Jane Eaton Hamilton

"You can either live as if nothing is a miracle, or everything is." Albert Einstein

Landlords and their plumblers

Twice this week, women I know have had plumbers accuse them of putting things down the toilet and causing thousands in damages.

So this is for them, an old poem from Body Rain about just such a happenstance:

I know him.
He comes with golden spikes
driven through his hands.
No one is as sad as he is,
no one has ben used more
or more filthily.

There are whores residing
in his houses, harlots
who cry on his toes for
repairs and discounts.
See?  We have children and
no men; we raise cats and
gobble his coins with our cunts.

His radiance is what we crave,
his extravagant goodness, divinity
like a bellows, clean, male and
blowing sensibly across our dignity.
How superior he is
with his plumber in tow,
with his plumber who kows
we have shoved things down the
toilet, clogged the copper
piping just for this.
Oh, it is like loving a saint.

Interview with poet Méira Cook

Adam Father

by Méira Cook

He wakes up naked and drunk as a bear
on sun-fermented garbage.
Hungover and queasy and riled up by bees.
Nothing going well today, he moans,
life being short and the craft, ah, long.
Still, might as well take a stab at it,
lording it over misrule and tending the shame
that transforms a garden into Genesis.

So there he goes, stalking through the world
on his back legs, pelting down half-eaten words
from a great height.
Whatever he touches shrieks and bellows or writhes
like the alphabet.
A is for Crocodile, he croaks,
dashing through the Everglades. See you later!
And B is for the Wasp that stings him and C —
C is for the wide blue Ocean
in which he nearly drowns.

But nothing can drown him, our Adam
whose resolution is steadfast
and breezy at last, and buoyant
as a stone boat.

As is so often the case in Canada, I was at The Banff Centre with Méira.  This was in the early 90s.  When I was given the opportunity to interview a poet for Brick Books, I knew one of the ones I wanted to talk to was this talented writer.

A Walker in the City is Méira Cook’s third book of poetry with Brick Books. The opening poem of this collection won first place in the 2006 CBC Literary Awards, and poems in this series were selected as part of the Poetry in Motion initiative. Her earlier books with Brick Books are Toward a Catalogue of Falling (1996) and Slovenly Love (2003).  Méira Cook lives, writes, and walks in Winnipeg.

The “Adam Father” Interview

1) I asked you if you’d mind choosing the poem you wanted to discuss because I think poets are sometimes asked to answer questions about poems they are finished with or don’t maintain interest in or have frequently spoken of. Why did you choose this poem, and what about it interests, or still interests you?

I wanted to choose a recent poem because the thought of going back to an earlier book chills my blood. Oh Lord, what was I thinking, I say to myself although frequently with more commotion. I chose “Adam Father” from my recent collection, A Walker in the City as it’s the poem with the least amount of edits in my reading copy.

My continued interest in it takes the form of the usual colossal jealously we poets harbour towards old Adam. Him being gifted with the power to name things just because he was born at exactly the right moment into a blank and nameless universe. I wondered what exactly my Adam-jealousy consisted of. Was it because he’s a man or riotous or originary? All of the above or equally well, none.

The solution was not to rename the world — “tiger” for “blue” might muck about with species and the colour wheel but it’s no way to escape the cage of language. Instead I thought I would tinker with the heroic stature of the protagonist. I liked the idea of rendering him comic rather than tragic, rowdy rather than serious; a stumbler, a stutterer, a failed artisan.

2) Do you remember writing this poem (rather than the poem as artifact)? Do you remember what specifically generated it, what your poetic interest was as you approached it?

“Adam Father” was one in a series of Father Poems collected under the sequence heading “The Book of Imaginary Fathers.” They were written by one of the characters in A Walker in the City, a cranky, grudgy old fellow, a curmudgeon (a poet!). Some of the other poems in the sequence include “Vowel Father,” “Electricity Father,” “Our Father,” “Writing Father,” and “Dear Father.” The last is a letter addressed to an absent, peripatetic, lost and wavering father.

The Father Poems in the collection are concerned with issues of authority and authorship, with what is inherited through language, and what is lost — always, forever — in the infinitely fragile yet gallant act of writing.

