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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) Paperback – April 25, 2006


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Product Details

  • Series: The Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820327972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820327976
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,912,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What is poetry for? More broadly, what function does art play in our world? These are the questions that animate these essays, which form an extended meditation on the role of art in an advanced civilization. Hummer poses answers that involve not only art but conscience. The essays were written over the last decade and a half and are all presented in an immediate and thoughtful style. Two of the essays, " 'Sen-Sen,' Censorship, Obscenity, Secrecy: Slapping the Face of the Body Politic" and "Ex Machina: Reading the Mind of the South," especially rise above the specific situations that inspired them—the controversy over NEA funding in the early 1990s and W.J. Cash's classic The Mind of the South, respectively—to deliver insightful consideration of dilemmas that are still with us today. At the heart of Hummer's project lies the injunction to the American superpower of which the author (editor of the Georgia Review) is a part: "if language is the flesh of the body politic... we all had better watch very carefully indeed what we say, and beware of where it goes." (Apr. 25)
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Review

"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


"Against the poor ministrations of our republic through the ignorant workings of intellectual and political tyrannies, we have now to counterpose T.R. Hummer's The Muse in the Machine, a valiant and prophetic book of fulminating critique and spirited insight. These literary essays emerge out of a mind schooled not only in the liberal imagination called for by Lionel Trilling, but also inspired by an ethics of the suffering rather than a morality of the privileged. And, while their author can level a harsh lens of examination on the literary and political cultures of the South, he claims not innocence but a troubled complicity in his own Mississippi upbringing in the grand, searching autobiographical accountings of 'Ex Machina,' a central essay. This is a book to place beside Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass rather than John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, as it takes its stand not in a false bucolic past, but in the freed lands of American potential."--Garrett Hongo, Distinguished Professor of the College of Arts & Sciences, University of Oregon


"A tidy summary of the conflict between the Muse of personal creativity and the Machine of social structure."--Three Penny Review


"[These] essays were written over the last decade and a half and are all presented in an immediate and thoughtful style. Two of the essays, 'Sen-Sen,' Censorship, Obscenity, Secrecy: Slapping the Face of the Body Politic' and 'Ex Machina: Reading the Mind of the South,' especially rise above the specific situations that inspired them—the controversy over NEA funding in the early 1990s and W.J. Cash's classic The Mind of the South, respectively—to deliver insightful consideration of dilemmas that are still with us today. At the heart of Hummer's project lies the injunction to the American superpower of which the author . . . is a part."--Publishers Weekly


"Having faced a collapse of faith in the face of American realpolitik, Hummer, in this book of essays, articulately examines the role of the poet, the imaginator, during a time when bullies predominate . . . Marked with urgency, Hummer’s essays demand a cultural reevaluation of attitudes toward the language, imagination, and citizenship."--ForeWord

More About the Author

T. R. Hummer was born in Macon, Mississippi in 1950; he grew up in rural Noxubee County on a farm. Because noxubee is a Choctaw word meaning "stinking waters," he spent most of his high school career playing the saxophone in various rock and roll bands and avoiding the "education" local circumstances dictated. As fate would have it, he found his way to the University of Southern Mississippi and the Center for Writers, where he studied with Gordon Weaver and D. C. Berry, receiving his B.A. in 1972 and his M.A. in 1974. He then spent three years living in Jackson, where he worked for the Mississippi Arts Commission, spied circumspectly on his neighbor Eudora Welty when she shopped for groceries at the nearby Jitney Jungle, and stood by helplessly while his first daughter, Theo, was born by caesarian section (his first book, Translation of Light--a limited edition chapbook from Cedar Creek Press--arrived in the mail on the day of her birth).

In 1977, he lit out for the territories, to study with Dave Smith at the University of Utah; there he was editor of Quarterly West in 1979. He completed his Ph.D. in 1980 and took his first academic post in the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University, where he was poetry editor of The Cimarron Review. During these years, he rediscovered the saxophone and played western swing and country rock with The Skinner Brothers Band, who after his departure did a stint as Garth Brooks' backup band. 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) were published, and in 1984 he relocated to Kenyon College; there, after a year in the Kenyon-Exeter Program in England and visiting positions at Middlebury College (where he guest edited New England Review) and the University of California at Irvine, and having again abandoned the saxophone, he became editor of The Kenyon Review. In 1987, Lower-Class Heresy was published by University of Illinois, and in 1989 he returned to Middlebury as editor of New England Review.

1990 marked the appearance, and disappearance, of The 18,000-Ton Olympic Dream, which, having been acquired and brought into print by William Morrow, went out of print almost immediately. Bemused by this, Hummer applied for, and received, a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry and relocated to the University of Oregon in 1993, where he directed the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing, completed and published Walt Whitman in Hell (LSU Press 1996) and again took up the saxophone, which now he began to study with cabalistic fascination, secure in the knowledge that he would never learn to play the thing properly.

In the fall of 1997--after a hiatus of exactly twenty years--he returned to the South, where he became Senior Poet in the M.F.A. Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, a city he found so congenial that he remarried, wrote another book of poetry (Useless Virtues, LSU Press 2001), and stood by helplessly while his second daughter, Jackson, was born by caesarian section. Up until Jackson's birth, he had played tenor and baritone saxophone in the Richmond-based jump blues band Little Ronnie and the Grand Dukes (Young and Evil, Planetary Records 2001), but he was so elated by the symmetry of events that he left the band (with regret and apologies), took yet another new position, and became editor of The Georgia Review. This necessitated moving even farther south, to the University of Georgia in Athens with his wife Stephanie, his daughter Jackson (Theo refused to come, having interests of her own to attend to), three cats, and five saxophones, none of which he will ever properly learn to play. Then, having finally seen the light, he relocated to Arizona State University, to teach, write, and play long tones at the desert moon.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David L. Rutledge on June 15, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This brilliant collection of essays by T.R. Hummer is intelligent, challenging, and a joy to read! For poets and devotees of poetry this is essential reading. Hummer strikes an amazingly wide range of emotional chords here. He can be sidesplittingly funny one moment and profoundly serious the next. But he is always right on point. Hummer's knowledge of poetry, fiction, the essay, philosophy, politics, and the entire cultural milieu of modern America is simply astonishing. There is more education within these pages than in most college courses and more entertainment than in an entire season of The Daily Show.
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