More Dumb Luck

Perhaps my favorite poem in Sam Hamill’s Dumb Luck is the poem “Dumb Luck” itself, but I’m not going to discuss it here. I’ll just say that it might be worth the price of the book all by itself.

In light of yesterday’s entry on technology, I decided that this poem was more appropriate:


I never wanted
a cell phone or electronic
mail, a Cadillac
or a limousine to cruise
the Information Highway.

A dusty back road
through obdurate relics of
is where I’ve built my retreat.
Give me a California

Job Drawer, a press
I can ink by hand, cotton
fiber paper made
by hand in France, Italy
or Japan, and let me be.

I like the feel of
the poem as it takes shape
in my hands, the smell
of damp paper, oil, type wash,
the hum and clunk of the press.

Technology is,
of itself, neither good nor
evil, but bequeaths
and reveals what’s in the heart
already: whether pine breeze

or voracious
appetite. It’s not that I
reject the comforts
of modern technology-
I want my running water,

a warm house in deep winter.
More is not better-
not always. The marketplace
attracts a gaggle of thieves.

Rats seek the rice bowl.
I’ve spent a lifetime getting
a little out of
line, content with solitude,
half a recluse, a throwback,

building with my hands
this little Buddhist retreat
we named Kage-an,
Shadow Hermitage, under
the dark cedars of the North-

west coast. This is not
a retreat from the world’s ways,
as some Buddhists think,
but an entryway, a door
opening on the real world.

I keep things simple
in my hands and heart. I was,
from the start, a fool-
stubborn, happy in my work,
making a gift no one wants

and giving it all
away. I still remember
the first time I heard
a single alder leaf fall
through autumn trees, a click, click

as it tumbled down.
You can’t give away that sound.
You can hold the moon
between your hands, but you can’t
hold it long. The simple fact

of poetry is
astonishment enough. That
and life’s ironies
duly noted as I write
this epistle on my Mac.

Now, I know few of you are old enough to have ever set real type, but I took a printing class in junior high and must admit a certain fondness for the feel of lead type. When you’re setting type by hand you’re more apt to limit the special effects because of the extra work required, especially trying to fit in the extra ems and ens.

Though I’ve never built my own house, I have built most of my furniture and enjoy the feeling of having made a house my own. I’d certainly agree, as noted before, that “More is not better-/not always.” Anyone trying to keep his blog free of spam would certainly understand “Rats seek the rice bowl.”

If I didn’t agree with Hamill that “The simple fact/of poetry is/ astonishment enough” I would never have devoted so much time to it in this web site.

Of course the line that really convinced me I had to quote this poem is “That/ and life’s ironies/ duly noted as I write/ this epistle on my Mac” since, as everyone who reads me knows, I write all of these entries on my Mac.

Although I sometimes find myself wishing that Hamill’s poetry was more lyrical, I’m also surprised how often I find myself saying “right on” when I read his poems. Our interests and attitudes are so similar that I’m sometimes tempted to drive a little ways up the road to Port Townsend and hunt him down just to say hello.

Of course, being an INTP that’s an unlikely scenario, and personally I wouldn’t want to get arrested for being a stalker, not just a fellow poetry lover.