Sep 20, 2019

Poet comes to class

"Half the stuff he said, I didn
Shaun Ho / The Collegian

Poet Sam Hamill, known for his poetry against war, has spent the last couple of days at Fresno State, ending with a question-and-answer session on Sept. 11.

The date is not only a coincidence, but is also ironic, as Hamill has often been labeled as an anti-war poet. After all, he has 15 volumes of original poetry that showcase his feelings on the subject. Along with being the founding editor of Copper Canyon Press, known as the press against war, he also started up Poets Against War.

For Fresno State English Professor Brian Turner, a poet himself, Hamill represents more than an opposition to the war.

“He’s a proponent for peace,” Turner said, adding also that Hamill does point out the positive mentors of times past.

“He celebrates the mentors we have in human history.”

To give his students the chance to hear about Hamill’s works and opinions directly, Turner invited Hamill to his Tuesday class.

Hamill’s appearance was sponsored by the Madden Library and the English Department’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing.

Turner said beforehand that Hamill’s poetry and essays were unlike a lot of poetry in that Hamill is direct about how he feels; he doesn’t use metaphors to give a subtle political layer. He talks about it point-blank.

Sophomore George Stepanoff agreed.

“He definitely has his views,” Stepanoff said.

Stepanoff, having written poetry before, noted how effectively Hamill got across what he feels, but that doesn’t mean he agreed with all of it.

“Half the stuff he said, I didn’t believe… [but] everyone has their own opinions,” Stepanoff said. “You don’t have to agree with everything people say.”

For incoming senior Nancy Whittle, meeting Hamill changed the way she felt about his work.

“ I liked him… the emotion behind it,” Whittle said. “[After] meeting him, I could see why he wrote the way he did.”

At one point for Whittle, the topic hit home when the topic of the Vietnam War brought memories of her cousin who had gone to Vietnam.

“It conjured up images of my cousin… [and what he] had to go through,” Whittle said, referring to a disease that later took his life. “[He went from] a football players body down to 90 pounds.”

Whittle also talked about the frustrations of trying to diagnose him.

With a personal understanding of the damage of war, Whittle listened to Hamill’s every word, but wished he had raised other issues.

“I asked him, ‘Have you heard of Castle’s disease?’” Whittle said, continuing that Agent Orange had caused it, a herbicide used by the U.S. Military in warfare.

Whittle said that Hamill didn’t directly address her question.

“You’ve got to have a balance. He talked about seeking truth, you have to look at all sides,” Whittle said, revealing just how personal war is.

Hamill has spent much of his life trying to prevent things that come from war.

“He’s been a lobbyist for peace most of his life,” Turner said.

Turner noted what a difference technology has made in Hamill’s efforts, most recently by giving him the chance to use the Internet as a means of connecting the press against war.

Even with the time taken by his efforts, Hamill has also published three collections of essays and two-dozen volumes that have been translated from five languages, including Chinese.

Many of Hamill’s views are influenced by other cultures.

“[Hamill] focuses on things that are eastern philosophy- other cultures rather than a western,” Turner said.

But no matter what the topic or the philosophy being discussed; Hamill could be counted on to express his feelings.

“His [work] is up front,” Turner said.

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