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By: Carol Vanderveer Hamilton
Reviewed by: Perle Champion
Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2005
$13.95, Paperback

In Blindsight, Carol Vanderveer Hamilton explores the struggle between the dark and the light through people in dark places praying for a light to better see by. She opens with an invocation from The Common Book of Prayer, “Enable with perpetual light / The dulness (sic) of our blinded sight.” Her quest begins with diminished sight in Part I, Scotoma; travels through Part II, Double Vision; and ends with far-seeing in Part III, Hyperopia.

The opening poem “Blindsight” leads, and readers follow blindly, as the speaker sees what she did not see until too late: “…Nobody warned us / about the dangers of this country: / …Like fallen angels, / we run through blindness. / …Having spent hours polishing the lenses / of my sunglasses, hoping that a truth / would insinuate itself / through them….” It is followed by “Arctic”: “Darkness elides all distinctions: / …advancing like a colonizing nation / through the wounds and fissures of daylight….”

Moving through Double Vision, readers encounter “Film Noir,” seeing the banal veneer of the thing that is and the thing itself beneath the façade with a nod to Johann Strauss: “’You’re so pisse-élégant,’ she said, smiling / at his lacquered face, his walnut eyes / reflecting candlelight (Strauss / in the distance)… / …His / body, when they found it, lay fallen with / one arm raised, as if / interrupted in the minuet.”

Part III opens with “Daylight,” and although readers see farther, the light still pushes against dark edges juxtaposing an ordinary day with distant discord: “The Times lies upon the doorstep. / Far away, by fiat or disaster, / strangers lie dead in the rubble of cities.”

Pure poetry often has an existential nature. A good poet creates the meaning of their own and others’ worlds, distilled to its barest bones, giving us more questions than answers. Hamilton’s poems carry many of Sartre’s themes of dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, commitment, and nothingness. Yet, they seem to yearn for more.

In this collection of dark, edgy poems, nothingness hovers at the edges, a spectre, more felt than seen. We reach for the meaning and almost feel it coming, but it does not. It is up to the reader to raise the veil of blinded sight. I find myself ambivalent, at once wanting and yet not wanting a pat answer. I want more of the story, but it doesn’t come. This surreal landscape of words and images demands that I fill in the blanks myself.

If you like film noir, but want a glimmer of light, this collection is more than worth a read, or two or three.

Perle Champion is a freelance writer and artist in Birmingham.

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