The Believer Poetry Award

The Third Annual—Hereby Presented To

The Hartford Book by Samuel Amadon

A pale light seems to filter over the poems in Samuel Amadon’s second collection. This slender, powerful volume, which centers on the speaker’s life growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, describes a world of drugs, booze, desperado friends, couch-crashing, chain-link fences, dirt yards, and quickly disappearing jobs (Hartford is one of the poorest cities in the nation). The Hartford Book (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) also manages to be one of the most enjoyable books of poetry we’ve read in a long while.

As in Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, the landscape of poverty and drugs seems to grow characters and stories like no other—characters with names such as Brass, Okie, Legend, Hercules, and Joy—characters with maybe-fake cancer, ex-hockey players who like to expose themselves in bars, characters who shoot up water—and then absinthe—while attempting to detox. In “Asylum Avenue,” Amadon writes of “my friend Brass who died once // because he’s a diabetic & drank too much / & when the EMT brought / him back he punched the guy in the face // & kept drinking & hasn’t died again / as far as I know.”

A poetry of character, story, and image told in a kind of closing-time urgency, The Hartford Book charts the dark exhilarations of youthful forms of self-destruction—and the weird wisdom that can sometimes, for the fortunate, result. It’s also a collection about place. “This is a book that I wrote about loving Hartford,” Amadon has said. The collection is a tribute to a place—but also a tribute to place, to the places where we grow up, to the towns and farms and suburbs and neighborhoods that, merely from having been the sites of our childhoods, are occupied by the shadows and monsters and large and small acts of despair and heroism that go into the making of a full human being. Samuel Amadon: we salute you!

“The One Person That Winter Who Said I Love You,” a poem from The Hartford Book

When our landlords bought the building,
Kenny said, our apartment had a crackhead
hiding in it & as they walked in he was lighting

a cigarette off the flame of a gas space-heater.
Also, he said our apartment had had dead bodies.
When I was in college I lived in the hotel

where Eugene O’Neil died, on the floor
where Eugene O’Neil died & when
I lived with my parents & my dog died

I slept next to the carboard box
full of her ashes for fourteen months before I
noticed & when my father poured my

great-grandmother in the bay part of her flew
back toward me in the wind
& I accidentally swallowed her & when

my grandfather was dying I held his hand
& he thought I was my father
& it smelled like a hospital though it

wasn’t & the other Alzheimer patients kept coming
in the room & watching us & when
my friend Jack died (car/tree) I met this guy Jesse

at the funeral & when Jesse
died I thought I don’t much care if I live
in a house full of dead crack-heads & 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.

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