The Muse in the Machine
Essays on Poetry and the Anatomy of the Body Politic

T. R. Hummer

America as a work of art in progress


"Every so often a book appears whose purpose is to reexamine something we all took for granted, but few artists have tailored such a compelling, readable, philosophical, and ultimately religious statement as T. R. Hummer’s The Muse in the Machine. It is an important American intellectual document."
—Dave Smith, Elliot Coleman Professor of Poetry, John Hopkins University

"T. R. Hummer is a splendid poet/editor/critic. He has an exceptional literary intelligence, and The Muse in the Machine is a book deep in the American grain. It should be essential reading for everyone who cares about the fate of literature in our troubled Republic."
—Edward Hirsch, President of the Guggenheim Foundation

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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.

Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft

Page count: 224 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


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T. R. Hummer, the editor of the Georgia Review, has also edited the New England Review and the Kenyon Review. His poetry collections include Walt Whitman in Hell, The Infinity Sessions, and Lower-Class Heresy.