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Book Title

All Souls

Author 1
Saskia Hamilton
Poem Excerpt

Who becomes familiar with mortal
illness for very long. I was a stranger, &c.
Not everyone appreciates it, no
one finds being the third person
becoming, it’s never accurate,
and then one is headed for the past tense.

Futurity that was once a lark, a gamble,
a chance messenger, traffic and trade, under sail.

The boy touches your arm in his sleep
for ballast. It’s warm in the hold. Between
ship and sky, the bounds of sight
alone, sphere so bounded.

—from “All Souls”

In All Souls, Saskia Hamilton transforms compassion, fear, expectation, and memory into art of the highest order. Judgment is suspended as the poems and lyric fragments make an inventory of truths that carry us through night’s reckoning with mortal hope into daylight. But even daylight—with its escapements and unbreakable numbers, “restless, / irregular light and shadow, awakened”—can’t appease the crisis of survival at the heart of this collection. Marked with a new openness and freedom—a new way of saying that is itself a study of what can and can’t be said—the poems give way to Hamilton’s mind, and her unerring descriptions of everyday life: “the asphalt velvety in the rain.”

The central suite of poems vibrates with a ghostly radioactive attentiveness, with care unbounded by time or space. Its impossible charge is to acknowledge and ease suffering with a gaze that both widens and narrows its aperture. Lightly told, told without sentimentality, the story is devastating. A mother prepares to take leave of a young son. Impossible departure. “A disturbance within the order of moments.” One that can’t be stopped, though in these poems language does arrest and in some essential ways fix time.

Tenderness, courage, refusal, and acceptance infuse this work, illuminating what Elizabeth Hardwick called “the universal unsealed wound of existence.”

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“Saskia Hamilton is not a quiet poet, just an extremely subtle and fierce one.”—Jorie Graham

About the Author

Saskia  Hamilton
Credit: Jacqueline Mia Foster
Saskia Hamilton (1967-2023) was the author of four collections of poetry, As for DreamDivide TheseCorridor, and All Souls. She was the editor of several volumes of poetry and letters, including The Letters of Robert Lowell, and was the co-editor of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Her edition of The Dolphin Letters, 1970–1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and Their Circle received the Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism from the Poetry Foundation and the Morton N. Cohen Award for a Distinguished Edition of Letters from the Modern Language Association. She was also the recipient of an Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She taught for many years at Barnard College. 
More by author


  • “Remarkable. . . . With astonishing formal and emotional clarity, in language at once delicate and bold, Hamilton renders afresh enduring questions of time, love, and literature as measures of our individual and shared lives.”—The New Yorker
  • “Hamilton . . . offers sensitive and layered meditations on memory and motherhood in this beautiful posthumous collection. The book’s lyric sequences masterfully portray the thinking mind as it ruminates on time, illness, and literature. Hamilton poses necessary existential and aesthetic questions in these unforgettable pages.”Publishers Weekly, “Best Poetry of 2023”
  • All Souls is a devastating reminder of one’s own mortality, written by a writer who has gone too soon.”Time, “100 Must-Read Books of 2023”
  • “Extraordinary. . . . [All Souls] is a dramatic rendering of Hamilton as both a writer and a reader, a rhapsodic conversation between her library and her life.”—Declan Ryan, Poetry Foundation
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