Poet, critic, and editor T.R. Hummer was born in 1950 in Macon, Mississippi. He holds degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Utah, where he earned a PhD. Though his early work is reminiscent of Southern writers such as James Dickey, Hummer’s poetry considers a range of experiences and ideas. His interest in class, sexuality, music, and metaphysics shape collections such as Lower-Class Heresy (1987), The Eighteen-Thousand-Ton Olympic Dream (1990), Walt Whitman in Hell (1996), The Infinity Sessions (2005), and Ephemeron (2011).
Praised for its “startling imagery and lyrical descriptions” by Publisher’s Weekly, Hummer’s work is at once ironic, playful, and deadly serious. In the New York Quarterly, reviewer Amy Greacen noted that Hummer’s “is a mind that sees horror and humor, beauty and cruelty, without needing to polarize them. They coexist, each playing in its own time signature and following its own rules. Hummer’s a jazz buff… so it makes sense that he is drawn to syncopation, to blue notes, to abrupt changes in tempo, to modulation.” Hummer’s own view suggests some of the bleak irony undergirding his recent work: “We are thrown into the world, from where we do not know,” he told the Rumpus. “And we are going somewhere, where we do not know. And all our human drama falls in between.”
In addition to poetry, Hummer has published two books of criticism, The Muse in the Machine: Essays on Poetry and the Anatomy of the Body Politic (2006) and Available Surfaces (2012). With Bruce Weigl, he co-edited The Imagination of Glory: The Poetry of James Dickey (1984). Hummer has worked on numerous literary journals, including stints editing Quarterly West, the Cimarron Review, the Kenyon Review, the New England Review, and the Georgia Review. With Devon Jersild, he edited the anthology The Unfeigned Word: Fifteen Years of the New England Review (1993). An accomplished saxophonist, Hummer was a member of the blues group Little Ronnie and the Grand Dukes, playing on their album, Young and Evil, which was released by Planetary Records in 2001.
Hummer’s numerous honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and two Pushcart Prizes. He has taught at various institutions, including Kenyon College, Middlebury College, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Georgia-Athens, and Arizona State University, where he is Director of the creative writing program.
Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, assistant professor of English, 1980-84; Kenyon College, Gambier, OH, assistant professor of English, 1984-89; Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, assistant professor of English and editor of New England Review, 1989-93; University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, professor and director of M.F.A. program in creative writing, 1993-97; Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, senior poet, 1997-2001; University of Georgia, Athens, editor of Georgia Review and professor of English, 2001—. Visiting professor, Exeter College, England; writer in residence, University of California—Irvine.
- Translation of Light (poetry chapbook), Cedar Creek Press (Stillwater, OK), 1976.
- The Angelic Orders, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1982.
- The Passion of the Right-Angled Man, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1984.Lower-Class Heresy, University of Illinois Press, 1987.
- The Eighteen-Thousand-Ton Olympic Dream, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
- Walt Whitman in Hell: Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
- Useless Virtues, Louisiana State University Press, 2001.
- The Infinity Sessions, Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
- Ephemeron: Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 2011.
- The Muse in the Machine: Essays on Poetry and the Anatomy of the Body Politic, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2006.
- Available Surfaces: Essays, University of Michigan Press, 2012.
- (With Bruce Weigl) The Imagination of Glory: The Poetry of James Dickey, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1984.
- (With Devon Jersild) The Unfeigned Word: Fifteen Years of New England Review, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1993.
Contributor of poems to periodicals, including New Yorker, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, and Georgia Review. Also former associate editor and editor in chief of Quarterly West, 1979; editor of Cimarron Review, 1980-84, and Kenyon Review, 1984-89; contributing editor, Kenyon Review, 1989—, and Manoa: A Literary Journal of the Pacific Rim; former guest editor of Bread Loaf Quarterly.
- Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
- Kenyon Review, spring, 2000, David Baker, "Heresy and the American Ideal: On T.R. Hummer," p. 131.
- Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of The Eighteen-Thousand-Ton Olympic Dream, p. 59.