Illinois, My Apologies

Someone once asked me why I never ventured very far from where I grew up.  There’s a lot of answers to that question.  I could talk about how Pennsylvania retains its natives (more than any other state, I hear).  I could talk about how I wanted to stay close to family and friends.  I could talk about how I was lucky enough to find a good paying job close to my home state. 

Mostly, however, I just say that I have an “exasperated” fondness for my world.

Recently, I finished a chapbook that expresses more than just “an exasperated fondness” for the land.  Justin Hamm’s chapbook, Illinois, My Apologies, displays the anger  a person can have with a place, along with the frustration of unrequited love for a land that is not always kind.

In the opening poem, a grieving narrator muses,  “Yesterday my mother died/and as I passed between your/hard black winter fields/I remembered/that I belong to you/for the first time/and for once my first thought/was not to scream/but turn my ear to the open/and listen.”

And this is a collection that does spend a lot of time listening.  Sometimes, this listening takes part when the speaker details the people of his place as he does in “At Sixteen” where he describes the fathers who live in the Midwest: “Bleary eyed and bitter/about their swollen/father ankles/their crooked/father fingers/their click-clacking/father joints/and their endless/father mortgages.”  Sometimes, the listening takes place when a speaker recounts a memory. My favorite poem in this collection is “The Last Year on the Farm” where the narrator remembers, as a child, crawling into his grandfather’s lap, and “pressing pillowy cheek to sagging cheek/enclosing in your fingers his twisted ones/and straining against the obstinacy of time/to see the same thing he was seeing.”

Other times, this listening is sort of an inner monologue the speaker has with himself.  For instance, in “The Flour Epiphany” the narrator remarks while looking in a mirror:  “I see my father in two versions: one as a young man/when he wore so much drywall dust/with a vast, innocent dignity/and one as an old, old man/when the color will be nothing/more than another dreaded sign/of his accumulated age.”

All in all, Hamm’s collection is more than just a thoughtful volume that explores an American place.  His poems are full of barfight sweat, churning rivers, industries that stand stark and ugly on horizons.  Such descriptions may make a reader wonder how a speaker would even want to try to love such bleak landscapes.  But I can guarantee that any one who reads this collection will gain new appreciation for the Midwest and the people, especially men, who toil there.

Illinois, My Apologies was published just this past year by RockSaw Press, a totally awesome (sorry my 80’s roots are showing) small press with this mission: “We strive to be a working class press, supported by hard work and dedication.”  I got my copy from Justin Hamm himself — and you can read more about his work at his blog located here.



  1. Thanks for this and the link to his blog! I am looking forward to reading this one, too!

  2. […] Illinois, My Apologies by Justin Hamm (Rocksaw Press) Hamm’s portrayal of a rough and gritty Midwest will make any reader fall in love with the land and the men who toil there. See my complete review here. […]

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