February 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 32°F

Life & Culture

Poetry provides junior with creative and emotional outlet

Junior Robert Hummel sits, nestled in a comfy, gray armchair inside the Peggy Ryan Williams building, overlooking a balcony blanketed with glistening white snow and a spectacular view of Cayuga Lake and the surrounding area. Hummel said he remembers a time when he was with his grandfather in the same spot, where he pointed out the extraordinary view to him. Along with his maternal grandparents and his mother, Hummel names his grandfather as one of the dedicatees in his first published book, “Veronica, Daughter.”

A cinema and photography major from Hershey, Pennsylvania, Hummel’s first book, “Veronica, Daughter,” was published through AuthorHouse and came out in May 2014. A collection of prose and poetry written in his home and in college over the course of a few months between the summer and fall of 2013, Hummel called the book an emotional biopsy, and said the poems weren’t written with the idea of a published book in mind.

“The book sort of came around quietly and without expectation,” he said. “So I guess that’s one good thing about the book is the poems weren’t written self-consciously like that, and so it retains a certain sort of emotional honesty that I might’ve tampered if I had written them thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to actually give this to the public.’”

Despite already being a published poet at the age of 20, Hummel only began writing poetry two years ago when he first came to college and discovered it as another form of emotional expression. While poetry was at first a diary entry for him, Hummel said putting his works into the public sphere beginning in Fall 2012 through Buzzsaw Magazine, Ithaca College’s independent magazine, and receiving positive feedback influenced him to become serious about the craft.

“I sort of threw caution to the wind,” Hummel said. “If I hadn’t had that kind of feedback, then I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to keep pursuing it.”

Growing up, Hummel’s passion for writing was influenced by constantly reading any type of literature he could get his hands on. However, Hummel recalled a single experience in the eighth grade that jumpstarted his passion to become a writer. Hummel said he met with Colette Silvestri, a teacher at Hershey High School, and with her help wrote a short, 10-minute play over the course of a few months. To his surprise, Silvestri gathered a group of high school students to bring his play to life months later.

“To invest that much time in one story and to see it in that third dimension, I think, changed everything,” he said. “I think it saved my life. I think if I didn’t have that outlet for creative expression and that safe space for creative expression in high school, I’m not sure where I would be now or what I would’ve ended up doing. I doubt I would’ve been writing.”

Silvestri, who continues to be part of the high school’s Gifted Support Program, acted as a mentor to Hummel while he was in high school. As a student in the high school’s arts and technology program, WIREworks, Silvestri said Hummel always wrote, and learned how to handle criticism and rewrite his works through her workshops.

“He was always a little quirky, he was always a little humorous,” she said. “He thought like a little adult. It was pretty neat. He was always busy pursuing to find new opportunities to write.”

Hummel is heavily involved with several student publications and organizations on campus. He is a lead poetry editor for Stillwater Magazine, the pros and cons editor for Buzzsaw Magazine and vice president for Film Fervor Magazine.

Junior Gabriella DeGennaro, lead fiction editor for Stillwater Magazine, said Hummel’s passion for poetry, as well as his experience with the process of publishing a book, contributes to his strong skills as an editor.

“He’s a really easy person to work with, he listens, he’s really passionate about what he does,” DeGennaro said. “[Stillwater] got 150, or even more, poetry submissions, and he was super thrilled about it. I feel like any other person would almost groan a little bit … but he seemed really excited for the opportunity to read all of them, which I think is really important.”

As an editor for Buzzsaw and Stillwater, Hummel receives fiction and poetry submissions from students and often works together with them on editing these pieces. He said this relationship with the writers reminds him of the talents and abilities of Ithaca’s writing community and inspires him to continue writing poetry.

“It’s always very reassuring the way that people still take the act of writing poetry so seriously,” Hummel said. “As a result, I too can take my own approach to the craft as seriously as they do, and it holds me to that standard.”

With a picturesque view of the lake before him and only two semesters left before graduation, Hummel hopes to further pursue a filmmaking career by heading to Montreal, Canada, post-graduation, with the prospect of joining the filmmaking community there. Despite this vision, and because of his long-standing passion for writing, Hummel said he has no plans to end his writing career.

“I think I read somewhere recently that nobody can make their living strictly on poetry, and I accept that 100 percent,” Hummel said. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. Writing is something that I’ve done for about as long as I’ve been in a classroom, and for that reason I have no intention of letting it pass away. I think even if I wanted to, it would just be a part of me for the rest of my life.”

Celisa Calacal can be reached at ccalacal@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @celisa_mia