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Knock
Janet Hamill
Spuyten Duyvil
www.spuytenduyvil.net/knock.html
126Pages; Print, $15.00

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Composing a poem within the framework of traditional forms requires discipline that subjugates words to specific structures. Since content is the heart and essence required to deliver a poem wholly and completely, it necessitates a skillset that transcends those restrictions in order to convey an effect that is not overwhelmed by the form itself but is enhanced by it, thereby magnifying its impact. Ideally, content should dictate form less it become only a linguistic exercise. Janet Hamill’s latest book, Knock, written entirely in pantoums, achieves this to perfection and marries form to words in a most compatible union. She contemporizes form in a relatable way linking the personal to the universal. It serves Knock organically in the essential way a skeleton holds the frame of our bodies. There are six sections, portals to reminiscences buried in the recesses of our lives, rising to permeate our sensibilities. Memory is random and selective and these poems know it. They sacrifice linear order and cohesive recall in exchange for a more authentic journey. There is the “Knock of Hollywood,” “Tijuana,” “The Atlantic,” “Giza,” “San Tropez” and “New York,” with titles taken from the first line of each poem, and intriguing black and white photos of doors introducing each section. We are transported on an unconventional global journey replete with nostalgia that becomes our own as seen through Hamill’s splintered, hypnotic recall. She refers to these fragments as her “geographical dreamscapes,” and works imagery like an acrobatic surrealist moving dexterously from one observation to the next. And surrealism is where she is most at home, uncensored and synthesized into collective consciousness. These poems show us that dreams are often more reliable because we cannot edit them. The higher self speaks from spirit to the physical entity that protects itself in a waking world, one filled with illusions that deceive us. These poems remove us from the confinement of conventional time and space, where we touch our freedom and immortality and can approximate an opportunity to access truth, glimpsing a more authentic self in the hidden shadows of anxieties, fears and desires. Knock is autobiographical but ubiquitous. We can travel with Hamill if we tap into her trajectory of parallel universes where references are sifted through the prism of emotion as opposed to logic.

Allusions in the poems are random yet persistent, given the repetition of the form creating flashes of imagery like old flip. It is difficult to quote individual quatrains without losing the impact of the repetitive refrains within the context of each piece. Given space limitations, I concentrate on representative aspects with shorter quotes. Here are lines from “Knock of Hollywood” depicting a distinct West Coast ambiance in only four lines:

Liquidating Hollywood shoulder pads thrift   stores made everyone a star from the Presidio & Alcatraz back lit by   views of the Golden Gate for glamour shots sequined slippers & deco   greyhounds vogued in windows we got stoned & hitched to Mt. Tamalpais   the eucalyptus you know.

References become a state of mind with tangents sprouting through pieces of memory not just one static location. Hamill eschews punctuation to retain flow and imitate the drifting mind. Spacing and colloquialisms convey pauses and shifts to prevent impeding the movement of the poems. We encounter movie lots, pueblos, indigenous peoples, rock music and Spanish explorers, all contrasting images conveying the distinct feel of the West.

We move south of the border in “Knock of Tijuana,” crossing into another contrasting vista of difficult history, foreign invasions and drug lords against a stunning natural environment, ancient architectural achievements and, currently, an influx of retirees and condominium enclaves:

Each day was divine a divine pair of gods in   the Mayan highlands of Yucatan through eternity by relays of bearers carried   with straps across their foreheads the red orb was a star a planet a jaguar’s eye   a stone sphere on the ball courts time time time time the burden of it marking   the passage of it.

We feel the constriction of time in repetition of the word and its inability to capture moments, achievements, sacrifices or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-4578
Print ISSN
0149-9408
Pages
pp. 25-26
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-01
Open Access
No
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