Showing posts with label T.R.Hummer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label T.R.Hummer. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

T.R. Hummer's Trio of Doom

T.R.Hummer has Three Poems posted today in Slate, which delighted me to no end. This is a trio of swirling rhymes that will not stand for being mere decorations on that tall, swaying tree called literary style. Hummer has the musical sway and swing of Edgar Allen Poe, able to digress, elongate and contract a phrase at will, finding a tonality of both everyday things and historical memory. This has the snap and splintery detail of what Tom Waits does with his lyrics, but in this case, the author is more a witness than a persona recalling a location changed by time, personalities who thrived in the wallow of their eccentricities and who are now gone, replaced by urban professionals and Lego style architecture.

Hummer's trilogy addresses a set of conversations where it seems that the sweep of events and the acceleration of change, complicated by encroaching generations younger and hungrier than older denizens, all wind up in the dustbin, not swept by rather dumped, or pushed, as in off a cliff."Imperial" nicely echoes and paraphrases "Richard Cory" but rather than suicide being the inevitable curse, we have a personage of fame, wealth, prestige denied the right to be fully human and full of complexity; he is in a cage, in a sense mummified, locked up in symbolism, turned into a commodity of hope for a citizenship that he is by birth obligation inflexibly beholden to.

"Prince Albert in a can" becomes not a joke but a description of what someone's life has become. "Pandora Jackson" , In turn, is the story, spread over generations and variations of Diaspora , of beset upon peoples wandering the map for new homes, places of security where they may, in turn, thrive and build communities;  but all are uprooted again, leaving only the withered ghosts of the means of getting there, railroad tracks, maintenance equipment, box cars still and void of voices , We are crowded along until again we are either lifted again by Biblical promise, the Rapture , or left behind to scrape by in the hallows of the emptied cities and towns, subsisting until history itself is forgotten.

"Bloodflower Sermon" concerns the dark fact the homeless millions in our communities, but speaks finally to the supposition that the light of virtue, the light of truth,  leads us not to  Heaven but merely rids us of the veils of self-constructed mythologies we've sustained our daily lives with the clever rationalizations we've decorated the walls of Plato's Cave and shows us for what we really are, instinct-driven creatures given a gift of free will with which we could do great good or worsen the state of things of the planet, The echoes Delmore Schwartz beautifully, succinctly; Hummer suggests that in the raw state of nature, bereft of things and self-assurance, we find ourselves waiting to be judged. It is a calculus we dread, a trip no one truly wants to take.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


This is a piece from 2009 about one of T.R.Hummer's poems that was published in Slate. I run again here because I am still making sense of the current  poem that Slate has on display,and because Hummer is a superb poet more of us should know about and read.--tb

There are those I know, friends and former friends alike, who know it's well within my personality to become a fire-breathing jerk; though I prefer to regard myself as having an even temperament most of my awake time, there are those moments when something gets to me that will not let up. An annoyance, a complaint, the site of something ugly or something said that was offensive to my closely held (and improvised) standards as to how reality and it's subjects should arrange their affairs. Bear in mind, please , that I am seldom right when I go off on a toot, and my universal declarations about the exact nature of the world's wrongs are inappropriate, over stated, bigoted, unfair, the rantings of a salivating asshole. Even at my age, with the wisdom I've garnered from decades of mistakes I've learned from, I still have to make amends, apologize, repair the damage I've done during my lashing out. That said, bear in mind as well that these moments of rage binging are much scarcer than they were , say, twenty years ago. The point, I suppose , that knowing better is not enough.

But anger, being in a state of pique is seductive; quite suddenly, as the adrenaline flows and what had been a passing social glitch becomes a World View, the world gets smaller, I get larger, and all matters at hand and hidden, all business , entertainment, love and remorse become intertwined, connected, the world suddenly makes sense. The small irritations that had been collecting in the recesses of compartmentalized personality show their full fester at last and everything that one knows becomes a chain of related failures, betrayals, breakdowns, recriminations, all of which seem to be headed to one end, a single source for the source of the world's (nee my) discontents. It's much the same as being on a drug, and there is something awesome as one calms down and realizes the stress they'd just put themselves through--one wishes they could rage more and sustain the fleeting unity, but it is illusory. It's proof , for me a least, that my brain isn't my best friend when I've exhausted my wit.

What I've marveled at, though, is the associations that come to you when you've revved up your mind to function at the sharpest point of a perfect snit. Seamlessly, effortlessly, without resistance and without contradiction , you find yourself being like Hamlet equivocating brilliantly as he ponders a conspiratorial heaven that draws an ill map for him, or Lear, for that matter, going insane as he strips himself in the rain of the vestments of his power, real and symbolic, because the actual relationships so revealed to him are too much. It's poetry, the power to begin with the instance and utilize language to extend a psychology that places human worth below the philosophical certainty we might have been raised with.

Poet T.R.Hummer gets at this beautifully with his poem "Bad Infinity", a ram-rodding crash course of sensory overload that begins with a colonsocopy as a starting point and soon compresses the raw cycle the narrator speeds along:

During the colonoscopy, orbiting through twilight sleep,
***she felt, light-years distant in the interior darkness, a thump
And a dull but definite pain—as if someone were dragging,
***at the end of a rusty chain, a transistor radio through her body,
A small beige box with a gold grill, assembled by a child in southeast Asia
***in 1964—and she woke in groggy panic till the nurse made soothing noises
For her to sleep by, like a song in an alien language heard through static
***beamed from the far side of Arcturus: The Dave Clark Five's
"Glad All Over," maybe, tuned in by a boy in Thailand. Such a drug,
***the doctor said. Everything you feel you will forget.
Amen to that. Amen to plastic and silicon, amen to a living wage,
***amen to our tinny music, to the shrapnel in the IV drip,
Amen to the template of genes that keeps the body twitching
***and the wormhole in the gut of Orion I will slip through
When the chain breaks and the corroded battery bursts, its acids eating
***all the delicate circuitry that binds the speaker to the song.

Wonderfully done, powerfully done, this gets that state of helplessness as the subject, a woman under examination, feels the effects of the drug and the invasion o of her body, attempting to balance between a giving in to the process she's volunteered for and an attempt to maintain control, dignity, a small measure of power that couldn't robbed for her. Hummer has an ear for interesting coinages and odd juxtapositions , and understands the irrational references an addled thought process can take.

The probes feel like a cheap transistor radio playing a Dave Clark 5 song ironically called "Glad All Over" as the probes search for cancer cells,
and concludes, violently, hauntingly, with the tale of the imagined radio become personified and wearing out, the battery leaking acid, corroding the sheath that contains it. This language stream, equal parts brutal fact and drug enhanced delusion, combines what I hear is fear and anger meeting head on in equally forceful bursts, the result being something between acceptance and the last act of defiance . The beauty of it, of course, is that Hummer conveys this as a state one is currently in, with little in the way of set up, nor a clue as to what the post-examination results might be; this is not unlike walking into a room you thought was empty and finding someone in there alone, confessing secrets from some isolated area of their being to the shadows. Hummer makes us feel ill-at-ease and maybe a little as if someone had just walked over the spot where we'll eventually be buried. Or scattered. Not many writers do that for me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Poetry v Prose 2: another poem by T.R.Hummer

Years, another poem by the intriguing T.R.Hummer, continues that poet's fascination with the promises and evasions of prose , the language of certainity in an existence that adheres to no protocols that have been spelled out, literally. We could say that the best aspect of having a written language is the poetry that results in discovering that things and events are never as they've been described and defined.

Years ago, the story begins. Once.
In such-and-such a place, some season or other,
A stranger, two lovers, disaster.
She wants to close the book, but constellations
Of narrative structures interlock: gunfire
In the street, explosions at the embassy,
Betrayal, failure, decades of grinding hopelessness.
How long ago he died, his face pages vanished.
And she, dedicated reader, carries out sentence after sentence,
Her knowledge of the end complete, her execution certain.

