T.R. Hummer’s collection of essays, The Muse in the Machine, was “born of trouble: a troubled mind, a troubled art, troubled times,” he writes in the introduction. Not just his mind, art and times, he clarifies-the whole country is hurting.
Making sense of these troubled times is the quiet theme linking his essays on such diverse topics as poet Vachel Lindsay’s suicide, the National Endowment for the Arts, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, his native American south and the transcendence he finds in music. In his essays, Hummer offers both broader cultural commentary and intimate details from his personal life.
He also illustrates the very real importance that poetry-the genre for which Hummer is best known-holds for society.
“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,” he writes. “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.”