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Episode #203


Air date 00/00/00
Host: Gene Edwards
Guest(s): Beth Ann Fennelly, T. R. Hummer, James Kimbrell

"All speech is rhythmical. Poets just pay more attention to where the accents are," according to Beth Ann Fennelly. She joins T. R. Hummer and James Kimbrell at the Writers' roundtable as they ponder poetry. Gene Edwards hosts.



“There is a pleasure in the creation of rhythm and the creation of music,” says poet Beth Ann Fennelly, the Oxford author of three books of poetry.

T. R. Hummer agrees. “The music of speech is always close to what we do.” This Mississippi-born poet claims, “Obsession is the key.” He says he writes poetry because he must.

James Kimbrell adds that “what really constitutes talent is that sort of drive, that will to do it.” Also a Mississippi native, Kimbrell initially discovered poetry as a teenager when he was introduced to Edgar Allan Poe. Although young Kimbrell “wrote a lot of poems” and wanted to become a writer, he didn’t opt for poetry until his mother challenged him. “She was in some ways the ultimate poet’s mom.” In this episode of Writers, he reads one of his poems about her.

Hummer was in junior high when he was first read Poe. “It was for me an eye-opening experience,” he remembers. “We were assigned to read a couple of them in this one class and then I went off on my own and found others.” Hummer grew up outside of Macon, Mississippi, in the 1950s, and says that poetry “constituted a secret realm that belonged to me only.”

As an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, Fennelly took a poetry workshop. “And when I was in that class, I remember thinking it was like my whole life I wanted to swim and I didn’t know it until someone threw me off the pier.”

Fennelly found that she “wanted to write poems that captured the complexity instead of being sentimental about the act of motherhood.”

“Each poem comes on its own schedule,” she continues. “Sometimes I’ve gotten lucky and drafted something in a day, something that was pretty close to its finished stage. And other times, I’ve struggled with things. There’s a perplexing time frame.”

Kimbrell adds that “eight hours of work does not necessarily equal eight hours of product.” He jokingly likens writing to farming. “You’ve got your turnips over here and your cows over here and some days you need to take care of the cows and some days you need to take care of the turnips. They’re all growing in your absence,” he laughs. “But at any given day, you turn to the thing you feel the most passionate about, or the thing you’re most afraid of, or whatever it is where the energy is, and that’s what you work on.”

Poems sometimes teach themselves to T. R. Hummer. The author of 10 collections of poetry, some up to “40 pages in print,” is now writing much shorter verse. “I started doing that when I was editing magazines and just didn’t have the time, and I found suddenly that I liked short poems.”

Head of the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University, Hummer says that the poetry writing process cannot be taught. Fennelly, who teaches at the University of Mississippi, adds that “You can lead a student to be reading the right things.” And Kimbrell, who is on leave from Florida State, tries “to instill a passion for poetry.”

Fennelly calls teaching a moral act and says that poetry can enrich lives. “I think that reading poetry carefully teaches you to see clearly and only when you see clearly, can you think clearly, and only when you think clearly can you speak clearly, and only when you speak clearly can you effect political change.”


Beth Ann Fennelly

  • Unmentionables. W. W. Norton, 2008.
  • Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother. W. W. Norton, 2006.
  • Tender Hooks. W. W. Norton, 2004.
  • Open House. Zoo Press, 2002. A Different Kind of Hunger. Texas Review Press, 1998.

James Kimbrell

  • My Psychic,Sarabande Books, 2006.
  • Three Poets of Modern Korea: Yi Sang, Hahm Dong-Seon and Choi Young-Mi, a collection of translations from the Korean with Jung-Yul Yu, Sarabande Books, 2002.
  • The Gatehouse Heaven, Sarabande Books, 1998.

T. R. Hummer

  • The Muse in the Machine: Essays on Poetry and the Anatomy of the Body Politic, University of Georgia Press, 2006.
  • The Infinity Sessions, Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
  • Bluegrass Wasteland, ARC Publications, 2005.
  • Useless Virtues, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2001.
  • Walt Whitman in Hell: Poems, Louisiana State University Press,  1996.
  • The Unfeigned Word: Fifteen Years of New England Review, (Editor, with Devon Jersild),University Press of New England, 1993.
  • The Eighteen-Thousand-Ton Olympic Dream, Morrow, 1990.
  • Lower-Class Heresy, University of Illinois Press, 1987.
  • The Imagination of Glory: The Poetry of James Dickey, (Editor and author of introduction, with Bruce Weigl), University of Illinois Press, 1984.
  • The Passion of the Right-Angled Man, University of Illinois Press, 1984.
  • The Angelic Orders, Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
  • Translation of Light, Cedar Creek Press, 1976.

