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Weekly Poem: Saskia Hamilton wants you to ‘dream over’ her work

Movement and transition resonate in Saskia Hamilton’s collection “Corridor.”

“The spirit of the book is a lot about passing through or passing by different lives and landscapes … or in and out of moments,” Hamilton told Art Beat.

One of Hamilton’s interpretations of movement is made through her translation of an Anglo-Saxon riddle — one that has never been solved.

“It’s very hard to translate a riddle that you don’t really know what the answer is,” said Hamilton. “Translating something like that was a kind of passage — through an Anglo-Saxon world view that’s so different from our own.”

Another connection to the meaning of “corridor” is a symbol of death, “like the passage of one life to another.”

“On the Ground,” a poem that Hamilton calls a pillar of the collection, was written in memoriam to a young member of her family that died.

“It was a terrible time, so it comes out of that experience.”

Listen to Saskia Hamilton read “On the Ground” from her collection “Corridor.”

On the Ground

i.m. Joshua Shackleton

When the collie saw the child
break from the crowd,

he gave chase, and since they both
were border-crossers,

they left this world.
We were then made of—

affronted by—silence.
The train passed Poste 5, Paris,

late arrival, no luck, no
enlarging commentary

magnified in any glass.
“The ineffable

is everywhere in language,”
the speaker had said

in the huge hall where
I sat amongst coughers,

students, in the late
February of that year,

at the end of a sinuous
inquiry on sense and sound—

“and very close to the ground,” he’s said.
Like mist risen

above the feet of animals
in a far field north of here.

Hamilton says that “On the Ground” is a mediation on falling silent, a theme that pops up in other poems in the book, like in “Zwigen,” an Old Dutch word that means “falling silent.”

She says both poems are “interested in silence … what is the power of withheld speech,” said Hamilton. “Both are very different mediations on falling silent. ‘On the Ground’ is about the death of a child, so that’s a very severe and terrible silence.”

Hamilton says she was influenced also by the storytelling style of another writer.

“I also thought of Bob Dylan’s way of giving you little glimpses of lives in passing in songs, like in ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ or ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ or ‘Simple Twist of Fate,’ ‘Idiot Wind,’ any of those songs,” said Hamilton.

“One of my favorites is an outtake from that session, ‘Biograph,’ called ‘Out to Me,’ where you just get these little broken narratives. I think that there seem to me, after the fact when I was reading [my book] over, a similar kind of interest.”

After a number of years spent writing many of the poems that make up the collection — which came out in May — she sat down with a pile of her work and a friend, who “helped me see patterns in it that I would never have been able to discern in advance, shall we say. I needed to bring them all together to see their– in a way, their dream life, the things they were preoccupied with that I didn’t know they were preoccupied with.”

So how does Hamilton want people to experience the work in “Corridor?” In much the same way as the themes she is drawing out: The reader “should just dream over the poems.”

All poems copyright © 2014 by Saskia Hamilton, from Corridor. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.