Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Bernadette Hall on Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

The cat is curled on the poet’s lap. It’s very happy there. It licks its paw and rubs its ear with it. Scrinches up its eyes. He’s talking poetry again, the poet. He’s testing some of the lines he’s written. Tasting them, listening to the music. ‘For many years I lived in Southland. / In fact I am from Southland. / Some people say my speech is slow. / I say it’s deliberate, just.’   ( from the poem, Plainsong’. )  ‘My lawn’s a rocket, / a multinational bearded lip bound by corsets. / It wrote the Bible and Mickey mouse / but being modest always blushes green.’    ( from the poem, ‘Sixties relic surveys his lawn’.) The cat’s name is on the cover of the book. It’s the title. Mister Hamilton. Yet there’s no reference to the cat inside the book. Nor is its name mentioned again within the pages.  People ask the poet, ‘Why is your book called “Mister Hamilton?”‘ And he replies ‘It’s the name of my cat. And I love my cat.’

When the poet dies, hundreds and hundreds of books are found in his house, in bookshelves, in cupboards, under the bed, in boxes in the garage. Dante is there and Yannis Ritsos, Francis Ponge, Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara. Along with R.A.K. Mason, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen and Peter Olds. His friends miss the sound of his voice. They remember ‘the ‘slow’ reflections  – ‘the kind that imply the presence of a companion, and a habit of conversation.’ (quote: Ian Wedde) The way he made poetry ‘ visible and desirable in his very being.’ (quote: Bernadette Hall. ) The cat remembers the comfort of the poet’s lap, the sound of his voice. The playfulness of all those pages turning. Finally the poet’s books are dispersed among those who will love them. Some, water-stained and mouldy, have had to be destroyed. The bulk of them, however, are out there, doing work that’s timeless and important, refreshing the way we talk to each other.

 

Bernadette Hall

 

Mister Hamilton by John Dickson (1944 – 2017). Published by Auckland University Press, 2016. All quotations are taken from this book.

Auckland University Press page

 

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Bernadette Hall is an award-winning writer who has published ten poetry collections and edited several poetry anthologies (including for Joanna Margaret Paul and Lorna Staveley Anker). Her latest book, Maukatere, Floating mountain, with artwork by Rachel O’Neill, was published by Seraph Press in 2016. In 2015 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and in 2017 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. She lives in Hurunui, Canterbury.

 

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