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.”