Useless Virtues, T. R. Hummer’s seventh book of poetry, is a wide-ranging series of forays into metaphysical territory. Its presiding inquiry concerns the dependency of our consciousness and our spirit on the untrustworthy powers of language. How often and how deeply is our faith—in words, if not in gods—misplaced, destructive, glorious, redemptive? How can we know? This powerful collection is fueled by the desire to answer these impossible, indispensable questions.
The centerpiece of the book, Axis, takes as its terrain the thought of Martin Heidegger, and through this brilliant and controversial figure the nature of identity, of humanity, is contemplated. The poem is, finally, a lyrical farewell to the poet’s father and to his generation—the generation for which World War II was the great defining destiny—and hence to that century we called 19.
In these poems we find the almost sensual allure of direst possibility. From a woman who, during lovemaking, envisions strangling her lover, to a Pernod drinker whose dark imaginings recall the absinthe addicts of an earlier era—mortality and loss, as well as human failing, are hovering presences.
Philosophic and searching, traditional yet bold, Useless Virtues is the work of a master poet at his best.
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