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.