In the history of any literary journal, there are a few instances where the editors are forced to reflect on the debt that they owe to certain individuals, and how that debt can never truly be repaid. For Radius, and more particularly, its predecessor, The November 3rd Club, that debt belongs to Sam Hamill, poet, founder of Copper Canyon Press, creator of Poets Against the War and one of our original Contributing Editors.
Editor Victor Infante reached out to Sam when he was looking to launch The November 3rd Club, inspired in great deal by Sam’s work with Poets Against the War and his dramatic rejection of an invitation to attend an event at the Bush White House. Sam agreed to become a Contributing Editor, and over the course of the journal’s history, was a great source of support, advice and inspiration.
We were deeply saddened to hear of his passing the other day. There are no words that can adequately express our love and respect for the man, and how much this journal owes to his support. Sam taught us about the responsibility that comes with the title “poet,” and that language can be used as a tool to heal and combat violence. The world is poorer for his absence.
So instead of us prattling on, we instead offer a poem of Sam’s, that we published in 2008, seemingly a lifetime ago, in hopes that it will give the reader an idea of the man, and what his work meant to us.
Goodbye, Sam. You are very, very missed.
By Sam Hamill
No one is the homeland. The myths of history
cannot clothe the Emperor’s nakedness,
no speech empower a vote not counted,
nor honor the living who are impoverished
by our anthems for the dead. No one
is the homeland. Not the heroes of our
old genocides, the Indian Wars, nor those
who sailed west with cargoes of human flesh
in chains, nor those in chains who came
against their will to work and breed and die
in the service of their masters, masters
whose sons would be masters of us all today.
There are no heroes except the ones
who rise to greet the dawn with empty hands
and heavy hearts in a brutal time. No oath
or pledge reveals what’s in the heart or mind.
No one is the homeland. Or everyone.
For who lives without a country of the heart?
And yet we cry, “We!” We cry, “Them!”
I pledge allegiance to the kind.
Among the exiled, I make my stand.
No true democracy can be won
at the point of a loaded gun, nor honor found
in anthems or cheap paradigms
based on the social lie. No one is the homeland.
It can’t be found in the grandiloquence
of pompous village idiots who run for office
because they want the power. Nor in the brilliance
of the medals on a uniform worn by a man
whose thinking is uniform and obedient
as he swears his pledge of allegiance.
The homeland is a state of grace, of peace,
a whole new world that patiently awaits.
The homeland is a state of mind, a light
flooding the garden, a transcendent moment
of compassionate awareness, one extraordinary line
in some old poem that reveals or exemplifies
a possibility… in time… in time…