3) I wonder what mis-rule he is lording over?

I like to imagine him lording it over the misrule of the languages and stories and books to come. I’ve sneaked in an allusion to Chaucer in the first stanza, some alphabetical word play in the second stanza, and an idea of the “stone boat” that is both metaphoric and literal, to end off with.

You see it would be easy enough to represent old Adam as mishandling the language that he is in the process of creating but I perceived him as even more of a fumbler. I saw him flailing and stumbling and trampling amongst the promise of all the world’s stories to come: of the Tower of Babel and the Sermon on the Mount, the stories of The Brothers Grimm and the shenanigans of The Marx Brothers, the Library of Alexandria and the drowned books of Prospero, all the stories, the lost fragments, the dead languages, the poetic muse and the demotic impulse, not to mention that crazy, stuttering pig at the end of the cartoon who tells us “That’s all folks!”

 4) Adam is languaging the globe into existence, but his alphabet is skewed, his blundering violent. I had a picture, then, of Genesis as overlarge, clumsy, stormy, destructive. Is this accurate?

Well I certainly like that, Jane. I like your vision of Genesis as unruly, destructive, wayward.

In fact I’ve loved and cherished almost all the interpretations that readers, over the years, have been gracious enough to offer. I am beguiled by the over-ness of a poem and the way that it then becomes part of a different interpretive discourse.

I’ll confide one exception, though. I was invited, one June, to read some of the poems from my new book (A Walker in the City) on CBC Radio. I was awfully excited until I arrived and was told that it was a father’s day celebration and asked to read some of my decidedly uncelebratory Father Poems and then chat sentimentally about my own father with the host (my father, I’m relieved to say, bears scant relation to those fathers). Oh, it was a terrible hour of stuttering self-justification. I felt exactly like a real poet.

Bill Richardson

Over the last few years, Bill Richardson, sometimes-CBC host, author of Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast, among other books, has written slightly sad and always amusing Christmas stories set in Vancouver’s West End.  Here is one of this year’s.

West End Christmas Story One

There are dire possibilities you can safeguard against, grim eventualities you can take into account. You can fortify your house against burglary and bad weather. You can launder your hands against colds and flus. You can know your escape routes, pre-determine a mustering point, stay inside until the shaking stops.

A little anticipation, a modicum of planning, and a boy scout dash of preparedness will go a long way to smooth the road. Inevitably there will be potholes, but there’s no need to obsess about them, no need to fret about all the terrible tricks fate has up its sleeve. The rogue meteorite inscribed with your name. The truck that jumps the curb. The skunk that has no business being abroad on Christmas Eve, but nonetheless is; the skunk that should be hibernating, but happens to be out and about and lying in wait under the 1988 Honda Civic which has been parked on the street for the better part of a month now; the Honda Civic doubling as a rust museum that is registered to some careless miscreant who’s gone away for the holidays, taken off for Hawaii or Mexico, never giving a thought to how that car would afford the aforementioned skunk a place of concealment from which to ambush Minnie, the basset hound, when she did what any dog would do; when she tested the limits of her leash, when she went snuffling after the scent of something aberrant near the oil-pan.
“Oh, dear,” is not quite the oath Conrad lets slip when Minnie backs out from under the Honda, as quickly as ever her three legs allow. How Minnie became a tripod is anyone’s guess. She was missing the limb when Conrad found her in the shelter. Squat and sturdy, she reminded him of a damaged coffee table he’d acquired once at a yard sale; Minnie and the wonky coffee table were among the few possessions over which he and Minnie had not quarreled when they separated. Conrad’s decision to (a) acquire a damaged pound dog without home consultation and (b) to try to mitigate the offense by naming the creature after his spouse explains, at least partially, why Minnie, the woman, is now his ex-wife.

Tomato juice is the remedy that comes to Conrad’s mind as the skunk ambles into the night and Minnie yelps and whines and whacks at her face with the one front paw that’s still in her keeping. Tomato juice. Isn’t that what they always recommend? Tomato juice, and plenty of it. But where, on Christmas Eve, can he quickly and reliably find such a commodity? The one nearby convenience store is, inconveniently, closed until Boxing Day.