Beth Ann Fennelly

James Kimbrell

T. R. Hummer


Poetry links

Bill Moyers Journal

Contemporary American Poetry Archive

CAPA is an electronic archive designed to make out-of-print volumes of poetry available to readers, scholars, and researchers. The books are stored as individual text-only files accessible via the World Wide Web on the Internet.

The NewsHour Poetry Series

Funded by the Poetry Foundation, this series intends to engage a broader audience with poetry through a series of thoughtful, in-depth reports on contemporary poets and poetry.

Poetry Everywhere

Produced by WGBH Boston and David Grubin Productions, in association with the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Everywhere is designed to take a fresh look at poetry using
a variety of production approaches.

To help navigate the vast online poetry world, and find the most dependable and exhaustive sites, profiles a few of the most necessary sites for both aficionados and practitioners of poetry.

Poetry Sites

A collection of sites from the MIT Libraries

Resources for Poets

Online lectures, online poetry readings, articles on writing poetry, articles on reading poetry.

Winning Writers

Resources for poets and writers

Writers Write

Resources for poets.

Sun Ra

1950s Mississippi


Music in Mississippi


Click here for a complete list of teaching resources related to this episode.


To read excerpts of works by Beth Ann Fennelly, James Kimbrell, and T.R. Hummer, click on a title below.

Beth Ann Fennelly

James Kimbrell

T. R. Hummer



Producer: Edie Greene

Director: Rick Klein

Technical Director: Paul Miller

Cameras:  Earnest Seals

Mike Koskie

Kenny Sullivan

Clark Lee

Floor Director: Glenroy Smith

Production Audio: John Busbice

Ron Carbo

Taiwo Gaynor

CCU: Adam Chance

Videotape: Steve Downing

Location Videography: Jeremy Burson

Drew Stewart

Lighting Director: Kenneth Sullivan

Production Supervisor: Paul Miller

Editor: Edie Greene

On-line Editor: Larry Uelmen

Editing Supervisor: Scott Colwell

Art Director: Karen Wing

Makeup: Audrey Fitzpatrick

Title Animation and Graphics: Frank Cocke

Audio Post Production: Ron Carbo

Taiwo Gaynor

Closed Captioning: Keri Horn

Scenic Designers: Karen Wing

Jack Thomas

Frank Cocke

Kenneth Sullivan

Scenic Craftsman: Jack Thomas

Jimmy Thrasher

Ray Green

Announcer: Kevin Farrell

Production Coordinator: Glenroy Smith

Publicity: Mari Irby

Sam Wells

Kathy Broom

Webmaster: Thomas Broadus

Host:  Gene Edwards

Guests: T. R. Hummer

Beth Ann Fennelly

James Kimbrell

Director of Productions: Darryl Moses

Director of Content: Jay Woods                    

Executive Producer: Rick Klein

Special Thanks to

Columbus-Lowndes Public Library

Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Mississippi

Lemuria Books

Image of T. R. Hummer and family used by permission of T. R. Hummer. All rights reserved.

Image of men with hay used by permission of the Billups-Garth Archives at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. All rights reserved.

Image of used cars from the Marion Post Wolcott Collection, Library of Congress.

Image of school integration in Little Rock used by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. All rights reserved.

Images of Beth Ann Fennelly and family used by permission of Beth Ann Fennelly. All rights reserved.

Image of Baghdad used by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. All rights reserved.

Images of James Kimbrell and family used by permission of James Kimbrell. All rights reserved.

Image of Sun Ra and the Arkestra used by permission of Michael Wilderman/ All rights reserved.

“Discipline” from the album “Space is the Place” ©1972. Copyright implications: Used according to the Fair Use Doctrine.

Image of Eudora Welty used by permission of Eudora Welty House Museum. All rights reserved.


Created by

Gene Edwards

John Evans


Copyright © MAET 2009