December 2023

ALL SOULS by Saskia Hamilton

I just finished reading All Souls, Saskia Hamilton’s fourth, and final, collection of poems. Saskia’s poems are so smooth, penetrating, and utterly hers. From the back of the book: “…Hamilton transforms fear, expectation, and memory into art of the highest order.” Yes. It seems she wrote and gathered these fragments and sequential poems inside of and in spite of serious illness. They are solid, collected, beautifully lit, and full of inquiry. It felt right to read them at the close of the year. They’re so carefully interwoven that it’s a bit criminal to pull excerpts, but—from “Exits and Entrances to the Auditorium”:

Although the remedy does not exist, the remedy is no exit, only

death is—

there was the time a friend brought the Prince of Denmark to the

door and she gave him a cup of chocolate amongst the Kokoschka

and Dix and Grosz and Beckmann prints that hung in the room of

chintz and old furniture like the soul itself, collective soul of suffer-

ing, peering from behind the arras into the curious gallery of polite

forgetful living space, with three windows and two doors.

You can tell the dead from the living in the old poems by their sur-

prise at the guides. Where they’re heading, no guides, just a crowd

gathered at the shore, where it’s quiet.

Saskia died in the summer; Graywolf published the book in October. I was lucky to be a classmate of hers, at NYU, where she would sometimes bring in a draft and call it a ‘sweet nothing’ and then proceed to read it to us. And more often than not it would sound like something a piece of old-world velvet would say, if it sat up and spoke. If you don’t know her work, I recommend it all, beginning with her first book, As For Dream.


Laura Newbern, A Night in the CountryWelcome to the new web site.

A Night in the Country will be published March 1, 2024, by New York City-based Changes Press.