“Mercy save us,” is not quite what Conrad says when Minnie rears up on her full complement of hind legs and does her best to embrace him round the knees. What to do? It must be the poisonous wafts that subvert propriety: scents trumping sense. He reaches into his overcoat pocket, finds his phone, dials the number he ceded in the divorce.


The reeking dog whines.

“Not you.”


“Merry Christmas.”

“Thanks. Same to you. What’s up?”

“Oh. Not much. Sorry for the intrusion.”

“It’s no intrusion,” she says, but of course it is.

“What are you up to?”

“I’m just here with Conrad.”

Minnie had moved on very quickly. That Conrad’s successor was also named Conrad had been much remarked by their various friends and family members, as well as by Conrad, and also by Conrad.

“Give him my beast,” says Conrad.


“Best. Give him my best,” he says, smiling in spite of himself at the Freudian transparency of the slip.

“Merry, Merry, Conrad,” Conrad carols from somewhere in the background, well into his cups.
Conrad looks down at Minnie and imagines Minnie and Conrad, half way across town, in the house where Conrad had once lived with Minnie and also, for a short time, with Minnie. He imagines the tree and all its familiar decorations, and the table that his well-organized ex would already have set for the next day’s feast: the china and the flatware that had once been theirs, the patterns he had had a hand in choosing, all laid out in regimental array. He blinks hard. He puts the past from his mind. He gulps acrid air, comes to the point.

“Listen, Minnie, I’m just wondering if you happen to have any tomato juice on hand.”
Minnie is a bulk buyer and for Christmases past she had always acquired case loads of the stuff, enough to bathe a whole pack of skunked bassets.

“Tomato juice?” says Minnie.

Conrad had forgotten that he says “to-may-to” and she says “to-mah-to;” no wonder they’d call the whole thing off.

“No,” she says, “no, I don’t. I mean, I did, oceans of the stuff. But I took it to the food bank. Conrad is allergic.”


“Why are you asking?”

“You know. Just wondering.”

“Funny thing to just wonder about.”

“Funny time of year.”

“You okay?”

“Fine. Merry Christmas, Minnie.”

“And to you, Conrad. Happy new year.”

Click. She’s gone.

On the door of his former fridge, held in place by a lady bug magnet, is the yellowed paper fragment Minnie pulled from a fortune cookie, in the early, happy days of their marriage. “Expect the unexpected,” it says. For Minnie, who lived in fear of an eventual earthquake—hence, the bulk buying—this is a guiding mantra; for Conrad, it’s an absurdity. Yes, there might be a bomb on the bus; yes, bees might fly up both your nostrils; yes, there might be a skunk under a Honda on Christmas Eve: but if you took it all into account, you’d do nothing but sit in the kitchen, in the dark, watching the digital minutes advance on the microwave, fearful the whole time that it might erupt into flames.

Mindless of the possibility of piles, Conrad sits down on the cold curb. Minnie plops down next to him, sighs, leans in. A pair of late-shift garbage pickers comes down the sidewalk, their two carts rattling. They are heading west, towards the park, where probably they camp. They say “Pee-you!” simultaneously and give the man and the dog a wide berth.

“Now what?” says Conrad, but Minnie is without idea or resource.

He can’t go back to his condo tower, where the dog’s legality has been the subject of an ongoing dispute with the council; the arrival of a three-legged stink bomb when all anyone was expecting was Santa would pretty much seal their fate. There is a church across the street. Perhaps they would offer sanctuary. Congregants will soon start arriving for the midnight service. Perhaps Minnie could earn her keep by taking part in the pageant, could take on the cameo role of dog in the manger. Conrad wonders if the word “skunk” ever comes up in the Bible, if they were welcomed on the ark by Noah.

Minnie would know, or could find out. She is a librarian, and has an amazing arsenal of information at her disposal. Had Conrad told her the reason for his call she could have told him that tomato juice is useless for the removal of skunk stink. She could have told him that that was just an old wives tale. Who better to hear that from than your old wife? Well. Former wife, more accurately.

