|from a photo by Simpson Kalisher |
-- back cover of
The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton
Speaking of the Army, the US Army, Hamilton was drafted and went AWOL after less than a year. "I got a discharge somehow," he writes in the blurb for his poems appearing in the APR in 1976. This was during the War. Something of this cantankerous spirit survived until 1961. He refused to participate in a civil air raid drill and was fined and briefly jailed. Other than that he can drive, has a sister, drinks Four Roses and once serviced candy machines (after the war; it disgusted him). Biographical information is scant, but he claims to have hitchhiked through forty-three states. If so, Montclair has always always remained his home port: The 2000 Directory of America Poets and Fiction Writers says he's still at 41 S. Willow. That would make him 87.
His first appearance in print, Sphinx (1969), was published out of Montclair by Geof Hewitt aka Kumquat Press. In his review of Sphinx (New, No. 9), Eric Torgersen mentions that these pamphlets were free for the asking. (Online it currently lists for 25 dollars). Torgersen praises Hamilton; he says he's often inaccessible, but when he isn't, he's dead-on. Torgersen also says there are longer poems in Sphinx, which is not the case for what I've seen in print. The poems in APR and Poetry Now are short. These poems published in the mid-seventies have a tendency to catalogue, taking a phrase and repeating it, often asking a question. The tone is bemused and iconoclastic but never mean-spirited. The meanings are enigmatic. It's as if there is a code to be broken. The object of the poems is often the natural world, but rarely the world of man-made things. In the world but not of it, so to speak. Break the code and enter the Hamilton cosmos. One slightly demonic-looking man secretly manipulating the world from the center of the universe.
Needless to say, I like Hamilton. I stumbled across the Jargon book by accident at Cornell's Olin library and was immediately struck by the simplicity and strangeness of the poems. The book itself is a handsome volume and the introductory remarks by Hewitt interesting. Wanting to learn more about this character, I turned to the internet, came up with a few references. It didn't occur to me until some time later to get the articles and poems themselves. I am still waiting for a few things, which I will review here. I'm hoping to reproduce the articles online, but an annotated bibliography will do just as well, for now.
[Scrappy little website can be found here]