Stephen Pentz informs me that the poet Sam Hamill died this past April. As I’ve mentioned several times here over the years, his translations, especially of Chinese and Japanese poetry, were truly life-changing for me. His book Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu: A Friendship in Poetry was the first poetry book that inspired an almost-religious devotion from me. It’s also the only book I’ve read so many times that the binding has cracked and the pages are literally falling out.
I would usually Google him every year or so to see what he’d been up to. Obviously, I hadn’t done so since the spring, at least. It used to be that new articles were hard to come by, but there were several obituaries, including one in the New York Times. Most of them focused on his political stances, especially his “Poets Against the War” initiative from 2003, which I suppose might be the closest he ever got to the mainstream. One remembered him spending a lot of time on Facebook in recent years, issuing political updates concerning anti-racism, Donald Trump, Palestine, and “contempt for the ‘Repugnicons’.” I have to admit it’s a little disappointing to have my memories of his work now diluted with images of him ranting on social media like a million other tedious bloggers in a hyperpolitical age, but I still have a happy memory of reading a Buddhist magazine in a Barnes & Noble and seeing a letter to the editor from him, making fun of a recent article about Buddhists whose Gnostic-like contempt for earthly existence manifested itself in disdain for a meditation center located above a sex shop in NYC. From Hamill’s Zen perspective, life is the sex, blood, filth and suffering of everyday life, not an otherworldly realm of intellectual abstractions. His poetry was visceral like that too.