But Conrad didn’t let on, and so it’s tomato juice in which he mistakenly invests his hope; it’s tomato juice in which he believes on a night when it’s good to have faith and somewhere to pin it, however thin and wonky that place or that faith might be.

“Come on, Minnie,” says Conrad, and they start to walk, with a purpose in mind, though with no specific plan or destination. At a discreet distance, and on the other side of the street, they follow in the noisy wake of the park-bound garbage pickers, who have paused a block away to look up at the stars. Soon enough, Minnie and Conrad will catch them up, and then they will be three men walking, walking on Christmas Eve, walking and walking on parallel paths, with no real where in mind, and no real certainty about what they’ll find when they get there. Wherever there might be. They’ll know it when they find it. It will be nothing like what they expect.


It won’t get you through the rub of the season, darlings, but here, allow me to purr at you a little.  A reading of “Smiley” the 2014 CBC Literary Award winner, as recorded by Anne Malcolm, Montreal, 2014:


LARB: On Joan Didion

I am her fond, perhaps unthinking, fan, and now, I am Emmett Rensin’s as well; he has such an avuncular style.  (His rhythm, don’t you know?)  His essay about Joan Didion here.


Jane Friedman tells you how to publish

People ask me about this a lot, as if after 8 books I’m a magician and can blow on a handkerchief.  I don’t have any wand to share; I have my share of rejections along with successes. But maybe Jane Freidman can help.  She’s thorough and sensible, and while a lot of what she says may not be particularly good news if you’re just starting out, it’s news you need to hear.

Start Here.  How to Get Your Book Published



Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason. –Novalis

Interview with GG winner Arleen Paré


I was delighted to be introduced to Arleen Paré this fall when we read together at Russelll Books in Victoria; we had been writing together for some time in what we call the Electronic Garrett, which is in its own way a call and response, only this time between some of Canada’s finest poets (and me), plus I had asked to interview her for Brick Books.  It was a very busy time in Arleen’s life, that day we read, because, that morning, she had just discovered that she was a finalist for the GG.  People will know by now that she won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry this year, and I was stoked that I was invited to the ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, where the kick-ass Kitty Lewis beautifully introduced Arleen and her book “Lake of Two Mountains.”

I interviewed Arleen for Brick Books, where we are both authors.

Arleen Paré is a poet and novelist, author of two previous books including ‘Leaving Now,’ 2012 from Caitlin Press.  Originally from Montreal, she lived for many years in Vancouver, where she worked as a social worker and administrator to provide community housing for people with mental illnesses. She now lives in Victoria with her partner, Chris Fox.

Her award-winning title is poems for a lake where she spent her childhood summers.

1. I asked you if you’d mind choosing the poem you wanted to discuss because I think poets sometimes answer questions about poems they are finished with or don’t maintain interest in.  Why did you choose this poem, and what about it interests, or still interests you?

‘Call and Response’ represents the heart of Lake of Two Mountains. In the same way that nature uses a loop system to maintain itself and in ways that humans can only guess at or research, nothing that’s always apparent, I wanted this collection of poems to speak to each other in order to build on itself.  I wanted to write about this system of interdependencies, how humans too are woven into the loops.  But I also wanted to evoke the rhetorical and religious methodologies of call and response, for instance, in the Catholic mass, so that the tone of the collection could take on some sense of the sacred, which then reflects the monastic life. It also is suggestive of the way memory operates, memories and our responses to them.

2.Your book is about the Lake of Two Mountains.  Do you remember composing Call and Response in particular?  What did you want to say about the topography of the area?   

I wanted to show this topography so that the reader could imagine the lake and its environments more easily, graphically, calling out the names of the trees, for instance, the lake`s fauna, geology, the geographic origins of the lake, to pull the lake into the whole of central Canada.

3. If geography can have a call and response, as you imagine here, does it have a sensate purpose?  Is it just a cellular celebration (as it were), or, perhaps, can it alter the globe?  

