The Inheritance by Justin Hamm
Review of The Inheritance by Justin Hamm
Poems and Photographs
Blue Horse Press, 2019
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
The Inheritance is divided in two: Poems in the first half, Photographs in the second. I count myself lucky to have to heard many of these poems read aloud at an art opening of his work at the Normal Public Library, in Normal, Illinois, and to have seen many of his photographs close up and in context with each other and with poems, also framed and mounted on the wall, or read aloud to an attentive group. Via The Inheritance you can have a sort of private experience of that public event.
The photographs are beautifully printed in color, clearly titled underneath, and relate to the poems by way of juxtaposition, not as illustration—in mood, in general subject matter. The poems can stand alone, and you can choose to read them first, but I did flip through, having just seen the exhibit. (I came home with a photograph of a car with a black eye, called “Shiner”.*) But when you look (or look again) at the photos after reading the poems, you’ll hear them as echoes, or the wind, as footsteps on dry grass, a nail rolling across a wooden floor.
There are scary things in The Inheritance—violence, ghosts, wild imaginings, panic attacks, the impulse to murder. There are sorrows and regrets. There is beauty pulling it all together, as in these lines from “After the Argument”:
The moon a round bone
afloat in a black lake.
Time, a knife. Memory, a knife.
Our failures to understand one another—
small blades, every one.
There is music—in the “Federico Garcia Lorca Blues,” a distant train, the chime of a church bell, or “a lonesome Hank Williams tune.” The Inheritance is an intense experience for the eye and ear, for the mind and heart, for the reader and seer.
*”Shiner” appears in Hamm’s book comprised entirely of photographs, called Midwestern (Spartan Press, 2019).
Poems from The Inheritance at EIL: