A Conversation with Christine Hume

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According to New York Times’ Book reviewer, Ken Kalfus, ” Saturation Project is sometimes elusive, but there’s no meaning in it that gets lost for long. When Hume’s thematic connections and redemptive insights arrive, it’s with the force of a hurricane.

(New York Times, 2/14/2021.)

By Christina-Marie Sears

Christine Hume is an acclaimed poet, essayist and sound poet. Her work, and the range of her work is exceedingly diverse, spanning critical pieces, reviews, sound poems, essays and poetic texts- her skill in all of these forms is certainly impressive. Hume’s voice is well-defined and distinctive. Saturation Project is packed with evocative nuance, sensory detail, philosophical interrogations of selfhood, woman’s identity, and cultural and material practices of generation, survival, and innovation. This writer has had the privilege of study with Prof. Hume for two courses while at EMU’s dynamic Creative Writing Program. In the course, Community Outreach for the Creative Writer, which is a degree requirement, we Graduate Students had the opportunity to soak in Hume’s broad and inclusive ideas about how to sustain a writing practice which includes sociability and interconnection with others. In the incredible Auto-Theory Workshop, we studied such fascinating writers as Saidiya Hartman, Kiese Laymon and Maggie Nelson. The conversations, book discussions and cozy informal lectures, along with Prof. Hume’s incisive and interdisciplinary articulations of literary theory, promoted scholarship and disciplinary knowledge for all the writers. The memories we made in Prof Hume’s classes will impact me always.

Cover of Hume’s new book of Essay/Memoir Saturation Project, Solid Objects Press, NYC.

Therefore, I am pleased and proud that we had the opportunity to discuss Saturation Project through email interview on February 26th. Without further ado, here are some of the key points of our discussion.

I notice that the prose style in your book is very poetic. It flows smoothly and there’s lots of detail (sonic, visual, proprioceptive) that feels poetic to me. Is this an essential component of lyricism, in your view?

I am fascinated with the sonic magic of language wherever I find it. Sound has privileged access to the nerves; it hits the skin, blood, bones, viscera, subconscious more directly than visual information or maybe any other kind of sensory input. Running our senses over and into language, existing within its rhythms and acoustic structures immerses us in a specialized intelligence. G.M. Hopkins thought that words were alive and sought out like-sounding words in order to enrich and perpetuate them. Their desire for permanence or their insistence on excess was palpable to him. Like Hopkins, I believe the sonic links in words are secret pathways that hold mysterious powers, occult resonances, and understandings we can’t access any other way. There are rhythms that hold everything we know and understand together and others that destroy orthodoxies and conventional thought. Memory, too, has an intense relationship to sound, repetition and rhythm that writing can mine. The sounds of language can lead us in unexpected and previously unknown places.

Do you consider yourself a poet who branches out into memoir and essay writing? Or vice-versa?

It’s a great question, and I just talked about this in a couple other recent interviews, for Pulp, the official blog of the Ann Arbor District Library, and for ZYZZYVA. Luckily, at EMU, the Creative Writing program does not require generic fidelity. We embrace experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to writing! We embrace fluidity among generic (read: gendered) labels!

When you are working with such personal material, how do you cope with difficulties along the way? Do you find your mood is impacted by touching such material, especially when there has been significant trauma behind the events?

One thing that surprised me about the review of Saturation Project in The New York Times is how focused it was on the trauma and more salacious aspects of the book, which to my mind are integrated into a larger story. It also puzzles me when people use words like “brave” and “courageous” to describe writing about trauma as though a normal person would have the good sense not be traumatized or would hide their trauma, stuff it down into dark “private” places and not publish it. It’s that kind of shame culture that greases the wheels of the traumatizers and locks everyone in their path in a private hell. 

How many drafts do your books generally go through before publication?

Countless. I have heard of writers who have a kind of base minimum number of drafts—one I’m thinking of particularly came to my class and talked about the 9th draft as being the crucial one—but the process of revising is not so distinct for me; it’s a constant wash of returning and experimenting. I think counting drafts would be depressing or at the very least a pointless form of accounting and accumulating. One of the reasons that this particular book had so many drafts and versions, that it required a lengthy process, is that I wanted the essays to do something together that they did not do on their own. I talk about this at Hypertext.

