Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes - Jane Eaton Hamilton (Caitlin Press)

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 1:  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
as 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 vacuum
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.

Hamilton whispers and roars with a fierce clarity and a heart stopping tenderness.  What a joy to read and share.

Jane Eaton Hamilton

Jane Eaton Hamilton is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry. Her book July Nights was shortlisted for a BC Book Prize and her book Hunger was shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley Award. Body Rain, her first book of poetry, was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award, and her chapbook, Going Santa Fe, won the League of Canadian Poets Poetry Chapbook Award. A pseudonymous memoir was on the Guardian’s Best of the Year list and was a Sunday Timesbestseller. She has been included in the Journey Prize anthology and Best Canadian Short Stories, and has been cited in Best American Short Stories. She has won many prizes for her short fiction, including, twice, the Prism International short fiction contest, and first prize in the CBC Literary Awards. She has been published in the New York Times, Seventeen magazine, Salon,Numero Cinq, Macleans, the Globe and Mail, the Missouri Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review and many other places.

"love will burst into a thousand shapes is jazzy and engaging.  Hamilton proves herself to be a real wordsmith, with a trickster's soul and a heart as big as New Mexico.  The poems are enlightening, risky, funny as hell, and ultimately very moving."
     Barry Dempster, author of Invisible Dogs

"In her new collection of poetry -- ekphrastic, maternal, erotic -- Jane Eaton Hamilton writes with grace, vigour and brilliant colour."
     Ellis Avery, author of The Last Nude

"In writing 'every time we fucked it was brand new, brand new' Hamilton summons her reader to participate in this intimate newness.  These poems are too luscious, too seductively vexatious to read at arm's length."
     Amber Dawn, author of How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir


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