Justin Hamm Has Published His First Collection of Previously Published Poems
At one time, I wondered why poets published “collected” or “selected” poems previously published in individual volumes. What I found confusing was how one differentiated between a collection, a collection of collected poems, a collection of selected poems, and a combination of collected and selected. Some collections even include “uncollected” poems alongside collected ones. If you select an uncollected poem for your collection, can you really call it uncollected? (Editors and poets get around this by calling these poems “previously uncollected.”) It takes time to sort through the meanings and intentions of all these terms.
A poetry collection is one composed of unpublished poems and /or poems previously published separately in various journals, magazines, or other media. A collection of “collected poems” is one that draws poems from collections published earlier by the poet. “Selected poems” draws from a range of sources –— collections, anthologies, poems published separately in journals, and even unpublished work. “Collected and selected” volumes are a hybrid of both; I have a two-volume edition of The Poems of T.S. Eliot edited by Christopher Rick and Jim McCue that includes collected, uncollected, and even some previously unpublished poems. Which, of course, are now no longer unpublished and uncollected.
It helps to look at intentions. Generally, such collections are intended to display a broader and deeper picture of a poet’s work than what one usually finds in a single, slender volume. Collected poems help us see, and often more clearly see, the scope of a poet’s work. They can be drawn from a poet’s entire body of work, or from poetry published over a defined set of years.
Drinking Guinness with the Dead by poet Justin Hamm is a collection of poems published between 2007 and 2021. It includes poems from three previously published collections, The Inheritance (reviewed here at Tweetspeak Poetry in 2019), American Ephemeral, and Lessons in Ruin, and poems published in various journals but previously uncollected. It represents 14 years of the poet’s life and work, and it achieves exactly what it sets out to do, displaying the breadth and depth of Hamm’s poetry during the years covered.
It also may win my award for best poetry title of the year. The title is taken from the included poem, “Drinking Guinness with the Dead During a Pandemic.”
It would be easy, and misleading, to describe Hamm as a “poet of the Midwest.” Geographically, he certainly is that, born in central Illinois (land of corn and soybeans) and living in northeastern Missouri (Mark Twain country). And many of the poems reflect his sense of and sensibility for the Midwest and its landscape and people. It’s where he’s anchored.
But Hamm roams beyond the Midwest in his poems — to Iceland, to the desert, to the Middle Ages, to life in college, to marriage (his poems on marriage are instantly recognizable to anyone who is or ever has been married), and more. It’s here one begins to see what these 14 years of the poet’s life and work have been about; we begin to recognize the similar things we have in our own lives and work. He’s a poet who lives in the Midwest with a heart that is more universal.
This is a poem included in the new collection and previously published in The Inheritance. I read it first in 2019; reading it now makes me think of an Edward Hopper painting.
A Moment in Kansas
The man in the car
on the rural route
turns his head
for just a moment.
He wonders if
he has ever made
his father proud.
But only for a moment.
Now he turns from
the disembodied flames.
At the crossroad
he signals left.
The engine hums
the ballad of whatever
Hamm has previously published a photography book, Midwestern, and four previous poetry collections, American Ephemeral, Lessons in Ruin, The Inheritance, and Federico Garcia Blues. His poems, stories, and photographs have been included in anthologies and published in a number of literary journals and magazines, including Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and others. He’s also had several solo photography exhibitions.
Drinking Guinness with the Dead is an extraordinarily fine collection, its poems written (and collected) with care and precision. It portrays an interior landscape that is easily recognizable, no matter where we live or who we are.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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