“Mesmerizing as well as desperate, a wild-eyed tour of a lesser hell. Amadon claims these poems are almost entirely true–if so, God help him, the truth has been transformed into poetry. Sam Amadon–even his name (like Jack Kerouac) is a song. Sing it.”
“These poems are street-smart, buoyantly lyrical, and they possess something beautiful and permanent at their core. Samuel Amadon does for Hartford what Koch, Schuyler, and O’Hara have done for New York City.”
–Tracy K. Smith
“Most poetry written in what might be called the vernacular is evidently a stunt, and we soon weary of such prowess. Sam Amadon has no such self-congratulatory purpose; his speech is helplessly frank in its high and low spirits:My parents thought they d keep me safe / by sticking me in a private school, / but Hartford works its way in no matter / what you learn & this winter / I ve come to know the worst people / the city has in it… The poet is one of them, and suffers as much as any chronicler since Clough for his own pathetic (even ghastly) powers of presence: this is not memoir, it is confession, the speaker is on the rack and only timidly aware of the torture he cannot help wreaking. Our poetry will never be the same now Amadon has spoken, our language can be entirely different. Happily for us.”
The Hartford Book is an unbleeped theme song for (or against) the city—a throwback anthem to Like A Sea’s deep album cut, sung by the Amadon that got away; but like the Mafia or something, Hartford keeps pulling him back in, which I guess is what this book is: it enacts that inescapable returning to the rundown, dead-end hometown you always talk about leaving, even after you actually already left it. Or maybe, depending on how you slice the timeline, Like A Sea is the incoherent hangover of The Hartford Book’s drunk confessional—straightforward, simple, too far gone for cleverness. Or else Like A Sea is the raving, blackout drunkenness and The Hartford Book is remembering what you did last night. Either way, Like A Sea’s a tough act to follow, and I admit at first I missed its wordy weirdness, but these poems do a lot with language subtly and are plenty messed up themselves: they perform in their own right, on their own terms. And it’s a testament to Amadon’s talent that his first two books can provide such divergent surfaces: this is a poet who can play the field, and who can’t stop talking (to our benefit). Ultimately, the two collections go oddly hand in hand, each enriching what the other offers, and their unlikely union puts to the test and proves that against all odds, for Amadon, Like A Sea’s opening axiom holds true: “I could not sound like anyone but me.”
This is landscape poetry for a post-industrial modernity, when progress has picked up and gone elsewhere, leaving once-flourishing cities like Hartford to deal with the abandoned that remain. Like so many of the characters in his collection, Amadon is not afraid to step over skeletons, and you get the impression that’s the only way out.
In Amadon’s second collection of poems, all narratives center on the city of Hartford—a metaphor for the fact that a person never really leaves home; or perhaps, that home never really leaves a person. A dark and captivating read, The Hartford Book, at its core, has a unique and complex perspective on the themes of friendship and loyalty. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23233#sthash.aSYXIoIk.dpuf
Hartford has proved to be a continuing inspiration to poets, though the city of Amadon’s second collection is a very different place from that of Wallace Stevens. “My mother says Asylum Avenue’s/ the wrong place to start,” begins one early poem, “because the neighborhood’s still// too nice which makes me think/ my mother hasn’t been/ paying attention and doesn’t know// what drug dealers look like.” In this plainspoken, youthful, but wearily cynical voice, Amadon (Like a Sea) offers a tour of Hartford’s underbelly, street by street (many poems are titled with street names), where drugs, too little money, painful family lives, and his troubled postcollege roommate Kenny (“when// Kenny told me he loved me I told him to hold still/ because I had to dab a napkin at/ the cut in his scalp where our friend// Sully had stabbed him minutes before”) make it hard to imagine things getting much better. While the poems do have a sameness of voice and texture to them, this book depicts a life that’s anything but enviable but mostly intoxicating to watch over Amadon’s shoulder; we feel as he comes to finally feel about Kenny: “the truth is I never/ wanted him to get sober like nobody/ really wants any of us to get sober/ they just want to take/ the scarier ride one time & be gone.”
This simple vernacular honesty allows the poet to tread along a path of dark confession; the poet spares no shard of unsavory recollection in chronicling the abject years spent living in and with the city of his youth. The result is a book that scratches, in a silky voice, at the scars that can’t heal—a testimony to the past that is as deadly as pushing a syringe, and nearly as addicting.
As much as The Hartford Book may seem like a purge or love songs, it’s both—anchoring Amadon and the reader in a state of delicious hell, its damaged inhabitants being the only people we could imagine befriending. What a thrill to be told the truth about ourselves and, in the process, have such an electrifying poet for company. Amadon’s second book is a cause for celebration.