The wise, the warm and the

Barry Hill

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Yes, po­etry saves lives. All wars be­gin at home within the war­ring self. ( On the Third An­niver­sary of the

On­go­ing War in Iraq)

SAM Hamill’s po­lit­i­cal faith in po­etry — as declam­a­tory as Walt Whit­man, as in­sis­tent as con­vict work songs — has added to his rep­u­ta­tion in re­cent years. The war in Iraq had no sooner started than he re­fused an in­vi­ta­tion to the White House, call­ing on po­ets to take a stand. The on­line move­ment Po­ets Against the War was the re­sult, and Hamill has been its di­rec­tor since.

Be­fore that he was mainly known as the founder of the in­flu­en­tial Cop­per Canyon Press, and as a trans­la­tor of classical Chi­nese and Ja­panese po­etry. His work from Basho and Issa is es­pe­cially vi­tal, a canny and clear bring­ing of the East into our or­di­nary speech and lives. His own work has been trans­lated into a dozen lan­guages. Mea­sured by Stone is his 15th col­lec­tion.

It is an evoca­tive, ele­giac book in­hab­ited by the ghosts of Hamill’s friends, most of them po­ets. In fact, Hamill may be read as an echo of the best that has been writ­ten by the west coast po­ets since the 1950s. His po­ems work as con­ver­sa­tions in the wis­dom tra­di­tion: in­vi­ta­tions for more talk, one more drink late at night be­fore turn­ing in and get­ting up early to sit on the med­i­ta­tion mat. Their ap­peal lies in the warmth of ex­pe­ri­ence the poem has un­der its belt, along with its root­ed­ness in the dis­sent­ing tra­di­tion.

His po­ems are also acutely soli­tary medita-

Mea­sured by Stone By Sam Hamill Curb­stone Press, 90pp, $ 13.95 Al­most Par­adise: New and Se­lected Po­ems and Trans­la­tions By Sam Hamill Shamb­hala, 261pp, $ 33.95 The Blue Hour of the Day By Lorna Crozier McClel­land & Ste­wart, 251pp, $ 22.99

tions, writ­ten with the wind blow­ing from the cold Pa­cific at night. Some­where some­one is un­tan­gling the heavy nets of de­sire be­side a small fire at the edge of the sea. He works slowly, fin­gers bleed­ing, half think­ing, half lis­ten­ing, know­ing only that the sea makes him thirsty.

( The Nets)

Hamill is at his best when he hits on an im­age that grounds the poem in a habi­tat, and which im­plies the Bud­dhist tra­di­tion in which he is so well versed. The Nets is the first of his own po­ems in Al­most Par­adise , a good place to start with his life’s work.

Like an art­ful singer of the blues he knows just what not to say, al­though he says enough for us to know that as a boy he was beaten by an adop­tive mother who lied to him and that, as a heroin- ad­dicted youth, he was res­cued by men­tors such as poet Ken­neth Rexroth ( whose work he has splen­didly edited). Hamill’s anti- war stance is at one with his work with men in prison, just as his faith in po­etry, his sense of po­etry as an avo­ca­tion, is of­fered as heart- work for the polis.

He writes of the need for grat­i­tude and we should be grate­ful to him. The in­te­gra­tions of his po­etic mus­ings make him po­tent and im­por­tant.

If the Pa­cific in­hab­its Hamill’s po­etry, a vast space of an­other kind dwells in much ac­claimed Cana­dian poet Lorna Crozier: the prairies of Saskatchewan, where she was brought up. She now lives in Bri­tish Columbia and teaches at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria, but in this se­lec­tion from her eight books, the prairies speak. Wind turns back the sheets of the field. What needs to sleep, sleeps there. What needs to rest. The door has fallen from the moon. It floats in the slough, all knob and hinges. Now the moon’s so open any­thing can walk right through. Only the fox is trav­el­ling . . . Out­side my mind, the wind is reck­on­ing. Al­ways there is some­thing to fig­ure out.

This is a won­der­ful book of fig­ur­ing out. Crozier’s works are a long med­i­ta­tion on the in­ter­pen­e­tra­tions of flesh and light. From her first col­lec­tion, The Gar­den Go­ing on With­out Us ( 1985), to the most re­cent, Whet­stone ( 2005), she seems to have known ex­actly what she wanted to say with re­gard to things in­vis­i­ble, the car­nal ( her The Sex Lives of Veg­eta­bles and The Pe­nis Po­ems are very witty), the lives of oth­ers, the mys­tery of cre­ation. She is a poet of light with­out mys­ti­cism.

An earthy dic­tion, the chis­elled stan­zas that ask to be read aloud, has made Crozier very pop­u­lar in Canada. A gusto in­forms her laments. There is a power of tact, too. Even the po­ems about her wild, cal­lous fa­ther have an in­her­ent bal­ance, as if some wise doc­tor of the prairies ( a Chekhov, per­haps) guides her hand.

Crozier’s deft, im­plied nar­ra­tives put her in the com­pany of her com­pa­triot, the great short story writer Alice Munro. But most of all there is her con­fes­sional phys­i­cal­ity; she brings her body into a poem in ways that are ex­cru­ci­at­ing and re­demp­tive.

( It Is Night)

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