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On Poetry and Poets

Sam Hamill

Publication Year: 2011

Avocations collects the best of Sam Hamill's prose on poetry over the last 18 years, presenting insightful readings of Kenneth Rexroth, Denise Levertov, Odysseas Elytis, Matsuo Basho, Kobayashi Issa, John Logan and many others together with critical commentary on poetry in translation and the practice of poetry in general.

Published by: Red Hen Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

These essays, introductions and reviews were written mostly in the 1990s, the earliest dating from the first War on Iraq in 1991, and are an extension of the work begun with A Poet’s Work (Carnegie-Mellon University Press), published in 1988. ...

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Against the Tide: 1990-91

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pp. 15-25

A government is, first of all, a government of words. The British Parliamentary Act of 1774 decreed the abolition of any town meeting without prior written consent from a royal Governor, and its passage was in part a response to a Massachusetts Bay Colony law requiring an annual town meeting. ...

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World News Today

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pp. 26-51

At a time when mass media serves as a grand equalizer, flattening all events into 30 column inches of type or ninety seconds on the airwaves, literature, and especially poetry, is removed to the cultural margins. But even amongst the literati, the translator remains least visible. Gary Snyder has called poetry “high quality information,” a useful concept. ...

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A Fool’s Paradise

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pp. 52-68

In the third book of The Dunciad, Pope has his Goddess of Dulness transport the King to her temple where she curtains him with “Vapours blue” and prepares him to listen to Oracles and talk with Gods: ...

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Writing Re: Writing

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pp. 69-91

In his Introduction to The Wedge in 1944, William Carlos Williams began a major redefinition of poetry, a definition that includes more than it excludes, one that projects a totality of experience within a field of action or energy. “The war is the first and only thing in the world today,” Williams said. ...

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A Poetry of Daily Practice

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pp. 92-105

“Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction—is for us more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. . . . I feel in the work of the men ...

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Body and Song

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pp. 106-119

No one read anything silently until two or three hundred years ago. Sometime after Gutenberg, when reading became more widespread through the growth of education and the availability of “texts,” some anonymous schoolteacher in some anonymous town or village somewhere discovered “silent reading” ...

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A Paradise of One’s Own

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pp. 120-128

Odysseas Elytis (the modern a replacing the older u in his first name at his suggestion) is a poet like no other in this world. Neither the leading figure in a literary movement nor a famous teacher of younger poets, he follows a line of individualistic visionary ecstatic poets leading all the way back to Sappho in the 6th century BCE. ...

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The Poetry of Kenneth Rexroth

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pp. 129-144

The year was 1948. Camus’s relationships with Andre Breton and Jean-Paul Sartre had begun to feel the strain that would eventually lead him to disavow all ties with the existentialists. In North America, the official policies of the Cold War were under way. Senator Joseph McCarthy had recruited young politicos like Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon ...

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Two Buddhist Poets

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pp. 145-159

Perhaps no aspect of classical Chinese poetry in translation has touched contemporary American verse more deeply than the “nature poetry” of the T’ang dynasty. From the 300-odd poems of Cold Mountain (Han Shan), poems that often fall into a kind of Buddhist doggerel, to the almost selfless poems of Wang Wei, ...

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Bashō’s Road

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pp. 160-181

Bashō rose long before dawn, but even at such an early hour, he knew the day would grow rosy bright. It was spring, 1689. In Ueno and Yanaka, cherry trees were in full blossom, and hundreds of families would soon be strolling under their branches, lovers walking and speaking softly or not at all. ...

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In the Company of Issa

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pp. 182-190

Kobayashi Yatarō, revered throughout the world as Issa, which means One Cup of Tea (or even One Bubble in a Cup of Tea), was born in 1763 on a farm in Kashiwabara village in central Japan, now Nagano Prefecture. The surrounding mountains of his beloved Shinano countryside are eternally associated with his name, ...

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Richard Wright’s Haiku

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pp. 191-194

During the last eighteen months of his life, struggling with failing health while living in exile in Paris, Richard Wright devoted himself almost exclusively to writing haiku. His emotional life was agonizing. In 1959, he lost two of his closest friends, and his mother died. He was hounded by the U.S. government and was homesick. ...

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Salt and Honey

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pp. 195-207

It seems that whenever I’d recite the poem, I’d leave out that by which makes no real sense and which is there only to fill out the syllabic count and to rhyme. Frost the literary technician traveled roads that might be best described as expressways or thoroughfares, his ear was a conventionally educated ear. ...

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Listening In

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pp. 208-216

“The great contribution of the twentieth century to art is the idea of spontaneous improvisation within a determined style, a style comprising equally or inseparably both conventional and personal elements. What does this mean? It means a great deal more than the breakup of traditional prosody or rules of composition, ...

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Listening to Olga Broumas

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pp. 217-222

With our almost uniquely American obsession with the new, we often forget the age-old wisdom of the Talmud, “There is nothing new under the sun.” What we perceive to be new is always a product of what preceded because, as Zen tradition proclaims, “Nothing is entirely self-originating.” ...

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Listening to W. S. Merwin

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pp. 223-227

Born in Union City, New Jersey in 1927, W.S. Merwin’s life in poetry has been an Odyssean journey through New York City, southern France, London, Mexico, and finally Hawaii. His poetry has embodied a constantly evolving style and vision rooted in the moral necessity of bearing witness, of testifying to the times, ...

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A Little Homage to Robin Blaser

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pp. 228-232

As a street kid hanging around the fringes of the “beat scene” during the San Francisco Renaissance of the late 1950s, I loved listening to Kenneth Rexroth hold forth on poetry and politics. He often said that the seeds of the beat scene were sewn a decade earlier with the poets of the “Berkeley Renaissance.” ...


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pp. 233-244

E-ISBN-13: 9781597092081
E-ISBN-10: 1597092088
Print-ISBN-13: 9781597090865
Print-ISBN-10: 1597090867

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: First