poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

occasions

About this poet

Sam Hamill was born in 1943 and raised in Utah. He attended the University of California–Santa Barbara, where he served as the editor of the university’s literary magazine. In 1972, with money from a prize he was awarded for editorial excellence, he cofounded Copper Canyon Press along with Tree Swenson and William O’Daly.

The following year, Hamill published his first poetry collection, Heroes of the Teton Mythos (Copper Canyon Press, 1973). He went on to write numerous books of poetry, including After Morning Rain (Tiger Bark Press), published posthumously in 2018; Habitation: Collected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2014); Destination Zero: Poems 1970-1995 (White Pine Press, 1995); and Triada (Copper Canyon Press, 1978).

Hamill also published four books of literary prose, including A Poet’s Work: The Other Side of Poetry (Broken Moon Press, 1990), and many works of translation, including Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (Shambhala Publications, 2005) and Matsuo Bashō’s Narrow Road to the Interior (Shambhala Publications, 1998). He edited several volumes of poetry as well, including The Gift of Tongues: Twenty-five Years of Poetry from Copper Canyon Press (Copper Canyon Press, 1996).

About Hamill, Hayden Carruth wrote, “No one—I mean no one—has done the momentous work of presenting poetry better than Sam Hamill. His editing and publishing, his criticism and translations, his own very strong and beautiful poems have been making a difference in American culture for many years.”

Hamill served as the editor of Copper Canyon Press from 1972 until 2004. In 2003, he began Poets Against the War, a movement of poets protesting the invasion of Iraq, and edited an anthology of the same name, Poets Against the War (Nation Books, 2003). He also served as the director of the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference for ten years.

Hamill received numerous honors and awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission, as well as the First Amendment Award from PEN USA, the Stanley Lindberg Award for lifetime achievement in editing, and two Washington Governor’s Arts Awards, among others. He died in Anacortes, Washington, on April 14, 2018. 


Bibliography

Poetry
After Morning Rain (Tiger Bark Press, 2018)
Habitation: Collected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2014)
Measured by Stone (Curbstone Press, 2007)
Almost Paradise: Selected Poems & Translations (Shambhala Publications, 2005)
Dumb Luck (BOA Editions, 2002)
Gratitude (BOA Editions, 1998)
Destination Zero: Poems 1970-1995 (White Pine Press, 1995)
Mandala (Milkweed Editions, 1991)
A Dragon in the Clouds: Poems and Translations (Broken Moon Press, 1989)
Nootka Rose (Breitenbush Books, 1987)
Fatal Pleasure (Breitenbush Books, 1984)
Requiem (Copper Canyon Press, 1983)
Animae (Copper Canyon Press, 1980)
Triada (Copper Canyon Press, 1978)
The Calling Across Forever (Copper Canyon Press, 1976)
Uintah Blue (Copper Canyon Press, 1975)
Heroes of the Teton Mythos (Copper Canyon Press, 1973)

Prose
A Poet’s Work: The Other Side of Poetry (Broken Moon Press, 1990)
At Home in the World (Jawbone Press, 1981)

Natural History

Late afternoon, autumn equinox,
and my daughter and I
are at the table silently
eating fried eggs and muffins,
sharp cheese, and yesterday’s
rice warmed over. We put
our paper plates in the woodstove
and go outside:
                                 sunlight
fills the alders with
the geometries of long
blonde hair, and twin ravens
ride the rollercoasters
of warm September air
out, toward Protection Island.

Together, we enter the roughed-in
room beside our cabin
and begin our toil together:
she, cutting and stapling
insulation; I, cutting
and nailing the tight rows
of cedar. We work in a silence
broken only by occasional banter.
I wipe the cobwebs
from nooks and sills, working
on my knees as though this prayer
of labor could save me, as though
the itch of fiberglass
and sawdust were an answer
to some old incessant question
I never dare to remember.

And when the evening comes on
at last, cooling our arms
and faces, we stop
and stand back to assess
our work together.
                                 And I
remember the face
of my father climbing down
from a long wooden ladder
thirty years before. He
was a tall strong sapling
smelling of tar and leather,
his pate bald and burned
to umber by a sun
that blistered the Utah desert.
He strode the rows of coops
with a red cocker spaniel
and tousled boy-child
at his heel.
                         I turn to look
at my daughter: her mop
of blonde curls catches
the last trembling light
of the day, her lean body
sways with weariness. I try,
but cannot remember
the wisdom of fourteen years,
the pleasures of that
discovery. Eron smiles.

At the stove, we wash up
as the sun dies in a candle-flame.
A light breeze tears
the first leaves of autumn
from boughs that slowly darken.
A squirrel, enraged,
castigates the dog
for some inscrutable intrusion,
and Eron climbs the ladder
to her loft.
                         Suddenly
I am utterly alone,
I am a child
gazing up at a father, a father
looking down at his daughter.
A strange shudder
comes over me like a chill.
Is this what there is
to remember – the long days
roofing coops, the building
of rooms on a cabin, the in
significant meal? The shadows
of moments mean everything
and nothing, the dying
landscapes of remembered
human faces freeze
into a moment.
                         My room
was in the basement, was
knotty pine, back there,
in diamondback country.
The night swings over
the cold Pacific. I pour
a cup of coffee, heavy
in my bones. Soon, this fine
young woman will stare into
the face of her own son
or daughter, the years
gone suddenly behind her.
Will she remember only
the ache, the immense satisfaction
of that longing?
                         May she
be happy, filled
with the essential,
working in the twilight,
on her knees, at autumn equinox,
gathering the stories
of silence together,
preparing to meet the winter.

From Animae (Copper Canyon Press, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Sam Hamill. Used with the permission of Eron Hamill.

From Animae (Copper Canyon Press, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Sam Hamill. Used with the permission of Eron Hamill.

Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill authored fourteen volumes of poetry, including Almost Paradise: Selected Poems & Translations (Shambhala, 2005).

by this poet

poem

I came here nearly forty years ago,
broke and half broken, having chosen
the mud, the dirt road, alder pollen and
a hundred avenues of gray across the sky
to be my teachers and my muses.
I chose a temple made of words and made a vow.

I scratched a life in hardpan. If I cried

poem
Just as I wonder 
whether it's going to die, 
the orchid blossoms 

and I can't explain why it 
moves my heart, why such pleasure 

comes from one small bud 
on a long spindly stem, one 
blood red gold flower 

opening at mid-summer, 
tiny, perfect in its hour. 

Even to a white-
haired craggy poet, it's 
purely
poem

A few small sails, barely moving,
dot Fidalgo Bay. As the sun burns away
the last pale clouds, a confluence
of robins descends to explore
my neighbor’s garden—
brown grass, muddy beds and the last
fading roses of the year.

It is September, the end of summer.
My backyard