A review by Esther Griffin
love will burst into a thousand shapes
Jane Eaton Hamilton
Caitlin Press, Inc., 2014
Jane Eaton Hamilton is a Vancouver author whose short fiction has twice won both the first prize in the CBC Literary Award and the short fiction contest for PRISM international. In addition to having published eight books, Hamilton is also a photographer and visual artist, which adds texture to her third book of poetry, love will burst into a thousand shapes. In this collection, Hamilton reveals the raw and varied experiences of the heart: the inexplicable beauty of love, the numbness of loss, and the reawakening of oneself through passion.
The first section, “Tremblement de Terre,” begins with a series of ekphrastic poems, including poems inspired by the works of Degas, Matisse, and Van Gogh. The title poem, “Love will burst into a thousand shapes: Frida Kahlo,” establishes the themes of the heartache and loss that will be explored in the collection:
Fair is fair; I didn’t have a heart anymore
just something swollen
a girl’s red castle of pain
wetly beating on sand
In “Our Terrible Good Luck,” the second section, Hamilton captures the intense, often paralyzing emotions of loving a child. In the poem, “Twins,” the narrator and her daughter are watching a documentary about the separation of conjoined twins:
The rip was loud
Won’t they miss each other? asked
Meghann, and I didn’t know how to
say I missed her even when
she slipped out of me
While this poem is expressly moving for women, it captures a universal emotion that all parents can appreciate. Within this section are poems about unimaginable losses, parents’ worst fears realized, and horrors no child should have to endure. Reading about these near-misses and tragedies made me want to tuck my own children back in the womb, forever safe. And how do we send our children out into the world of Columbine shooters, pedophiles, and mass murders? As Hamilton’s poems illustrate, we must, because these poems are also about moving beyond experiences of loss and fear.
I read many of the poems in this section with a heavy heart, but as a mother, the poem “Half a Baby,” has lingered the longest. A woman gives birth to her premature son and is able to hold him briefly before he convulses and stops breathing. The loss this woman feels is unimaginable, yet there is beauty in the moment of her having known him. As the narrator snaps photographs of “his hand, the size of a quarter, as if clasping first his mother’s, then his father’s fingers” (40), Hamilton’s image captures the impossible coalescence of joy and sorrow in a single moment.
The third section, “This New Country,” takes the readers through the lifecycle of a romantic relationship. The journey begins with tender commitment: “We packed our bags and named/ our destination: each other” (57). I enjoy experiencing the women’s deepening love for each other and their lives shared through mutual scars. Hamilton has a talent for sweeping her readers into the moment, so when betrayal surfaces, very much like in real life, it takes me by surprise. When the finality of loss becomes certain, I experience the pain as well: “Begin by touch, you said/ and I –/ reached// but you were gone” (68). These poems remind me of the delicate nature of love within a relationship and how it can slip away unnoticed over time.
The final section, “Hands,” celebrates the insistence of the heart. Even after betrayal and unbearable loss, a heart can heal and a body can thrum with desire beneath the hands of a new lover. This section takes a sharp turn into the lesbian erotic and is rich with graphic sexual details. I like the placement of these poems in the collection. Their vibrant, sensuous energy end the collection on a light note of hope.
“Eclosure” and “Sleepless” are the only two poems that feel too intimate. As a woman describes her transcendental experience of being fisted by her new lover, I long to close the door and leave them to their private moment. But at the heart of these poems is the gorgeous vulnerability of giving oneself over fully to another, and this reawakening is powerful.
There are many ways that love can burst, and in “Sleepless,” Hamilton leaves us soaring:
I arched my back, began to ululate
and roll my eyes back as she flung me
over Saturn like an extra moon, like Titan. I was all head and no head
at the same time, blown like a gunshot, blown into space—
What I appreciate the most about Hamilton’s collection is her ability to bring me right into the emotional landscape of her poems—and she doesn’t hold back. Her use of sensory language leaves lasting images, like vivid brush strokes on canvas.
For more information about Jane Eaton Hamilton’s prize-winning poetry and fiction, please visit her website.
Esther Griffin teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various anthologies, and she is currently pursuing her Optional Residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Visit her website at www.esthergriffin.ca