In All Souls (Graywolf, Oct.), Hamilton, who died in June, illuminates love, fear, memory, and art in poems and lyric fragments.
Can you talk about the motif of reading and the allusions to other writers that appear throughout the collection?
When I was writing, if something came up that was from my reading, I just let it be there instead of worrying, oh, is this pretentious, or will this turn somebody away who hasn’t read this? I want it to be possible to understand the poems without knowing who these writers are, but also an invitation to anybody to go and find those books, because they are marvelous.
“The child” in these poems is your own child, as well as a sort of stand-in for the idea of a child. Can you expand a bit on your choice to call him “the child”?
To refer to my child as “the child” gives a little buffer, a little protection to his privacy. That is a place where I hold back. I learned a lot from Catherine Barnett’s The Game of Boxes. She was writing about a child and struggling with the question of protecting the child’s privacy and identity. I was able to see her thought process as she revised that manuscript. She came up with an absolutely brilliant solution, which was to make the child a plural, so it became a chorus of children. It had an amazing effect on the poems—this deep and ancient voice coming together of all children speaking that was powerful and moving to me. I am relatively new to writing about a child, because I’m relatively new to being a mother. I have learned a lot from choices other parents have made in their books. That one was a big influence on me.
The collection ends on “Museum Going,” a lyric prose sequence. How did this piece come to be?
It started as an essay for a Proust conference, but I always found the scaffolding of the essay form to be interfering with what I wanted the piece to do. So, I went back to it and revised it, and took away the scaffolding. I didn’t want to hold the reader’s hand and lead them through the museum and be the museum guide. I wanted the experience of reading it to be a bit like the experience of going to look at pictures. There are connections between different sections and paragraphs, but that would be the same as going to a well-curated museum show. I also knew that the relationship between Proust and Vermeer and Hadrian and WWII were tenuous, held together with a spider’s web. But I hoped that the juxtapositions would help create the power of the associations had for me.