Review Essay: Thomas Hummel’s “Letters & Buildings” and the Pleasures of Difficult Poetry


I love difficult poetry. It challenges reading itself as an endeavor and, thereby, meaning-making, imagination, voice, mood, psyche, even politics. And it can do so in an astonishing diversity of ways. One might, in fact, offer a typology of difficult poetry. Maybe a poem sends you over and over to the library, like Pound’s Cantos. Maybe it evades with an arrhythmia of syntax, like Berryman’s Dream Songs. Maybe it sloughs its lines off with seemingly little regard for a coherent sentiment, a voice of impulse and erasure, something like what John Ashbery does. Or maybe it simply overwhelms with language, with sound and light, like the poems of the wonderful contemporary poet, Joyelle McSweeney. The point is, difficult poems aren’t simply difficult; they are difficult in different kinds of ways.

And I’d like to argue that the poems in Thomas Hummel’s Letters & Buildings are difficult in one of the best kinds of ways, one that can elucidate why we ought ever to twist our faces over challenging lines.

Read the review essay at The Hairsplitter