In the dying, breath changes, coming very quickly at a certain passage–it seems a panic–and then calms, slowing immensely as the pauses between grow longer. Those keeping vigil can miss when the last has occurred.


From “Exits and Entrances to the Auditorium”


Saskia Hamilton’s fifth collection, All Souls, is a deeply philosophical and introspective window into mortality. The collection, published posthumously, combines fragments, prose, and traditional verse, all of which give the book competing elements of incompleteness and finality. Many of the lyrical fragments and prose read like journal entries or the early drafts of eventual poems. They bridge meditative reflections with quotes from familiar poets from Donne to Dickinson, contextualize brief moments spent in museum exhibits, and explore the implications of linguistic origins. While the collection does not always read as cohesive or polished, All Souls feels hauntingly authentic to the last months of a life and the many directions a mind might fly as it works to make sense of one’s place in the universe.

All Souls is separated into four sections: Faring, Exits and Entrances to the  Auditorium, All Souls, and Museum Going. Within each section, Hamilton incorporates numerous prose entries with lyrical fragments. The first words of the collection exemplify the poet’s dedication to cataloging her experiences: “Light before you call it light graying the sky. Doves on window ledges call and answer, a low branching into seven-fold division.” The prose continues, drifting organically to consider “flowers at once religious, secular, and sexual,” as well as “what is actual? The word derives from a cauterizing agent, ‘red-hot.’ Is actual for one time only, as if only once something could be realized?”

Hamilton does not resist the many branches of thought, nor does she force meaning or coherence into the ideas that echo. Instead, readers are invited into her mind and afforded the opportunity to make meaning alongside Hamilton. The author achingly wonders, “Can writing be a form of practice or of preparation for death?” This question is ever present as Hamilton invokes Whitman’s thoughts on breath and dying, the practice of imprisoning poets without pen or paper, and even onderbreking, “the Dutch word for pause or suspension.” Against the curated fragments on death from generations past, Hamilton wonders “what practice will help prepare [her].”

Some poems are decidedly traditional, including the titular “All Souls,” a poem which mirrors the imagist fragments of earlier prose sections as the speaker encounters “a pocket watch in its case,/velvet ribbon knotted on the click and winder…” The speaker notices that “someone/has let it run down” but implores the reader: Don’t turn back,/it’s the wrong way, is the relation of/chronology to history at all valuable here.” Later in the section, the poet again descends into a deep reflection of time as she notes, “Late in the season, eating a pear/that is the memory of a pear…” These lines are juxtaposed with a haunting account of a school bus with “the faces of children pressed/to the windows as it drove off/towards the river.” Later in the collection, readers learn that the bus and its occupants, too, are but a tragic memory of what once was.

All Souls is an ethereal end to Hamilton’s much-lauded career, a collection which refuses a clean and coherent exit, a book that will quickly establish itself as what Dickinson dubbed “vital light” destined to “inhere as do the Suns–”



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