Friday, January 20, 2006

Alfred Starr Hamilton was on Larry Fagin’s list of Neglectorinos & I was fortunate enough to find a copy of The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton at Powell’s in Portland. I owned a copy once, but my days in the Bay Area saw lots of good books go out the door as well as come in. You can only own so many if your house is just 1,100 square feet, shared by four people. Now that I finally live somewhere that can pretty much take my book-buying jones, this must be the 100th or so book that I’ve reacquired over the past decade.

Hamilton, if he’s still alive, would be 92 these days. When The Poems was originally published by Jargon Press in 1970, Hamilton was living in a rooming house in Montclair, NJ, on $1,000 per year, a family inheritance that was scheduled to run out circa 1977. The website devoted to Hamilton (see the link under his name above) lists only a couple of items more recent than my own last mention of him here in this blog. It would appear that both Joel Lewis, with whom I often agree about poetry, and John Latta, with whom I almost never agree, share my interest.

Like any isolato poet whose work comes to be known & published, Hamilton was fortunate to have run into David Ray, who seems to have recognized Hamilton’s originality immediately after receiving a submission of poems to Epoch back in 1962 or thereabouts. Ray gathered Hamilton’s writing & passed his enthusiasm along to Geoff Hewitt, who had the luck to have grown up in Montclair. Hewitt’s introduction to The Poems is true to the work & affectionate to the person, who labored at various short-term jobs before the Second World War. Hamilton served, but was dishonorably discharged after going AWOL. He serviced vending machines for awhile, but appears to have stopped work altogether in his mid-40s, living on the margins after that.

Hewitt proved prescient in ultimately putting this manuscript into the hands of Jonathan Williams, whose own sensibilities toward the aphoristic & epigrammatic are so similar. Here is Hamilton’s “Swan in June”:

The moon is a swan in June
The moon can paddle and paddle
And be the moon all night long

The following three poems, all printed upon the same page, show how Hamilton is able to take this instinct for compression in different directions:


But time that was meant to be time
Became an angel in the meantime
Time pointed the enchanted dial to time
Time walked to the barn and back
Time needed to talk to an angel
Of another kind that pointed back to time

That Cried for Slaughter

to have been pinched
in the belly by a gull
that cried for slaughter!

from a mosquito
to a frog
to have been speared
by a thirstier night angel

Little Sword

put the moon for the sphere
back in the tobacco jar

but some of these swollen spheres
were to have been worded by swollen angels,
yet to have been pierced by the little sword!

Fagin’s point in including Hamilton among his Neglectorinos was that we need a “new, improved selection,” which I suspect means one that incorporates some or much that was written after the Jargon Press edition of 1970, some of which Fagin himself has published in Sal Mimeo. Thinking of the recent projects of making the work of Samuel Greenberg, Joan Murray and Rosalie Moore more widely available, it strikes me that there is a need for an internet archive considerably broader (and, institutionally, more stable) even than Ubuweb to make these works permanently accessible.