I can only imagine these answers. Does it have a sensate purpose?  It does allow the cycle of life to spin through and on, but what kind of sensate does a maple tree include?  I don’t know.  I know that the leaves of some trees curl up when rubbed, but that’s not what a maple tree does.  On the other hand, I think any alteration in a single natural loop system could possibly alter more than its own loop, so perhaps, it could escalate to alter the globe.  Perhaps.

4.  Does the call and response ever see beyond itself?  Does it ever include panic at environmental degradation, if not within its self-ascribed borders, but in a wider way?  If it talks to sturgeon and green frogs, does it converse, too, with humans?

In the way that butterflies, honey bees, frogs tell us that something is very wrong by the dwindling of their numbers over time, I suppose we can imagine the flora and fauna conversing with us, warning us in this case.  In Call and Response, the human/arboreal exchange is limited to the human act of tapping into bark producing maple syrup.

5.  Is there anything else you wanted to say about this particular poem, Arleen?

I wrote this poem using a governmental survey of the Lake of Two Mountains region.  It was dated and spare.  I craved more information; I couldn’t find sufficient geographical information about the lake. I felt hamstrung because I don’t speak French well enough to know whether more and/or better information is available about this area in French. I now know there is, though I’m not sure more information would have altered or improved the poem. In the end, the form of the poem, the call and response structure, determined its purpose and end.

Call and Response

by Arleen Paré


The Canadian Shield calls to the

in Timiskaming Lake. The Shield shelters


more than half the land. The , tectonic,

replies with the Ottawa River, whose waters run east


and spread at the place of two mountains.

Becoming lake. In this way the lake is of lake,


song of song, Deux-Montagnes out of Timiskaming.

The lake there, at the two mountains, calls


to the trees near and around, riparian trees

on rocky shores and the terrestrials


within two miles of the shore. Perpetual loop.

One verse then the other. Connecting


trees to the sand, the orthic, melanic, soil,

tree canopies, consolations of climate.


The way birds in the morning define the new day,

call sunrise from night.



The trees call to each other their own

names: sugar maple, hickory, eastern white pine.

Black willow chants the alphabets of green ash.

Yellow birch calls to red maple, chokecherry to beech.

They bear multiple names, formal, scientific,

common French and Mohawk.


And no names at all. Their calls

travel through air, water, through earth,

sedges and shrubs, algae

and cumulus clouds. All conversing.


Rocks and black leeches. Sturgeon, green frogs.

Limestone and vascular plants.



How does the sky

reply when silver-backed leaves tug at the


blocking the passage to sea?

Clouds ring with rain


and the lake lifts small pewter washes

in rows of applause.


What listens to sugar maples’ clear amber flow?

Rays: yellow and cold.


Fine beads of drizzle

hiss the filigreed ice.


What answers flood cover drowning hickory knees?

Clay or silt. Till or clay loam. Sap in the spring.


Sugar maple is always and in all places attentive,

alert for replies from the open terrain.


The soil, fine or sandy, alluvium,

measures the length of flood time in spring,


speaks a name to the climate,

the warmest in the whole province. Call


and response: a dominant tree,

sugar tree that humans can tap into.


Goodreads giveaway

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5 copies of Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes.  Enter by Dec 25.


Total eclipse of the garden

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The sound of the cat jumping off the bed.  The smell of lemon-oil soap.  The heart with its bleats and whinnies.  The sound of the rain.  The traffic moving through the alley–Smart Cars, bicycles, delivery trucks.  At 3, children’s shouts.  The white garage across the ally.  The Spanish tile roof.  The turquoise biffy for the workers at the laneway house that’s going up.  The smell of cedar.  The pressure-treated kick-plates.  The man in the blue fleece carrying lumber, his white cap, his dangling keys.  I live below grade and now, with my fence gone, my windows are peepholes.

Yesterday, I wrote the crisis in my novel The Lost Boy.  I had no clue the book was going where it went, exploding where it exploded, but when it blew up, I thought, Of course, of course, nothing else was possible.  Now I will wrap up the denouement, then I have to go back to feed in sub-plots and image motifs.

People push grocery carts past my windows and the fencer says I need to dig up more clematis for a reinforcing pole to go in.  The condo board says no vines can be grown on the new fence.

