Brenda Mann Hammack is an Associate Professor of English at Fayetteville State University where she teaches seminars in: creative writing; contemporary poetry; children’s literature; women’s studies; nineteenth-century British literature and culture. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous literary journals, including Gargoyle Magazine, Caveat Lector, Toad Suck Review, A capella Zoo, Mudlark, Arsenic Lobster, The North Carolina Literary Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Pedestal, Steampunk Magazine, and Bull Spec. Dr. Hammack has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize on three occasions. Her scholarly articles can be found in SEL, Mosaic, and Victorian Hybridities: Cultural Anxiety and Formal Innovation, edited by U.C. Knoepflmacher and Logan D. Browning. An essay on the illustrated books of Reif Larsen and Umberto Eco is forthcoming in Interfictions Zero. She also teaches online poetry workshops at the Rooster Moans Poetry Collective.
The Humbug—what is it? A delightful creature? A misshapen mash-up leading to odd adventure? A Dickensian mis-imagining? Brenda Hammack has created in Humbug a macabre, oddly charming and disturbingly odd story. Something between a novella in verse and a poem with prose interludes.
The humbug and his human companion Victorine escape from a house of small horrors created by a mage of sorts and his female counterpart, a medium with migraine and multiple bottled still-born babes. The medium is also Victorine’s mother, at least in name. As a hob and gargoyles come to life and inhabit a neo-Victorian world that appears to be part Dickens, part Lewis Carroll, with generous dashes of Beardsley and Belloc, the verse weaves and dodges from brilliant rhymes toward couplets, free verse, and then prose, creating a metrical tour de force that will engage the skeptical even in the face of Ouija boards, mesmerism, and mediums. A must-read for neo-Victorians, steampunk lovers, and connoisseurs of the occult who have a sense of humor. –Mary Ellis Gibson
In poems that “tease reality” in their conflation of scholarship and fabulae, Brenda Mann Hammack draws on and subverts the conventions of late 19thcentury British literary tradition in her rendering of Victorine, “a child who won’t die, won’t grow old,” and her companions, including gargoyles and “a bird crossed with a cat,” whose creation is “not contingent on God.” Playful, surreal, brilliant in its darkly luminous habitations in which spirits are given meaning, Humbug is craftily wrought and eerily pleasurable. –Michael Waters
The thing I have loved most, from first reading and through subsequent visits, about these poems is the way one is drawn into who Victorine is and how she feels. Her moods become rooms. Her companions are places as much as people. Time stops and sits a spell, whether for delight, horror, or fascination. If you remember losing a day in a square yard’s worth of grass and twigs and earth and pebbles, with ants and dragonflies for company; or, more recently, you’ve warded yourself against the flat cold of a winter’s day with only a hot cuppa and your favorite woolens; then I feel the enchantment in these poems will be well worth whiling away the day down into evening. –Dan Campbell