poem.

I thought this book was a great piece of writing. I felt close to him. The only thing I could not relate to was that he is a man, and he focused on some sexual experiences in the book. I think anyone would enjoy this book but not just for the fun of reading it. He makes you think twice before doing something. The reader can actually feel what he writes. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys deep, heartfelt poems

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An Interview with T. R. Hummer  (December 14, 2003)

by Jennie Smith (SHS)

What is the date of your birthday? Your parents’ names? And what childhood memories would like to share with your fans?

I was born on Aug. 7, 1950; my father was C. V. Hummer (he died in 1994); my mother, who still lives in Macon, Mississippi, is Marion Slocum Hummer. The last part of this question is too complicated to answer in a short time; suffice it is to say that I grew up on a farm in a very remote part of the state (eastern Noxubee County), a situation that provided a range of experiences that was rich in one sense and very narrow in another; I have both benefited and suffered on account of it.

When did you realize that your future career was to be a writer? Was there anything in particular that interested you in the writing profession?

I knew quite early in my life – around the age of five–- that I wanted to be whatever a writer was; poetry, though, I had never heard of, and I came to that only in my very early 20s.

How difficult was it to get your first book published? How did you go about getting it published?

My first book, a small limited-edition finely-designed and printed chapbook called Translation of Light was published by a small press, which invited it. My first full-length book, The Angelic Orders, I submitted to LSU Press, and it was accepted within three months; that book had been my doctoral dissertation at the University of Utah.

In your book Lower-Class Heresy, did your life in any way inspire any of the poems included?

Lower-Class Heresy is based on fictively transformed personal material mostly, so the answer to the question is yes, but with the proviso that I gave myself permission to “make up” or re-imagine material very thoroughly.

Who is/are your favorite author/authors?

The number is legion. At present I greatly value the work of the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, the Lithuanian-born Czeslaw Milosz, St. Lucia’s Derek Walcott, and among American poets, Philip Levine, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Penn Warren, and Adrienne Rich. But that’s only a sampling.

What author do you think has influenced you throughout your entire career?

Many have, no doubt; it doesn’t make sense to me to single out one.

Why did you decide to write about the subject matter in Lower-Class Heresy? How long did it take you to write this book? And where did you come up with the idea for the book?

The book evolved in the course of its being written, though by the time I got to the material in the central section (“Dogma”) I knew pretty clearly what I was up to. It took somewhere between two to three years to bring the book to completion; I was driven by the desire to understand how class – especially the peculiar class system in the American South as I experienced it (I was born in 1950; my teenaged years coincided precisely with the 1960s, and of course the Civil Rights Movement was happening all around me) which is so complicated by racial issues—had overtly and covertly influenced the course of my life.

What kind of student were you in high school?

Largely indifferent; very good when I was interested in something. I lacked the discipline to do well in courses that didn’t immediately and passionately engage me (which means most of them). Mostly I was interested in music, and spent the core of my creative energies playing in various bands.

Are you currently working on a new book? What is it called? When will it be published? Do you have a title yet? What is it about?

I have recently completed a new book, The Infinity Sessions, which is “about” jazz. That’s an inadequate description, but a full one would take ten pages. It will probably be published in 2005.

Has Mississippi or living in Mississippi influenced your writing?

Yes; several of the answers given above will begin to indicate how. In a nutshell: I grew up inculcated in a thoroughly racist community within a county that was about 70% African American in those years; the struggle to see through that upbringing consumed the first 2  decades of my life. There’s a great deal more to say, but again, the answer would require perhaps a book’s worth of argument, so this will have to do.

Besides writing, what other activities or hobbies do you enjoy doing or participating in?

I’m a serious musician – a saxophonist. Otherwise, I talk to my 26-year-old daughter Theo about her poetry, and to my 2 -year old daughter Jackson about the alphabet.

Do you have any advice for future writers?

Write, read, live.

Do you have any advice for students today?


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Related Websites

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  • Lacour, Justin B. “Useless Virtues.” Raintaxi. Spring 2002. Online Edition.
    14 Dec. 2003. <http://raintaxi.com/online/ 2002spring/hummer.shtml>
  • T. R. Hummer. Personal Email Interview. 14 Dec. 2003.
  • “Terry R. Hummer.” Galegroup. 18 Feb. 2003. Online Article. 14 Dec. 2003.