I was surprised to discover bulbs coming up now, those crazy things, in December before winter has even started–hyacinths whose tender heads have been summarily stomped.


Ginko biloba

JEHGinkoGinko biloba: pastel on paper, 20×30 by Jane Eaton Hamilton

Psst. Pass it on. Call for creative non-fiction/essays/memoirs about LGBTQI battering.

I am editing a collection of personal essays tentatively called ‘Never Say I Didn’t Bring You Flowers’ about being battered in our LGBTTQI community, with an emphasis on Canadian writers. Please submit your 1000-4000 word creative non-fiction/fiction/poetry  to janeeatonhamilton@shaw.ca in the body of the email rather than as an attachment, along with a 100-word biographical note. Please pass this call along to your associates. Pseudonyms fine for publication. Deadline of Feb 1 2015. Nothing academic, prefer first-person. Please note:  This is not a collection for those who have battered, but for those who have been battered.

New painting

JEH_TornadoI made this today.  It is pastel on paper, 20×30.

The art sale continues until Dec 31.


After the plane got down safely

After I didn’t fall out of the sky when my plane had an emergency landing, my friend and I sat in her living room with just the tree lights on drinking wine in the middle of a snow storm.  You couldn’t see much outside except that white snow mounded everywhere, covering the sharp edges.  It was minus something but with the wind chill -40, which I learned is the same in Celcius and Farenheit.  Two cats, one all white and one all black, curled up beside us or under the tree.  It smelled like apple cider–cinnamon, cloves, cardamom. Blue lights, red lights, yellow lights.  Wrapped presents.

My friend said to me that when the Jian Gomeshi news broke, she kept remembering sexual assaults; they were like zombies breaking out of the ground.  She had one of those moments where things suddenly got clearer–she realized that when women get violated, mostly it’s just another event in a long line of assaults.  We get away as best we can, we brush off, we probably don’t report it (because who in their right mind wants what would happen then?), we may not even think of it for long because it’s happened so many times before.  We just go on.  We’re women.  That’s what we do.  We go on.

The white cat started climbing the trunk of the Christmas tree.  My friend shooed her away.  The cats went outside though I thought they’d freeze like cattle in Alberta fields, from their feet up.  I told my friend that I had a cat once in Cochrane and I slammed the door too fast during a cold snap and her tail broke off.  Verushka, her name was.  The cats came back in and weren’t frozen anywhere.  We refilled our wine glasses.  For a long time, we talked about divorce court, but then after all that, we didn’t want to pour more wine; we just had to go to bed.



Love Canal

I don’t want to make another post today.  I am supposed to be on my way to two seasonal parties.  But I just heard that Love Canal is sending 100 truckloads of toxic waste to Canada.  I am heartbroken.

This, too, is from my old poetry collection Body Rain from Brick Books.



On Considering Savagery

The wonderful poet Méira Cook is interviewing me for Brick Books about a long-ago poem I wrote from the imagined perspective of Ted Bundy’s mother during his execution.  I had to keyboard in this long poem tonight because I no longer had it on a computer.  What a surreal experience to be inside the imagined voice of an onlooker to violence while also being inside my young poet’s voice.  I remembered that mother-blaming was even worse then than it is now.  I remembered how enraged I became that Ted Bundy had caused so many women and their families pain and incalculable losses (my word, I had daughters, I could almost–), and how confusing was the struggle in my conscience when he was executed, since I remain against capital punishment.

To add to this, of course it just the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique this past weekend (along with the anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, from whence many losses issued).  Here in Vancouver, there was a Saturday vigil in response to Montreal, then a Sunday vigil for Canada’s missing and indigenous women.

I have been worrying a lot about police violence, too, as everyone has.  Recently I watched Brian Lindstrom’s film Alien Boy about the Portland murder of James Chasse, and again footage of the Robert Dziekanski police murder at YVR.  Did these murders presage the militarization of police in N America and the new wave of shootings of Black men across the US?  A Vietnamese man in Vancouver, Du Na Phuong, waving a piece of lumber in a crosswalk, was also shot and killed by police a few blocks from here a couple weeks ago.  Story here.

And even as I watch footage of these men dying from police brutality, and try to come to terms, I know that women also die in police custody, and that reporters don’t note it the way they do male deaths.

Let’s see it.  Let’s name it.  Let’s not look away.  Can we not look away?

Can I not avert my eyes one more time?





Hope is the most cultivated feeling since 1987
Hope is graded
Hope has a shelf life of one month
There is always bitter hope
and hope that is budded on sour hope
South African hope is ready for summer market
Venezuelan hope arrives in October
Maltese hope is considered a mutation
Californian sweet hope must be eaten at once
Hope from Florida is most widely known
but can rot teeth

Here’s a review of the new book

Michael Dennis keeps a reviewing blog for recent Canadian books and today he reviewed my book Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes.

Today’s book of poetry:
Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes.  Jane Eaton Hamilton.  Caitlin Press.  Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.  2014.

It is not, I promise you, that I think I’m smarter than most – I don’t. But I do think I’m smarter than some.  Jane Eaton Hamilton is not one of them.  I love smart poetry and Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes is as smart as it gets.

Usually I’m a little offended and a little annoyed when I have to open my very much used dictionary because a poet has a better vocabulary than mine.  I know it is childish.  I’m almost always a little peeved when they show superior wit.  Jealous on both counts might be more accurate.

So why did I LOVE Hamilton’s Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes?  I loved the title when I first saw the book and then when I started reading these poems they hit like a beautiful velvet hammer.

Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes:  Frida Kahlo

The first time I married Diego
he could not lift the paintbrush
from my womb
I bled cadmium from interior spaces
yawning with pubic hair, seeds
cactus roots
cavernous with absence
feeding myself with the milk of Solanaceae
Demeter’s teats
spitting out sugary skeletons
instead of babies
slipping toward parthenogenesis

After I married Diego a second time
he wound necklaces of thorns around my throat
I bled alizarin crimson from soft flesh
feeding myself dead birds
Other women crowded around
masticating and cheering, but they were nothing
even my sister was nothing
(was I? Was I nothing? With my lovers?)

Diego grabbed the sky
through the cavern in my chest
his arm a straight unbearable pole
and told me that was all the love
he had

Fair is fair; I didn’t have a heart anymore
just something swollen
a girl’s red castle of pain
wetly beating on sand

1  Frida Kahlo, not to Diego Rivera

Jane Eaton Hamilton’s raw and crippling precise poetry is a bit like your first grasp of Picasso.  It doesn’t happen with one painting (or one poem).  It is the result of accumulated brilliance.

Love Will Burst… has poems using paintings and painters as a starting point, poems about being a girl, being a woman, being alive.  The subjects of these poems don’t matter nearly as much as the mastery.  Hamilton is the perfect dance partner, she only lets you think you are leading.


I) The Broom

is a pole with attached bristles
The broom can stand in a closet and be seen by no one
The broom comes alive only in hands:

a woman’s hands
ordinary, tremoring
sweeping mouse nests and spiderwebs across the kitchen tile
toward the living-room carpet
under the underlay they lump like live things

The problem of cash
The problem of the vomiting child
The problem of varicose veins
The problem of the car’s bald tires
The problem of the husband’s fist

At the intersection of 14th and Quebec
a broom –turquoise, plastic, short black bristles
has been struck, its pole twisted and warped,
the head dethroned

II) The Sponge

is not what the woman calls for when
her head splits, but it is all the boy thinks
to grab from the silver belly of the sink
and what he holds to her blood-clotted hair

It is the same sponge swiped the night before
across pork gravy

III) The Bucket

is worn by the boy when he wants to
shut out fighting
Is yellow. Has a
compartment to wring out the mop
When the boy wears the bucket he believes
he is invisible, an action hero
who can zip through the battle zone
invisible as his mother
who is known to be clumsy
who calls in sick on average four days every month

IV) The Vacuum

was originally her mother’s
Is so old it has a fabric electrical cord
a two-pronged plug

The bags fill up like paper pregnancies
to be discarded
She would like a wet-dry vac

The vacuum makes an unholy roar. Sounds like aircraft

V) The Mop

also combats dirt
the kind that adheres
the way a bruise adheres
When dinner is flung from the table
a broom will take care of the mess
(Caesar salad, green beans, rice, salmon)
but anything wet
blood in particular
leaves a sticky film

The mop is a fright wig
a Medusa head

VI) The Toilet Bowl Cleanser

Pine-Sol. The boy adds it to water
where it turns to milk
While his mother serves ice cream
he passes it to his father
Milktini, Dad! Drink your milktini!