Do you have any writing blogs or books about writing essay that you recommend?

I think you learn best by studying the essays you love, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. Three classics that both perform and address ideal conditions for the essay that I love are Emerson’s “The Poet,” Adorno’s “Essay as Form,” and Cixous “The Laugh of the Medusa.” I usually begin my essay class with these along with Montaigne, who coined the term “essay” and brought a rich inner life to an intensely empirical sensibility. 

Finally, how long did you work on Saturation Project? Did you have times when it lay dormant?

By far the longest, most radically transforming book I’ve ever worked on. I wrote each chapter as distinct essays, but they longed to be together (see Hopkins above). The process was truly a saturation, where I tried to soak each piece in the language, ideas, images, off-shoots, sounds, and affective states of the others over the course of at least five years. The beginning was much earlier though: Seneca Review published a nascent version of “Ventifacts” in 2011—a full decade before Saturation Project saw the light of day. An interview that accompanied the essay publication shows clearly—though I hadn’t quite realized it at the time—that I was far from done with it. I also had a very extended version of “Atalanta,” which was really two essays—one of which became my chapbook, A Different Shade for Each Person Reading the Story (which I have revised, as part of another manuscript, since the chapbook came out!). I first had to break that piece free from “Atalanta,” a weirdly painful process. 

EMU’s CW students’ public collaboration makes national news

Hats off to undergrads Sam Schimmel, Eric Corliss, Karen Thompson, Taylor Cyr, and Garret Stralnic from Christine Hume’s “Collaboration and Community Projects” and Linette Lao’s “Mixed Media” classes! Their work has received national attention in the New York Daily News. The members were from the collaborative group known as Operation Mongoose 2012 whose public work urges a remembrance of books and bookstores as a declining animal in our increasingly virtual world of books.

 

CRTW Faculty Releases: Ventifacts and Open Box

CRTW Faculty Carla Harryman and Christine Hume both released new book/CD combos earlier this year.  Check them out if you haven’t already:

Ventifacts by Christine Hume (Omnidawn)

 

Ventifacts begins the year Christine Hume’s daughter develops a wind phobia, but quickly blows into lyric investigations of the wind in art, politics, and literature, highlighting the currents between imaginary relations and physical conditions.

http://www.omnidawn.com/hume/index.htm

 

 

Open Box by Jon Raskin and Carla Harryman (Tazdik)

Three years in the making, Open Box is one of the most exciting and successful collaborations of poetry and music ever made. With meticulous attention to detail, Jon Raskin has set the genre-busting poetry of Carla Harryman to music ranging from rock and metal to jazz and free improv. As radical as the writing, the music is brilliantly arranged, and interacts with the texts in a variety of dynamic ways. Each track is a world of its own, and moves forward with a focus and direction unprecedented in music/poetry collaborations. Featuring Raskin’s all star west coast quartet, and the poet herself reading from some of her most cutting edge works, this is music-poetry at its very best.

http://www.tzadik.com/index.php?catalog=7639

Christine Hume and Catherine Wagner: The Woodward Line, April 18

Catch EMU Creative Writing Professor Christine Hume with Catherine Wagner when they read at The Woodward Line – a free poetry series at The Scarab Club in Detroit – on Wednesday, April 18, at 7:00 p.m.

The  Scarab Club is located at 217 Farnsworth in Detroit.

Christine Hume is the author of three books and two chapbooks: Musca Domestica (Beacon Press 2000); Alaskaphrenia (New Issues 2004); Lullaby: Speculations on the First Active Sense, a chapbook and CD (Ugly Duckling Presse 2008); Shot (Counterpath Press 2010), and Ventifacts (Omnidawn 2012). She is coordinator of the interdisciplinary Creative Writing Program at Eastern Michigan University.