The story begins and it never ends, as this tale and countless others like it are recast and retold; different actors, similar circumstances. Hummer gets ahead of the tedium that self-awareness of narrative form can create but chipping away at the didactic and getting to the good parts, the bits of unexpected circumstance that make a familiar narrative compelling, only they are not so unexpected. This poem might be a highlight reel, or someone fast-forwarding a favorite DVD for those scenes that resonates the most; the condensing of the particulars itself has an exhilarating effect. I think the last lines -- And she, dedicated reader, carries out sentence after sentence, / Her knowledge of the end complete, her execution certain -- because it suggests a pun, a reflection of the words we use to recount and recite a plot we know very well, and also something akin to a sentence one is fated to live through, to a willingly subscribed to circumvention of one's time where one's actions are plotted out in advance.It would seem to argue that we are only at ease using our own will power when we are secure in the belief that that we're constrained by a grand narrative where outcomes are premeasured and assured, despite our efforts to violate form. You are left to consider whether will power is an illusion in this instance, or if the violation of form is the disregard of the grand narrative and that we do have will power? As with the kind of ambivalence Hummer connects with for, the matter is slippery and does not rest either in or outside the distinctions; the boundaries are permeable.Will power, nee Free Will, exists indeed, and we live with the knowledge that we have the ability to go beyond implicit and tacit boundaries and create unpleasant consequences, but we chose not to. Most of us don't, in any case, and will use a sounder judgment. The majority of us wouldn't take a gun to traffic court to settle a dispute involving a ticket. This notion is something fluidly referred to as 'sanity', and there is a comfort knowing that one's fellow citizens stay within the boundaries. But there is ambivalence about those margins we stay within; there is an attraction to an existence where the Rule doesn’t apply. This seems a strong reason as to why we valorize and apologize for those artists, poets and writers we regard as artists, the usurpers of the norm. If they would otherwise be an unmannered assortment of louts.
Hummer's interest in written language as subject matter comes from the perception that human personality (in our culture at least) thrives on the notion that we're creative and groundbreaking creatures who can redefine themselves, as individuals, anytime it suits us, but that there is a virtually unspoken need to know that there are limits to how far we can stray from the script we're handed. It's knowing that we could break through the fourth wall and create all sorts of chaos for ourselves and our fellows , but that the host of us choose not too; we ascribe this to Free Choice, but for me Hummer has a darker theme, that of Fear Itself. The dread of an existence stripped of meaning, of limits, keeps us in check.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Poetry vs Prose

The Unwritten History of Prose by T.R.Hummer is a poem sussing through a variety of ambiguities about the competing provinces of Specialist Languages. The upshot of the poem is that the the jargon of each linguistic stronghold bleeds in the common parlance in a big way, one is left wondering, if they stepped back long and far enough from the tropes one routinely uses to discuss their life and their relations, that one's self-description of being-in-the-world is far more fractured than they thought. We are a species being, of course, but the conditions of behaviour and purpose are subject to tweaks and tunings from the experts--scientists, ministers, doctors, lawyers--who act, shall we say, in a profound spirit of self-interest. Whether it's enlightened or not depends on where you had your money invested, if you had money to start with.

Fitting that there is poem about prose, as a form, given the surfeit of stanzas about poetry or, more galling, poets talking about being poets. The difference is striking, and considering them, you can appreciate the reasoning poets, good ones, would consider themselves a stand in priesthood, the antenna of the race; poetry is the manifest destiny of the soul, an expansionist form that conspires, contrives , conflates the matters it chooses to deal with into a unified field theory of how the universe operates solely to make us feel a select schedule of moods. There is , perhaps, a theological assumption here, that just as there is a plan , with protocols, God intends for us to have in order to arrive, or not, at the off world point of this life--remember the phrase everything is exactly the way it ought to be in God's universe --poets treat the human experience as if were a fixed menu written in a language only they could read and order from; if crow was what they ordered, crow was what you ate.

Prose would be more concrete, pinpointed, appreciating the density of the concrete and the earthly essences that went in to making all these things adhere and form other things that are made by man; poetry is the tongue of God whispering his will into our ears, prose is the rumble and logical result following the fall from grace, a post- Babel of competing certainties , voices of conviction basing their expertise only in what can be measured, quantified, molded into a tool, a machine, a city of man made things, enterprise divorced from sacred intention, unmindful of consequences that cannot be felt until every enterprise is exhausted and each resource is depleted. Prose is the language of progress, capitalism, the rationale of moving on to the next thing , creating another catastrophe premised on unbound hubris.

I rather like this poem; it says prose is the medium with which we say "here I am, this is what I did, these are my explanations of my actions, my apologies for each and every failure." In the beginning there was the word , and in the end there will only the rubble of a civilization of things created from concepts those words delineated , and perhaps in the end there will be only the fragments of prose bits that survive, half-phrases, intriguing references and terms torn from context and historical fact, mysterious combinations of phrase that become, ironically, poetry all over again. A new Eden might yet arise, and we might yet again be a tribe collectively guessing the meaning and purpose of the sounds we make with the scraps of language set before us.