Sam Hamill would have been 80 today, May 9, 2023. He has been gone 5 years now, but he is in my head daily. Anytime I drink saké, eat sushi, look at my altar and often when I am engaged in reading or discussing poetry, Sam is there. So, in trying to figure out how I would honor what would have been his 80th had he been interested in living that long, I came across my 2018 blog post on his essay “Epistolary Poetry.” Sam’s scholarship and understanding of poetry is very perceptive in this essay and validates my interest in the postcard poem as part of that epistolary tradition. What is the power of postcard poems? Sam had the answer back in 1981:
If one writes poetry to understand what they are thinking, that is, from an organic/projective perspective, allowing one’s small “s” self to give way for a few moments to larger impulses and inspirations however you might describe them and add the depth of emotion the epistle allows, the results can be potent.
Having written postcard poems every summer since 2007, the ritual of the Poetry Postcard Fest continues to reveal the depths of this mode. It is not remarkable that Sam, of all people for me, is there beyond the veil continuing to teach me. What is remarkable is the depth of his lessons, the staying power of his perceptions on human nature, poetry and Zen and how his interest in other cultures and justice and transcendence (via Zazen) ring so deeply in me as the years go by. He published “Epistolary Poetry” in 1981 when he was not yet 40 years old. It says something about the wisdom to which Sam had access at such an early age, how prescient were so many of his preoccupations and how much these qualities are needed in our culture right now.
To close, here’s a bit of Sam himself, from the CPL audio archives, recorded at Doe Bay on Orcas Island, 31-October-2010:
Old Man on the Riverbank (George Sefaris):
Black Marsh Eclogue:
What The Water Knows:
[Comments] Eyes Wide Open:
On the Death of James Oscca Annamaria:
The Orchid Flower:
From Habitations (III):
Sam’s last recording, two poems from After Morning Rain, recorded April 5, 2018, nine days before his death, with laughter from Judith Roche:
See also: Sam @ 70