Make no mistake, Hamilton is a clever assassin.  She can cut your heart out while you are still reading, falling to the floor.  There is little in the way of tender mercy here.  Hamilton is a Ninja poet. Hamilton is a nurse to the ill-considered, the ill-informed reader, a dark and sometimes harrowing beacon of incandescent light.

Jane Eaton Hamilton’s Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes is astonishingly good, painfully honest.

Did I mention brave?  She’s that too.  Her love poems are lovely, the sex poems sexy, all the stuff in-between tailored to excellence.

Regardless of your choice of plumbing the poem “Sleepless” is a tour d’force.


We did not sleep and were made insane by it, and loved the stupidity
Gads, it was just the thing, all that rutting, our senses electrified
honeyed bee stings, slow-sinking mudslicks–sex
meted out in silken slaps on a slow summer landscape of skin
most extraordinary, more to us than Lamborghinis
or Ecosse cycles, more than soaring through cerulean skies, skin was
licked, bitten, scorched, twisted, puckered, rubbed raw, hickeyed
blown on, finger-tipped, heated, cooled, exalted–

every time we fucked it was brand new, brand new, I say
like a cotyledon leaf through spring soil, like starlight brimming night

in mewls and murmurs and mine a hosanna, a liturgical worship–
did we hear a choir of lesbians? cries and exclamations and groans
and caught breath and occasional exhortations as leg cramps or
ovaries knocked or a nipple tweaked past good pain–

let me talk about her frankness, the way she opened me as an orange
stripping off bumpy rind, the way she peeled me so I came apart
in sections juicy and dripping through her hands
my head thrown back
my throat rippling, how she asked me to show her
fucking myself … I stopped time
for that, wouldn’t you? Fuck, wouldn’t you?
masturbating naked on her deck in the sunshine
my skin hot and prickling … if you could, wouldn’t you
stop everything and just–

and the first thing, no, it wasn’t the first thing
but neither of us was keeping notes … the actual first thing
was the moon fingering shadows through arbutus leaves
while she lifted her Folk Fest t-shirt
and I moved like silk behind her, my breasts globular and firm
and ran my tongue up the bones of her spine, bump, valley
bump, valley and so on, before a kiss, I mean, I seriously mean that–
before a kiss, or even, the next night in another town
weeping against her, sobbing for the cruelties of illness–her fist
struggled to fit inside me, slow lubed penetration, agonizingly sweet
and harsh, my cunt became a balloon, a hollow, filling
with this woman’s richest tactility, and began to–

she began interphalangeal articulations, I mean she began to move
against me, my red leaking bruised flesh
a postural rotation, I mean her wrist turned
and I reached to feel her there
fisting me, and I could see her move inside me by watching above
my pelvic bone, the shape of her fingers almost visible
and I was gobsmacked that a woman
was taking me like that, punching me, if you will, if you go where
bdsm goes (which we didn’t–we did not, that, quite)
I arched my back, began to undulate
and roll my eyes back as she flung me
over Saturn like an extra moon, like Titan.. I was all head and no head
at the same time, blown like a gunshot, blown into space–

“Sleepless” goes on for several more verses, each as good as the last, better than almost any other.  Wow.

The Review

Felicitous Life and Karrie Higgins

JEHblackpaper7sketch by Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

There’s a group on FB called Binders.  If I hadn’t joined Binders, I wouldn’t have had my essay Things That Didn’t Happen come out on Manifest Station.  If it hadn’t come out there, I wouldn’t have seen that Karrie Higgins’ brilliant essay Strange Flowers had come out there, too.  You should read it.  You shouldn’t go another day in your life without reading it or knowing that Karrie Higgins is writing some of the best prose seen today.


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