Catherine Wagner’s books include Nervous Device, forthcoming from City Lights in 2012; My New Job (Fence, 2009), Macular Hole (Fence, 2004), Miss America (Fence, 2001). Her work has been anthologized in the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry, Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America and the UK (second edition), Gurlesque, Poets on Teaching, Starting Today, Best of Fence, Best American Erotic Poems and elsewhere. She is associate professor of English at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Get more info about The Woodward Line on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Dzanc Books Dis|Quiet, July 1-13, 2012

Interested in exploring writing through workshops and lectures in Lisbon, Portugal next summer?  Visit http://disquietinternational.org/ and find out more about Dis|Quiet, the Dzanc Books International Literary Program.  (There is also information about how to apply for the International Literature Award.) Faculty and guests will include EMU Professor Christine Hume.

Additional funding is available for EMU students.  For details, e-mail Prof. Hume at chume @ emich.edu.

Wayne Westcott reviews Julie Patton and Creative Writing Faculty BathHouse readings

Two more reviews to wrap up the semester…EMU student Wayne Westcott reviews a couple BathHouse readings from this past Fall:

JULIE PATTON
I first met Julie Patton while escorting her to the bathroom.  I have a thing about bathrooms.  I hate them.  They make me feel awkward in my own skin, and if there’s ever someone else in the bathroom, well I can forget about going to the bathroom.  

On the way to said bathroom, I began talking to her about higher education, art, writing, etc.  Everything about her demeanor made me feel like ’it will all be ok’ somehow.  By the time we reached the bathroom, I was relaxed, I was excited, I was giddy like a damn school girl getting her first Hello Kitty lunch box.  Julie Patton was already influencing me.  She was already in my head.

I mention all this, because I feel the need to expose my feelings before going to her reading at the Sponberg Theater in November, as part of the BathHouse Reading Series.  I went into Julie Patton’s reading an absolute fan of Julie Patton as an overall human being.

So on that November night, when Patton began crawling around on stage, as well played guitar sounds mixed and mingled with her words, I was hooked.  I didn’t understand it, but I loved it.  It was organic(hate that word), it was sensual, it was cool and hip and shit like that.  Most of all though, it was just plain fun.

There was a tremendous sense of improvisation, and every time it seemed to work in Patton’s favor.  Things such as having the audience communally play various instruments together, began to make me think about my writing.  More than that, they made me think about the ‘performance’ of my work.  I started thinking, what can I do to make my work seemingly come to life like she does.

When her performance ended, I was left sitting there, worn out by so much energy being given and taken from Patton.  I wanted to ask her if I could come with her.  Go back to the building she shares with other cast-aways and persons on the fringe of society.  I didn’t ask though, because at the end of the day, that world is hers, not mine.  

After seeing Patton perform, I realized I have to create my own world.  I have to surround myself with positive like-minded individuals.  I need to try and be more organic (still hate that word).


CREATIVE WRITING FACULTY
I have to be honest.  I wasn’t quite sure how the night would go when walking to Sponberg Theater for the fall semesters first BathHouse Reading Series performance.  These were the people I would taking advice and instruction from at a graduate level for at least the next two years.  These were the people who would be shaping and influencing my writing the most for the time being.  Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

Christine Hume’s performance took me by surprise.  She engaged the audience by including a sort of ‘sound track’ created for the work.  This really added to the work.  It created an atmosphere that really took the work further.  I think for about a week after that, I kept hearing an odd voice saying ’fisting’ at random moments.  That’s when I knew that her performance had really stuck with me.

Carla Harryman’s performance shocked me in a good way.  Her work had language engaged playfulness that I was used to, but in no way put off by.  In particular, her reading from the title Baby had a lasting effect on me.  The way the text seemed to be chewing on words, it was just a great feeling to hear from the author herself.

Then, taking the stage, was Rob Halpern.  Rob was the faculty member I knew absolutely the least about.  I truly didn’t know what to expect from him.  Rob took me by surprise with a type of intensity I had forgotten could be a part of readings.  His language was shocking in a sense that it was unexpected, and that the way it was used and delivered, almost inoffensive.

