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Janet Hamill reads from A Map of the Heavens

In the early 1970s, poets began to memorize their poems so what was coming to the listener was coming from the poet, not from the page. Janet Hamill was one of the first to do this as much a seer as a poet in a trance performing her poems on the tip of her tongue for everyone.

When her new selected A Map of the Heavens arrived in the mail, I read and listened to poems that are still present, strong and take me along to all the places they’ve been written around the world.

“What is it about traveling?” I asked Janet as we were about to record on Zoom. “Obviously, you’ve saved some money, so you don’t have to go to work at nine o’clock or seven o’clock or noon so that’s out of the way, you are free traveling with what you can carry so your life is honed down to the essential, and there’s just all of this new stuff coming at you, new experiences. A Map of the Heavens starts in Mexico in the Yucatan.”

“I don’t care for the ordinary day in, day out.” Janet began thoughtfully. “I was born in Weehawken in Hudson County. That’s where my parents grew up in Hoboken. When my parents had three kids, we moved to the suburbs of north New Jersey. It was very boring. The only thing that fed my imagination was being a Catholic with angels and saints floating around me all the time. I’ve always liked the exotic. New York early on was very exotic to me so I moved across the river to Manhattan. Then I wanted to see what the rest of the country looked liked so I moved to San Francisco. Then I wanted to see what the rest of the world looked like so I went across the Atlantic in a boat—I  wanted to be on the sea—and there was Africa and Europe. I began poems while traveling, and finished them when I got back home.”

“Traveling and home, the flight and then the nest, the rest. William Wordsworth said, ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.’ In your poem ‘A Thousand Years’ you wrote of moving forward and standing still. A poem is motion and stillness at the same time, right?”

“I always carry a notebook to jot down impressions. But once absorbed, the impressions really have to simmer in me.”

And then we did the recording below on Zoom so here is some of that simmering for you. Enjoy.




Here are three poems not on the Vimeo from a section of the book called Body of Water.

BODY OF WATER

Standing by a body of water.Moving or standing still.
In the dark green depths my soul finds its own level.

Lost in a mirror of infinite margins.Ever
sounding.On and on.Perpetual arms pull me
under light’s silver sheets. Tossed with wind
and waves.
Where a coiled muscle gives up
a perfect word.I come with only a fever to offer
far from the dry carnations in summer’s throat
and certain birds that pierce the air with an agonizing
cry.I come to wash and be clean.To drown in my immensity.

Baptized by a spray of distant sky.In sympathetic
response.The surface repeats the hypnotic patterns
of my longing.Again and again.Swimming out
to the breaking pages before me.With only
a parched fountain to offer.Far from the sun’s
entrenched lullaby of insect music and the worried
sleep that parts with a film of sweat and dust
I come to be carried away through the charitable
doors that open on the shore.

Standing by a body of water.Moving or standing still.
In the dark green depths my soul finds its own level.


OPEN WINDOW

The air is cool. Coming
with the tourmaline sea into my symphonic interior
caresses. Both yours
and the breeze’s lingering
longer days of dazzling
light flood the room
above the Avenue of Palms.

A bed with the imprint
of your body on it. Sugar almonds
on a silver tray. Posing as if for a painting
before a Moorish screen. Four goldfish swim
in a bowl on fire. My skin is blushing
pink like a battle of roses

After a bath. The charged
idleness accompanying
your absence wraps around me
in the silk of a white kimono
in the frame of the open
window. I can see my buoyant
heart. Sailing the Mediterranean
with a wind caught
under its wings


A THOUSAND YEARS

How goes the night?
how goes the watch
as midnight approaches?
in the storm waves of
the sky
the moon beats a gnarled fist
on her old yellow drum
a thousand years
have passed away
a thousand years
are yet to come

How goes the night?
how goes the watch?
a lone sailboat makes its way
through tolling towers
sounded by the motion of the sea
a thousand years
fill the hold with dust and desire
a thousand years
of wasted wings to set free

Fragile the wilderness
the skeleton bells ring
for eternal return
another March breeze
blowing across the planet
another life with new idols
and the same concerns

How goes the night?
How goes the watch?
flood waters swallow enfeebled horses
fallen from the cracks in the dome
a thousand years of races
in the funeral beds
a thousand years of fits and starts
before we’re home

How goes the night?
How goes the watch?
in the end there’s a full single sail
propelled by its own will
a thousand years
bring a pale beacon
with the coming dawn
a thousand years
of moving forward and standing still

Fragile the wilderness
the skeleton bells ring
for eternal return
another March breeze
blowing across the planet
another life with new idols
and the same concerns



A Map of the Heavens is published by Spuyten Duyvil. You can check it out here:

http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/a-map-of-the-heavens.html




2 Comments

  1. Posted 10 Jul ’20 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this….this is a special gift

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