Veronica Golos Interviews Sam Hamill (Part II)

Sam Hamill, Writing for Peace AdviserCommemorating Ten Years of Poetic Resistance, PAW Post No. 27

Writing for Peace  commemorates the Tenth Anniversary of Poets Against the War with Daily PAW Posts from a host of contributors.

*Parental Guidance Warning –The poets featured during our February Daily PAW Posts write of war and its effect on the human heart. Writing for Peace has not censored these poems, and we encourage parents to review the content before sharing them with children.

To purchase a copy of POETS AGAINST THE WAR from Powell’s independent bookstore, click here.

Small Writing for Peace logoIn this special interview, Veronica Golos talks with Sam Hamill about the role of poetry, living reality, and love.

(Part Two of Two)

 Veronica Golos:

I’ve just finished reading an interview with you by Lisa Morphew, in the Ashville Poetry Review, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2012, Issue 22.  It is very personal, and you answered willingly and at length about your past, about the era into which you came to manhood.  It seemed a tribute to Kenneth Rexroth actually.  He spoke against, as you quote, “a society which grows daily more depraved and destructive…the poet is always called upon to play his role of prophet, in the Biblical sense, whatever else he may be about.”

I was struck by the intimacy of the interview, especially questions about your relationship to your late wife, Gray.  I bring this up, because your poem, Visitation, published in the inaugural issue of the Taos Journal of Poetry & Art, of which I am co-edited, has haunted me.  There is such vitality to your voice, such subdued passion, and here in this poem, it seems to me, such a delicate touch, a very Japanese feel to it.  If I may quote it:


I wake suddenly, in the middle of the night,
and realize I’m stroking the pillow beside me,
dreaming of my wife who is six months dead.

I rise and brush my teeth and pour a stiff drink
and go out into the garden to sit
on the old iron bench and think.

It’s after midnight and the moon is full.
And after a long silence, I hear, faintly,
a woman’s heels’ chink, chink, chink,

against the ancient cobblestone
beyond the garden wall
as she makes her way down the street.

In the Asheville Poetry Review interview, you also say the Bodhisattva, “perceives the cries of the world.”

I’d like to pull these together – this deep and abiding speaking as a social “prophet,” as one who hears the cries of the world, and a writer of such a love poem, full of absence and grief.

Sam Hamill:

How can we actually learn what love is without learning to fully love this earth on which we stand?

I think of W.C. Williams writing in The Wedge that “everything is about the war,” and that he as a poet is simply working in a different sector of the field. Every serious poet, consciously or otherwise, is composing his or her own cosmology. Opening the heart to the truth of experience and engaged imagination, one is “given” the poem via his or her Muse and must compose him/herself via deep listening in order to transform the gift of inspiration into the artifact, the experience, of the poetry. Master K’ung reminds us that emotions are, of themselves, neither good nor bad, (we all have them), but what we make of them matters most. I think anger (not rage) can be a motivator to overcome injustice and cruelty. Even the murderers and torturers are human, misguided in their actions and misunderstanding “reality.” And yet murderers and torturers must be brought to justice.

I could go on at length about what Williams (and Olson & Creeley & Levertov & Duncan) mean about “field composition,” but that would require a whole essay. Suffice to say that “organic poetry” is a means of opening the heart while upholding the deepest values of our lives. The real value of poetry, to me at least, lies in the ways in which poems—my own and many others’— shape and inform, revolutionizes, my life. My *whole* life. I don’t, for instance, enter contests, the beauty pageants of the poetry community. One of my great masters, Tu Fu, died an unknown poet. Two centuries later he was recognized as one of China’s greatest poets ever. It’s not about recognition or popularity contests. It is simply a way of life… I am given poems to compose and I compose by listening to what speaks to my heart and ear. The voices and melos are a plenitude of wisdom and beauty. As Gary Snyder said long ago, “As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth.” Being, the Buddha observed, is agonizing or suffering. Poetry is one of the ten thousand paths to the Buddha; through poetry (as various as that word may be), we may find self-realization and do away with the “I-and-thou” and competitive mind-set that makes war possible (as well as poetry contests) and we come into a world of only “we,” we-are-oneness” in our struggle in this sentient interdependent world. To value life requires valuing the cosmos that makes life possible. How can we actually learn what love is without learning to fully love this earth on which we stand? —The very dirt and stone of it. We must protect it from capitalism just as we must protect those who suffer most from organized oppression. We must love and resist and rebel.



Ashville Poetry Review, Vol 19, no. 1, 2012, Issue 22

The Progressive, Interview by Anne-Marie Cusac, Apirl 2003,

Paul e Nelson,

Poet Reflects on 30 Years of Publishing Poetry

Poets Against the War  2006

A Monks Tale, by Sam Hamill


Poems, by Sam Hamill hamill

An E-view with Sam Hamill by Rebecca Seiferle, The Drunken Boat

Veronica Golos, Writing for Peace Advisor

About Writing for Peace Adviser, Veronica Golos

Veronica Golos is the author of two books, Vocabulary of Silence (Red Hen Press, 2011), winner of the 2011 New Mexico Book Award, poems from which are translated into Arabic by poet Nizar Sartawi, and A Bell Buried Deep (Storyline Press, 2004), co-winner of the 16th Annual Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Edward Hirsch, and adapted for stage and performed at Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, CA.  A Bell Buried Deep is set to be re-issued by Tupelo Press, with an introduction by Patricia Smith, in 2014.

Golos’s poems are included in The Poet’s CraftAnnie Finch, Editor, 2012, University of Michigan Press; Collecting Life: Poets on Objects Known and Imagined, 3: A Taos Press, 2011, and in journals including Spillway, Meridians, Drunken Boat, Orion, Cimarron, Contemporary World Literature, Sin Fronteras, Verso (Paris), Poetry (London), Rattle, World Literature Magazine Spring’s Forum. Translated Poems from Vocabulary of Silence have appeared in over 24 journals and publications throughout the Middle East including (Syria),,, (UAE),, (Iraq) (Denmark) and Maqal (Kuwait).

Golos is Acquisitions Editor for 3:A Taos Press, and co-editor of the Taos Journal of Poetry & Art.


Sam Hamill, Writing for Peace Advisor

About Writing for Peace Adviser, Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill is the author of more than forty books, including fifteen volumes of original poetry (most recently Measured by Stone and Almost Paradise: New & Selected Poems & Translations); four collections of literary essays, including A Poet’s Work and Avocations: On Poetry & Poets; and some of the most distinguished translations of ancient Chinese and Japanese classics of the last half-century. He co-founded, and for thirty-two years was editor at, Copper Canyon Press. He taught in prisons for fourteen years and has worked extensively with battered women and children. An outspoken political pacifist, in 2003, declining an invitation to the White House, he founded Poets Against War, compiling the largest single-theme poetry anthology in history, 30,000 poems by 26,000 poets. He has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Mellon Fund, and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission; other honors include the Stanley Lindberg Lifetime Achievement Award for Editing, the Washington Poets’ Association Lifetime Achievement in Poetry Award, two Washington Governor’s Arts Awards, a Western States Book Award, a PEN-Oakland Anti-censorship Award, a PEN Center/USA First Amendment Award, the Charity Randall Award from The Poetry Forum, and the Condecoración de la Universidad de Carabobo in Valencia, Venezuela. His work has been translated into a dozen languages. He lives in Anacortes, Washington.

February Writing for Peace News:

All during the month of February, Writing for Peace is commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of Poets Against the War with a Daily PAW Post. If you are interested in arranging a reading this month in honor of Poets Against the War, please contact us with the details at, and we will be happy to share your information on our site.

2013 Young Writers Contest

Contest Deadline is March 1st! The Writing for Peace Young Writers Contest is in full swing, with entries coming in from all over the globe.  The contest is open to writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, for ages 13 to 19. Spread the word to young writers everywhere! You’ll find contest guidelines here.

DoveTales,  An International Journal of the Arts

The first issue of DoveTales will be released this month, featuring poets, writers, artists and photographers from all over the world.  We are also looking forward to seeing the winners of our 2012 Young Writers Contest in print. Watch our posts for news of the journal’s release. The new submission guidelines will go up on March 1st. Thank you for your support!



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