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Saskia Hamilton

Saskia Hamilton was born in Washington, D.C., in 1967, and earned a BA from Kenyon College and an MA from New York University.

She is the author of Corridor (Graywolf Press, 2014), Divide These (Graywolf Press, 2005), and As for Dream (2001). She is also the editor of The Letters of Robert Lowell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005) and the coeditor of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (2008).

In a review of Divide These, Raymond McDaniel wrote in The Boston Review: "Hamilton’s writing has been called spare and delicate, but neither of these quite gets at the effect of her poems, which are delicate only in the way a suspension bridge is: neither is marked by unnecessary ornament or fragility, and it would be a mistake to regard either as anything other than rigorously tough."

Hamilton is the recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has worked for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. and the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She currently teaches at Barnard College in New York.

Saskia Hamilton
Photo credit: Lauren Taylor

By This Poet


The Song in the Dream

The song itself had hinges. The clasp on the eighteenth-century Bible
had hinges, which creaked; when you released the catch, 
the book would sigh and expand.

The song was of two wholes joined by hinges, 
and I was worried about the joining, the spaces in between 
the joints, the weight of each side straining them.


No one to hear but 
Records for the broken player.
No reason for order but order 
persists, from breakfast to bath 
to work, rain falling at one speed,
the windows darkening and blurring,
accident beating against belief.
A loud engine, which is one way to say 
one thing. The floors swept daily, 
though it takes at least one hour for the first,
one for the last.  In the pages of a book,
quick studies of gesture,
tents of hands.

On. On. Stop. Stop.

In the old recording of the birthday party,
the voices of the living and the dead
instruct twelve absent friends
on the reliable luxury of gratitude.
The celebrated one hands out presents.
The dead dog barks once. We
take one another’s hands and follow their lead,
past the garden wall, out to the land
still stripped by winter. Those gone
do not usurp those here. We keep
the warning close, the timbre of their voices
mingling with the sounds of traffic
going much faster to its destinations.
Is it the size or the scale of the past
on the small reels of the cassette?
Someone gives her a new pot, which,
she exclaims, is too great a luxury for her.
Someone’s missing who can convert
the currencies. The old treasure
was dropped in the furrows
to await spring, with rings and pennies
and florins and other denominations
from those pockets and fingers.


About this poem:

"I was cleaning out some old boxes and found a cassette tape labeled with my grandmother’s name and a date, but had no idea what it was. I slipped it into the machine and switched it on, and heard what was a recording of her eightieth birthday party, during which she both gave and received presents—and there, suddenly present, voices of the living and the dead filled the room, all of us in a simultaneous moment, my relatives in a house in the Dutch countryside in 1988, amidst the noise of city traffic in 2012. The title is borrowed from one of Samuel Beckett’s radio plays, Embers (with its first injunction to turn the radio on)."

Saskia Hamilton

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