Four Way Books, 2007
Reviewed by Helen Losse
In his third volume of poems, Forrest Hamer has written a book about a world of uncertainty. He begins with I don’t know what kind of man I am (“Reconciliation”) and I don’t know what to believe, sometimes (“My Personal Epistemology”) and searches in the “Someone I know” poems—eight of them are in the book (in three of four sections)—for meaning in story: the proof of an idea about the world lies/ in the world of the personal (“My Personal Epistemology”). If the “Someone I know” poems are about image (in tidbits of narrative), the poems between them clarify: Let’s say the self is a story (“Ninety-five, a Hundred”). Sometimes a story that turns on itself and becomes another image, another matter to ponder.
Hamer’s subject matter varies: childhood memories, violence, confusion—How could we be right and they be right? (“Between”)—and doubt—a black hole (“What Happened”), longing and loss of innocence, aching and reaching. Fires whirr in dervishes below us (“Diaspora”). An elderly aunt has become impossible (“Some Sugar”). People alienate themselves in the search for unity; sometimes they need more than lessons because they are lost.
Like the idea there
is no idea
no before and no later
and not now
Like the drive back down
and the heavy heat
You were not just there (“Lost”)
Then Hamer says, I was falling and falling into a voice, and . . . I spoke back. (“Letter From Cuba”). There are thoughts of suicide. Thoughts, not actions. And the exploration of sex by a woman late in her eighties and the others at “Assisted Living (Goldsboro Narrative #44).” “Someone I know . . . thinks I failed at writing him down.” Like any poet doesn’t.
The poet knows every reader wants a story. But in the final section, “The Point of the Story,” Hamer reminds us of “someone” who has no real interest in imagination, is confused by everyday niceness (“Someone I know" / [Some of us have to live with being mean]”) and others who are humble. By all there was we had not seen/By all there was we had (“The Conquest”).
Rift is a book of stories that does not end with hopefulness, but with There’s some other story to tell (“Conference”). Hamer is a keen observer, not a teller of all things true. After all, stories are certain; their meaning is not. Rift is a book that begs to be read again and again, for in seeking reconciliation, we must notice the rift. And the more the stories differ, the more they appear the same.
Forrest Hamer is the author of Call & Response (Alice James, 1995), which received the Beatrice Hawley Award, and Middle Ear (Roundhouse, 2000), which received the Northern California Book Award. He is an Oakland, California, psychologist and affiliate member of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and Society. His poetry has appeared in many journals, and has been anthologized in Poet’s Choice: Poems for Everyday Life, The Geography of Home: California’s Poetry of Place, Making Callaloo: 25 Years of Black Literature, Blues Poems, and the 1994 and 2000 editions of The Best American Poetry. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the California Arts Council, and he has taught on the poetry faculty of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops.
Helen Losse is a poet, free lance writer, and Poetry Editor of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her recent poetry publications include Southern Hum, Adagio Verse Quarterly, The Centrifugal Eye, Ann Arbor Review, Lily, and Blue Fifth Review. She has two chapbooks, Gathering the Broken Pieces, available from FootHills Publishing and Paper Snowflakes, available from Southern Hum Press.