Eaton Hamilton

the problem with being trans is cis people. The problem with being queer is straight people. The problem with being disabled is abled people. The problem with being Black is white people. In other words, prejudice.

Tag: reviews

Love Will (Still) Burst Into a Thousand Shapes

“…The next section of the collection following the one focused on artists is “Our Terrible Good Luck,” an apt oxymoron that encompasses the devastation that populates these poems on topics not often associated that kind of horror: motherhood and children. Oh boy, was this part of the collection hard for me. They’re just shattering to read: domestic abuse, the death of children, gun violence, mass murderers, the dark sides of motherhood, the physicality and sometimes grotesqueness of child birth. For me, they were painful and difficult to read, despite their being beautifully written. When I say devastating, this is what I mean:

In the month before they find your son’s body

downstream, you wake imagining

his fist clutching the spent elastic

of his pyjama bottoms, the pair with sailboats riding them

He’s swimming past your room toward milk and Cheerios

his cowlick alive on his small head, swimming

toward cartoons and baseballs, toward his skateboard

paddling his feet like flippers. You’re surprised

by how light he is, how his lips shimmer like water

how his eyes glow green as algae

He amazes you again and again, how he breathes

through water. Every morning you almost drown

fighting the undertow, the wild summer runoff

coughing into air exhausted, but your son is happy

He’s learning the language of gills and fins

of minnows and fry. That’s what he says

when you try to pull him to safety; he says he’s a stuntman

riding the waterfall down its awful lengths

to the log jam at the bottom pool

He’s cool to the touch; his beauty has you by the throat

He’s translucent, you can see his heart under

his young boy’s ribs, beating

as it once beat under the stretched skin of your belly

blue as airlessness, primed for vertical dive

HOLY FUCK, Jane Eaton Hamilton. I don’t remember the last time I read a poem so fucking sad and heartbreaking.” -Casey Stepaniuk

Julie R Enszer

“[Weekend] is the best book I have read this year. Hamilton brings us four wonderful characters who live and grapple with lesbian/queer/women’s contemporary experiences. The sex is hot; the characters are wonderfully flawed, human, and relatable. This is the book to beat for the 2016 Lammy in Lesbian Fiction. Buy it. Read it. Love it.

My review at Curve:…”


CWILA: Canadian Women in the Literary Arts


“CWILA (Canadian Women in the Literary Arts) is an inclusive national literary organization for people who share feminist values and see the importance of strong and active female perspectives and presences within the Canadian literary landscape.”

What is the story for 2015? After months of counts and compilations by hard-working volunteers, the counts have been released here.

Thank you to CWILA.

Because it was this brain…


My favourite writer to listen to is Joyce Carol Oates and it is precisely for her questing brain. Here is Joan Frank discussing Oate’s SOUL AT THE WHITE HEAT at the San Francisco Chronicle:

Soul at the White Heat

Soul at the White Heat

Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life

By Joyce Carol Oates

(Harper; 390 pages; $27.99)

“Jade Colbert rounds-up the best from Canadian independent publishers.”


Don’t know if this is exactly a *good* review or not, but it’s the Globe, so what the heck? Happy to be here with Myrna Kostash and Susan Perly.

Globe and Mail review

How Not To Talk About African Fiction

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.34.28 AM

This astute article from the Guardian about discrepancies about how we talk about white, male N American lit and how we discuss black, women’s African lit.

African Fiction

Do Women Writers Have Clout?

Over at the New Republic, Andrew Piper and Richard Jean So have published a look not at the numbers of women being reviewed but at the quality of the reviews themselves. What they conclude is shocking.

Women Write About Family, Men Write About War

Review of Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes

Love will Burst

Esther Griffin, a student in the optional residency MFA at UBC and an English teacher in ON, has generously reviewed the book for Prism where, as she notes, I twice won the fiction prize. Someone was just asking me with what stories:  Sperm King and Goombay Smash.

Prism review


Here’s a review of the new book

Michael Dennis keeps a reviewing blog for recent Canadian books and today he reviewed my book Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes.

Today’s book of poetry:
Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes.  Jane Eaton Hamilton.  Caitlin Press.  Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.  2014.

It is not, I promise you, that I think I’m smarter than most – I don’t. But I do think I’m smarter than some.  Jane Eaton Hamilton is not one of them.  I love smart poetry and Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes is as smart as it gets.

Usually I’m a little offended and a little annoyed when I have to open my very much used dictionary because a poet has a better vocabulary than mine.  I know it is childish.  I’m almost always a little peeved when they show superior wit.  Jealous on both counts might be more accurate.

So why did I LOVE Hamilton’s Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes?  I loved the title when I first saw the book and then when I started reading these poems they hit like a beautiful velvet hammer.

Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes:  Frida Kahlo

The first time I married Diego
he could not lift the paintbrush
from my womb
I bled cadmium from interior spaces
yawning with pubic hair, seeds
cactus roots
cavernous with absence
feeding myself with the milk of Solanaceae
Demeter’s teats
spitting out sugary skeletons
instead of babies
slipping toward parthenogenesis

After I married Diego a second time
he wound necklaces of thorns around my throat
I bled alizarin crimson from soft flesh
feeding myself dead birds
Other women crowded around
masticating and cheering, but they were nothing
even my sister was nothing
(was I? Was I nothing? With my lovers?)

Diego grabbed the sky
through the cavern in my chest
his arm a straight unbearable pole
and told me that was all the love
he had

Fair is fair; I didn’t have a heart anymore
just something swollen
a girl’s red castle of pain
wetly beating on sand

1  Frida Kahlo, not to Diego Rivera

Jane Eaton Hamilton’s raw and crippling precise poetry is a bit like your first grasp of Picasso.  It doesn’t happen with one painting (or one poem).  It is the result of accumulated brilliance.

Love Will Burst… has poems using paintings and painters as a starting point, poems about being a girl, being a woman, being alive.  The subjects of these poems don’t matter nearly as much as the mastery.  Hamilton is the perfect dance partner, she only lets you think you are leading.


I) The Broom

is a pole with attached bristles
The broom can stand in a closet and be seen by no one
The broom comes alive only in hands:

a woman’s hands
ordinary, tremoring
sweeping mouse nests and spiderwebs across the kitchen tile
toward the living-room carpet
under the underlay they lump like live things

The problem of cash
The problem of the vomiting child
The problem of varicose veins
The problem of the car’s bald tires
The problem of the husband’s fist

At the intersection of 14th and Quebec
a broom –turquoise, plastic, short black bristles
has been struck, its pole twisted and warped,
the head dethroned

II) The Sponge

is not what the woman calls for when
her head splits, but it is all the boy thinks
to grab from the silver belly of the sink
and what he holds to her blood-clotted hair

It is the same sponge swiped the night before
across pork gravy

III) The Bucket

is worn by the boy when he wants to
shut out fighting
Is yellow. Has a
compartment to wring out the mop
When the boy wears the bucket he believes
he is invisible, an action hero
who can zip through the battle zone
invisible as his mother
who is known to be clumsy
who calls in sick on average four days every month

IV) The Vacuum

was originally her mother’s
Is so old it has a fabric electrical cord
a two-pronged plug

The bags fill up like paper pregnancies
to be discarded
She would like a wet-dry vac

The vacuum makes an unholy roar. Sounds like aircraft

V) The Mop

also combats dirt
the kind that adheres
the way a bruise adheres
When dinner is flung from the table
a broom will take care of the mess
(Caesar salad, green beans, rice, salmon)
but anything wet
blood in particular
leaves a sticky film

The mop is a fright wig
a Medusa head

VI) The Toilet Bowl Cleanser

Pine-Sol. The boy adds it to water
where it turns to milk
While his mother serves ice cream
he passes it to his father
Milktini, Dad! Drink your milktini!

Make no mistake, Hamilton is a clever assassin.  She can cut your heart out while you are still reading, falling to the floor.  There is little in the way of tender mercy here.  Hamilton is a Ninja poet. Hamilton is a nurse to the ill-considered, the ill-informed reader, a dark and sometimes harrowing beacon of incandescent light.

Jane Eaton Hamilton’s Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes is astonishingly good, painfully honest.

Did I mention brave?  She’s that too.  Her love poems are lovely, the sex poems sexy, all the stuff in-between tailored to excellence.

Regardless of your choice of plumbing the poem “Sleepless” is a tour d’force.


We did not sleep and were made insane by it, and loved the stupidity
Gads, it was just the thing, all that rutting, our senses electrified
honeyed bee stings, slow-sinking mudslicks–sex
meted out in silken slaps on a slow summer landscape of skin
most extraordinary, more to us than Lamborghinis
or Ecosse cycles, more than soaring through cerulean skies, skin was
licked, bitten, scorched, twisted, puckered, rubbed raw, hickeyed
blown on, finger-tipped, heated, cooled, exalted–

every time we fucked it was brand new, brand new, I say
like a cotyledon leaf through spring soil, like starlight brimming night

in mewls and murmurs and mine a hosanna, a liturgical worship–
did we hear a choir of lesbians? cries and exclamations and groans
and caught breath and occasional exhortations as leg cramps or
ovaries knocked or a nipple tweaked past good pain–

let me talk about her frankness, the way she opened me as an orange
stripping off bumpy rind, the way she peeled me so I came apart
in sections juicy and dripping through her hands
my head thrown back
my throat rippling, how she asked me to show her
fucking myself … I stopped time
for that, wouldn’t you? Fuck, wouldn’t you?
masturbating naked on her deck in the sunshine
my skin hot and prickling … if you could, wouldn’t you
stop everything and just–

