SAM HAMILL 1943-2018
Several months ago, as I was preparing my 2018 return to the United States, I got an email from my friend, Sam Hamill, inviting me to celebrate on May 9th, 2018, his seventy-five years on earth, most of which were in the service of poetry. Sadly, Sam passed away last week and the now my journey back will begin in a different light, a different song, paying homage to a dear friend and remarkable spirit.
In my soon-to-be-published memoir, Sell The Monkey, the chapter, ‘Passport,’ is dedicated to my first meeting with Sam in Port Townsend in 1983, at a small exhibition. I’d just completed a new series of paintings on plexiglass soon after moving to that lovely Victorian town. What evolved from that first meeting became Passport, a collaborative book of images and poetry, published in 1987, on into several other collaborations, not to mention a remarkable and abiding friendship.
Sam and I lived just down the road from one another, and I’d often spend evenings of poetry at his home at Middlepoint in Port Townsend. Quite often we’d be joined by our mutual friend Bill O’Daly, who along with Tree Swensen, founded Copper Canyon Press. Those marvelous evenings were, for me, like being on a grand ship of poetry sailing across seas of Li Bo or Du Fu, Pound or Creeley, both of whom Sam could recite not only from memory but in their particular voice. There were many others, including and especially Sam and his extraordinary and precise prosody.
I bow in honor of his passage, his passion, and Panna, his dedication, and what he left us.
In the middle of the night you have opened your eyes
And walked out naked into the night where the world
is suddenly still and the cities
have been swallowed whole and everything’s present
as never before:
the air rising around you like waves,
shadows falling, trees sinking
farther and farther into the earth
which smells of passion.
You dreamed you were chained to a cliff,
gnawing at your liver, you dreamed you were
falling and falling,
but now you know that you can’t fall.
And you breathe in the light of stars—
Sirius brightest of all—and your flesh takes in
that light, and you listen
for the sound of feathers,
for the slow thrum of your blood that never lies,
and you lift up your arms to the night,
certain you can fly.
poem by Sam Hamill, painting by Galen Garwood, Passport, Broken Moon Press, 1987