Avocations: On Poets and Poetry

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Avocations: On Poets and Poetry, by Sam Hamill. Red Hen, February 2007. $19.95 paper

This collection of essays, gathered from the best of Hamill's prose on poetry over the past eighteen years, is written with a kind of Buddhist urgency: that is to say, it is at once patient and biting in its pointing toward the issues facing contemporary poetry. Avocations reminds us of what other poets and writers have said about poetry and about living in the world. Stanley Kunitz: "All of contemporary culture threatens poetry. A primary attribute of the great art of the West is that it persists in opposing the solitary conscience to the overwhelming power of the modern superstate." Heracleitus: "War is universal; justice is strife." Gary Snyder: "As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth." But to a greater extent, Avocations argues (successfully) against poets whose poems "reduce poetry to mere craft displaying wit or intellect." And Hamill names names: Mary Jo Salter, Joseph Brodsky, among others. …