and the first thing, no, it wasn’t the first thing
but neither of us was keeping notes … the actual first thing
was the moon fingering shadows through arbutus leaves
while she lifted her Folk Fest t-shirt
and I moved like silk behind her, my breasts globular and firm
and ran my tongue up the bones of her spine, bump, valley
bump, valley and so on, before a kiss, I mean, I seriously mean that–
before a kiss, or even, the next night in another town
weeping against her, sobbing for the cruelties of illness–her fist
struggled to fit inside me, slow lubed penetration, agonizingly sweet
and harsh, my cunt became a balloon, a hollow, filling
with this woman’s richest tactility, and began to–

she began interphalangeal articulations, I mean she began to move
against me, my red leaking bruised flesh
a postural rotation, I mean her wrist turned
and I reached to feel her there
fisting me, and I could see her move inside me by watching above
my pelvic bone, the shape of her fingers almost visible
and I was gobsmacked that a woman
was taking me like that, punching me, if you will, if you go where
bdsm goes (which we didn’t–we did not, that, quite)
I arched my back, began to undulate
and roll my eyes back as she flung me
over Saturn like an extra moon, like Titan.. I was all head and no head
at the same time, blown like a gunshot, blown into space–

“Sleepless” goes on for several more verses, each as good as the last, better than almost any other.  Wow.

The Review

Best of the Year Lists etc


JEHstatueThere have been some crotchety writers this week, one complaining about an ungenerous review, another complaining that she was left off an end-of-the-year Best Books list.

The emotional lives of writers are complicated things–most of us are crazily under-compensated (the Access Copyright cheques were down by over 20% this year because now universities aren’t paying when they copy our books), the average Canadian writer probably not managing to scrape up even 10 cents per hour worked.  Imagine that … toiling for nothing all year long, hoping for an eventual pay-out.

No one asked us to do it, for sure, but everyone benefits from it, from readers to publishers to distributors to book store clerks.

Being on the lists, getting good reviews, these things are more relevant to us than an outsider would guess.  These are what have domino effects on our long-term well-being–that let editors know they should invite us onto their lists, granting agencies understand that they should say yes to our proposals, festival organizers realize that they’d like to have us read next year.  These things become, in years hence, bankable.

And yet, and yet.  I’m in the enviable position of no longer particularly caring.  Yes, it’s gratifying when good things happen, and yes, I urgently need to earn a living, but, even so, there’s something to having left writing for 8 years that has loosened these visceral ties to ambition.  I wish I’d had the freedom I feel now when I was a young writer and everything was tooth and claw, because it’s good to be untethered, so so amazing to be untethered, to just write for the sheer enjoyment and satisfaction of the task.  I know I’ll be dead soon-as will we all in just 10 or 30 or 50 or 70 years, trifles all–but for the moment, even with the bills mounting, the financial future uncertain, I’m so gloriously alive, and so deliciously able to wield 26 letters.

It’s so much more than enough.






Dust Up

In Canada, we don’t dust-up in public very often, but lately, esteemed poet Jan Zwicky has been going head to head with National Post columnist and poet Michael Lista.  Jan was review editor at the litmag The Fiddlehead in the early 90s, and instituted a policy of publishing only favourable reviews.  Here is what she had to say in CWILA (Canadian Women in the Literary Arts), reprinted from The Malahat Review:

I have certainly had my fair share of negative and positive reviews, so I know the difference from an artist’s perspective.  I know which feels good, and which feels bad; which feels fair, and which feels unfair; and I know what the nasty-assed ones can do to one’s struggling creativity and its expression.  Once you put out a book, it’s more or less representative of ten years of sometimes-grinding labour, and to have it maligned, especially if you question the reviewer’s impartiality (are they coming up behind you?  Have they entered the same contests you’ve won?  Are they pissed off that the book got added to their review pile at the last minute?) can be very damaging. It’s a little like a bully throwing sand in your eyes.

But while I agree with many of Jan’s points, I don’t support her position.  A reviewer in a sparsely populated country like Canada already reviews with one hand tied behind her back–the poet or novelist she’s trashing is almost certainly going to be on her judging panel sometime in the future.  Telling her that she has to only say good things is telling her that she has to write with two hands tied behind her back.  Fair comment, it seems to me, is unimpeded comment.

Furthermore, as a reader, I don’t want to read only good reviews–I can’t imagine anything more boring, in fact.  I want to see sharp intelligence put to sharp use so that I can divine what is dreck and what’s not.  Reviews are not, I don’t think, supposed to serve the writer (though of course they often do), but rather to inform the reader.  I want to come to know, over time, that I mostly do, or mostly don’t, agree with reviewer X, so that I am safe basing my purchases, or non-purchases, on what she has to say.

%d bloggers like this: