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Out of Isolation: Alfred Starr Hamilton’s A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind

By Harriet Staff

2-15-13_Hamilton

Perhaps you have not heard of the reclusive, generous, “slightly surreal” poet Alfred Starr Hamilton. You are not alone–his first collection to be published in over 40 years has just appeared from the insistently smart small press The Song Cave. A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind: The Poems of Alfred Star Hamilton, edited by Ben Estes and Alan Felsenthal, is a true pleasure to discover, and includes much unpublished work, thoughtfully gathered from boxes and boxes of the stuff (much of it is now lost). A tribute to the poet in the form of a book release party is this coming Monday, February 18, at The Poetry Project in New York, with readings from Peter Gizzi, Ben Gocker, Emily Hunt, Lucy Ives, Charles North, Stacy Szymaszek, Brian Teare, and Ron Padgett. Ron Silliman wrote about Hamilton and his work back in 2006, when we were all recovering our neglected:

Alfred Starr Hamilton was on Larry Fagin’s list of Neglectorinos & I was fortunate enough to find a copy of The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton at Powell’s in Portland. I owned a copy once, but my days in the Bay Area saw lots of good books go out the door as well as come in. You can only own so many if your house is just 1,100 square feet, shared by four people. Now that I finally live somewhere that can pretty much take my book-buying jones, this must be the 100th or so book that I’ve reacquired over the past decade.

Hamilton, if he’s still alive, would be 92 these days. When The Poems was originally published by Jargon Press in 1970, Hamilton was living in a rooming house in Montclair, NJ, on $1,000 per year, a family inheritance that was scheduled to run out circa 1977. The website devoted to Hamilton . . . [Ed. note: site no longer exists] lists only a couple of items more recent than my own last mention of him here in this blog. It would appear that both Joel Lewis, with whom I often agree about poetry, and John Latta, with whom I almost never agree, share my interest.

Like any isolato poet whose work comes to be known & published, Hamilton was fortunate to have run into David Ray, who seems to have recognized Hamilton’s originality immediately after receiving a submission of poems to Epoch back in 1962 or thereabouts. Ray gathered Hamilton’s writing & passed his enthusiasm along to Geoff Hewitt, who had the luck to have grown up in Montclair. Hewitt’s introduction to The Poems is true to the work & affectionate to the person, who labored at various short-term jobs before the Second World War. Hamilton served, but was dishonorably discharged after going AWOL. He serviced vending machines for awhile, but appears to have stopped work altogether in his mid-40s, living on the margins after that.

Hewitt proved prescient in ultimately putting this manuscript into the hands of Jonathan Williams, whose own sensibilities toward the aphoristic & epigrammatic are so similar.

Read some of the poems, wherein Hamilton took “his instinct for compression in different directions” at the original post. C.D. Wright also wrote of his work:

It is a hidden world, a hushabye place that Alfred Starr Hamilton occupies, a secluded place where he is free to summon daffodils and stars, chimes and angels, thread and old-fashioned spoons. There is Hungarian damage, blue revolutionary stars, a sedge hammer (which is not a typo). He is obsessively drawn to fine metals – bronze, silver and gold. He would be golden, but can never grasp the elusive opportunity to be crowned. He is the king of his own infinite nutshell. A quality of the savant and the innocent is apparent. Of course it is sad: “One cloud, one day / Came as a shadow in my life / And then left, and came back again; and stayed” like “Anything Remembered” which is the title of that poem. He is too removed to see things any other way but his own. It is a silver peepshow in the wonderbrush, and there is always a moon to scrape from the bottom of his view.

Please support the press, buy the book, and go to the party. More to be said about Hamilton to come, hopefully, from all o’ us.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, February 15th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.