Overall, the faculty reading really started the BathHouse Reading Series off with  some bang.  It was a reading that made me think about my influences and what I would gain from being at Eastern.  Needless to say, I’m excited to be here.  This reading was just a refreshing assurance of the confidence I have in the education I will be receiving here.

Christine Hume on WCBN 88.3 FM today, 4:30 p.m.

WCBN logo

EMU Professor Christine Hume will appear on “Living Writers” on WCBN FM Ann Arbor 88.3 (also available for streaming http://www.wcbn.org/) today,  Wednesday, Dec 15, from 4:30-5:30 pm EST.  Tune in and listen!

Catch “Living Writers” on Wednesday every week and hear poets and writers read from their work and talk about their passions and preoccupations with host T Hetzel.

Aaron Diehl reviews and CRTW Faculty and Julie Patton BathHouse readings

EMU student Aaron Diehl offers up two reviews of BathHouse readings from this past semester:

CREATIVE WRITING FACULTY
On October 29th, I wandered down to Sponberg Theatre to catch the EMU faculty reading. The performers for the evening were Rob Halpern, Christine Hume, and Carla Harryman.

Christine Hume opened the night with selections from her book Shot. She did an interesting hybrid performance of sound and spoken word. The prerecorded material was played from her laptop, and included ambient noises and a double of her voice reading the piece. I thought it was very successful, as it added a bit of surprise and energy. It was also impeccably executed, as she kept her reading in time with the recording. I was impressed.

Carla Harryman was second, and was probably my favorite performance. She seemed extremely comfortable and confident on stage, and also appeared to be having a lot of fun. Her piece was about a baby, and it was very humorous and enlightening. It was basically a baby thinking way beyond his years. I liked it.

Rob Halpern was third, and read a few pieces, all of which were very sexually charged. Very dark and sometimes disturbing, they dealt with sex and violence. The first piece he read was about a soldier and it was very powerful. He had an odd presence on stage, moving his legs as if he was marching and staggering his speech in awkward increments. He was very successful in a disturbing sort of way.


JULIE PATTON
Julie Patton’s performance on November 9th was very interesting. I go into these reading not knowing what to expect, as they tend to be very diverse. This performance was certainly unique.Julie had an extremely loose demeanor on stage. She was aided by a guitarist, who added an ambient, melodic texture behind her powerful voice. She did not let her writings hold her back on stage, choosing to read what she wanted and riff off the top of her head when she thought necessary. She basically spoke free form, playing with language and sound flawlessly. She was like a combination of singer and poet, with a major focus on the sound of words.At the end of her performance, she pulled out a bunch of instruments and had several people from the audience come up front and just bang away. They made a considerable racket. She danced along and loved every minute of it.

Her performance was inspiring to witness because she was entirely genuine and heartfelt about what she was doing on stage. Very intelligent, interesting, and honest.

Jessica Buterbaugh reviews CRTW faculty BathHouse and Jeff Kass readings

EMU student Jessica Buterbaugh reviews a Jeff Kass reading and the faculty BathHouse reading from this past semester:

CREATIVE WRITING FACULTY
The first BathHouse Reading of the semester on the 29th of Sept. in Sponberg Theater was the faculty reading with Christine Hume, Carla Harryman, and Rob Halpern. Each faculty member had a distinct style and subject matter that enabled the audience to get a good idea of the talents of the creative writing department.Hume started the night off with a selection of her works mixed with audio tracks.  The soundtrack, which was made for her work and sometimes incorporated actual phrases from it, was an interesting device. It enhanced the overall mood of the language she was using. I particularly enjoyed her piece where she talks about a recurring dream she’s had all her life.Harryman gave the next performance, which was based on “working non-narratively”. She made ample use of repeated words,  alliteration, rhyming, and sound reiteration. Much of her work had a driving, almost frenetic quality to it. It made the times she slowed down stand out that much more. “Baby” was particulary interesting, and featured several phrases that caught my attention, like “regression was a word that gave babies a bad rap”. It was a fascinating look at life/society through the eyes of Baby.

