Book Review: Skandalon


The first thing that struck me about Skandalon, T.R. Hummer’s latest collection of poetry, was the title. I mean, what on earth is a skandalon? So, as with most things in life, I turned to Google for the answer, and as it turns out, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “skandalon” as both a “snare for an enemy” and a “cause of moral stumbling.” It comes from the Koine Greek, occurs fifteen times in the New Testament, and is the origin of the modern word “scandal.” At the time, this newfound knowledge did little to inform my understanding of the collection, but upon finishing Skandalon, the title makes a strange kind of sense. Ultimately, Hummer’s Skandalon is all of the things that the OED says a skandalon should be: ensnaring and difficult and immoral and sacred and scandalous and revelatory—and completely worth the read.

T.R. Hummer is the winner of the Donald Justice Award, presented by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and will be a guest writer at this year’s SouthWord on November 3 and 4. Clearly, this award was well-deserved, as Hummer’s poetic skill comes out full force in Skandalon. He has the uncanny ability to render the sacred vulgar and the vulgar, sacred: one of the most memorable poems in the collection elevates a woman talking to her lover on her Bluetooth headset to Mary, Martha's sister, bathing Jesus’s feet in perfume, while another poem reduces Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous raven to a ventriloquist’s dummy squawking “Nevermore!” on the corner of Broadway in New York City. Throughout the collection, Hummer forces his readers to examine the commonplace—war, sex, plane rides—in unique and surprising ways. His poems are cynical, often prophesying doom, yet they are also defiantly hopeful, clinging to tattered shreds of hope wherever they can be found. Skandalon is an eye-opening piece of literature, enigmatic yet ultimately rewarding.

T.R. Hummer is the author of ten books of poetry. He was born and raised in Mississippi, and he will be appearing as a guest writer at SouthWord on November 3 and 4. More information can be found at www.southernlitalliance.org.

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