KNOCK: AN ALBUM OF TIME AND SPACE
A REVIEW OF JANET HAMILL'S KNOCK BY FARAH GHAFOOR
Knock is the traveler’s delight; for the wanderers and those with wanderlust, for the doers and the dreamers. In fact, Janet Hamill reveals in the foreword that the book was inspired by her dreams and trips in two ways: First, the “knock” as one does to a door, and second, scenes that root her poems in their locations across the globe. The book is divided into sections that each begin with the photo of a door representing the “knock” to enter a time period and city that broadens into a larger geographical area. These doors give the reader the chance to step back, breathe, and decide if they’re emotionally prepared to visit Hamill’s next visceral stretch of memory and dream. Soon they will be knocking on Ethiopia's door:
In Ethiopia the Blue Nile & food so hot I didn’t think I’d make it
scriptures say the Queen of Sheba was carried on a litter from the Red Sea
dating back 5,000 years BC the first Abyssinians gave birth to Dinkesh
thou art wonderful to the people standing on a fallen stelae of Axum
Perhaps, for other poets, the continuous use of the pantoum would soon become dry, tasteless and repetitive to write and read, however, Hamill manages to keep each poem and section as fresh as the last with uncommon ease. In Knock’s introduction, Joe Lewis writes that the original Malay form was meant to be sung, with the chorus or refrain after each line. Hamill’s pantoums are similar the Malay ones – they are a pleasure to read silently as well as aloud.
The pantoum is the perfect medium by which one can travel through space and time, each unraveling a story. The experience of reading poems in Knock is akin to traveling in an imaginary circle – the journey slowly revealing more and more about the focus and context of the poem. When the reader ends the poem by returning to the beginning, both of which can be thought of as final destinations, there is a shift and Hamill’s purpose can be better understood.
Hamill projects images of the past and present moving simultaneously, and side by side. Hamill incorporates work from songwriters, poets and authors like David Bowie and Charles Baudelaire, evoking a sense of nostalgia and leaning away from the typical observational perspective that comes from comparing multiple periods of time. From the “Knock of San Tropez":
It was the only album on view since The Beatles left the studios on Abbey Road
The Death of Chatterton Rothkos & Turners at the Tate made the world dissolve
“How unreserved,” I thought, Only mad dogs & Englishmen out in the midday sun
a suicide at 17 by cyanide he was a beautiful forger of medieval poetry in his attic
Knock proves that structure is just as important as content, and the way Hamill presents themes like food and the cinema beautifully revive this ancient poetic form. Her poems claim their space on the page and stand at attention as readers savour them like an iconic film. Every word in the book is measured, remarkable and worldly.
Janet Hamill is the author of six books of poetry and short fiction: Troublante , The Temple, Nostalgia of the Infinite, Lost Ceilings, Body of Water – which was nominated for the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Prize – and Tales from the Eternal Café – named one of the “Best Books of 2014” by Publishers Weekly.
After three decades in New York City, Janet now resides in New York’s Hudson Valley. Late in the witching hour, you can hear her lady-mystic-call; Fire-Janet, Janet-of-the-Lava-Seas, begging the flames to come join her in an almsgiving to the Buddha-spirit of cats.
Farah Ghafoor is a poet and a founding editor at Sugar Rascals, an online teen literary magazine. She believes that she deserves a cat and/or outrageously expensive perfumes, and can’t bring herself to spend pretty coins. Her work is published in places like alien mouth, Really System and Synaesthesia, and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Farah is the 2016 recipient of the Alexandria Quarterly Emerging Artists and Writers Award.
Find her online at fghafoor.tumblr.com.