Halpern was the only one of the three that I hadn’t had a class with, so I was very interested to see what his work would be like. Intensely personal are the words that immediately come to mind when describing his reading. Though I sometimes found the eroticism of his work to be a little overwhelming, it was a very moving and engaging reading.

Overall, the faculty reading was a success and had a good turn-out. It was amusing hearing people talk next to me who had no idea what they were about to hear before the reading started, as well as their reactions afterward. I felt like I was able to learn more about the personality of the faculty members outside of the classroom through their writing and performances.


JEFF KASS
Jeff Kass’ performance of Wrestle the Great Fear on Sept 15th in the Student Center auditorium was highly energetic, motivational, and fun. He tackled hard issues that his high school students face, and that the adults who work with and mentor them face. He remarked in the performance that he’s “trying to be the teacher he never had” for his students. His performance included videos, songs, recitations, anecdotes, and physical performances. His subject matter, while centered around a high school enviroment, ranged from the serious to the slightly risqué, to the flat-out silly.

It was extremely moving to hear him talk about his wonderful, amazing, so talented, so creative student named Angel. A student who had lost her mother, but made it into a strength for herself, and who wrote and performed poetry so well that he wished he never had another student like her because it was too hard. Later in the show there was a video montage of various students of his performing their pieces and Angel on that video is just as amazing, raw, and powerful as Jeff Kass describes her. It was no surprise to me that many of the questions in the Q&A session afterward focused on her.

I loved the video of the piece of gum in the girl’s mouth. I thought it was clever to have a piece of gum narrating its experience insider her mouth as a way to bring up teenage attractions, hormones, and feelings. The nerd song was also very hilarious and entertaining. I liked his view on nerds, that anyone who is extremely dedicate and/or good at something, anything, is a nerd. It was particularly amusing when he called Michael Jordan a nerd, and Steven Spielburg a super nerd. The fact that it was a song only made it more memorable.

He kept the audience captivated the entire show and was truly engaging. I regretted that it was not the full performance, because what I saw was so powerful (and funny!) that I wanted to see more.

Kylie Hoey reviews Creative Writing faculty BathHouse reading

EMU student Kylie Hoey reviews the EMU Creative Writing faculty’s BathHouse reading that took place earlier this semester:

At the first Bathhouse Reading, faculty from the creative writing program at Eastern read some of their works for us.  Christine Hume was the first of the three readers.  She read primarily from her published work Shot.  All of her poems were accompanied with a soundtrack consisting of sounds, music, and words, both the poem being repeated and words that set the mood of the poem.  The poem I remember the most was “Soggy Muff,” based off of a name in a piece written by Dr. Suess.  This piece talks about how sleep, death, and laziness are inferior to wakefulness.  Hume’s reading was timed well with her background sounds; when the sounds increased in speed and volume, Hume followed suit.  She finished her reading with “I Exhume Myself,” a poem that is supposed to be a play on her last name.

Hume was followed by Carla Harryman.  She began with “Light Poem,” which seemed to consists only of quickly reciting random words and phrases.  This piece reminded me of the play we read in class, “Not I.”  Harryman said that she was trying to repeat the style of another writer, but I did not catch the name.  She finished her reading with many selections from her book Baby.  These pieces got me thinking about what point of view the poems were being narrated from.  Some seemed to be describing the world from the point of a human baby, while others could never make sense from that angle.  I really enjoyed a quote from one of the last bits she read:  “Teenagers are the most mature beings on earth.”  This thought makes me laugh inside, but also think in a different way.

The reading was concluded by Rob Halpern, the newest member of the creative writing faculty.  He began reading “Love Song to My Fallen Soldier” from his work-in-progress book Music for Porn.  The piece made me wonder if the voice was a gay soldier, but I could not decide by the end.  Halpern then read from another of his books that mostly focused on intimate longing.  The thematic elements of this book seem to focus on war and love.  A lot of repetition occurs within the poems and throughout the book.  It did not sound as if a lot of the pieces were titled; this reminded me of A Season in Hell by Rimbaud.  Overall, the reading was enlightening and exposed me to different kinds of writing.