Reviews

 

"It’s been twenty-three years since the publication of Mary Stewart Hammond’s first book, Out of Canaan. Hammond’s second, Entering History, is proof that the poet’s consciousness or “moral intelligence” has been at work these last two decades, and we are the richer for the wait."

—Jacqueline Kolosov, Salamander

 

"For the days the poem and the story seem like they exist on two different planets, enter the narrative poem. Mary Stewart Hammond has written an entire collection of narratives in Entering History. Within, she tells the story of a longstanding marriage, detailing the mundane routines of the everyday with the same passion and dedication that she gives to life’s bigger, less ordinary moments. This book on her husband gives the reader a raw and intimate look at what married life is really like."

—Annemarie Marconi, Signature (Click here for the full article)

 

"Mary Stewart Hammond’s  is an exquisite and intense exploration of one woman’s most intimate relationships. These poems reverberate with sincerityas Hammond unveils her innermost thoughts about her marriage, her brother, and the aging and
death of her elderly parents...[The collection] is an intimate and beautiful exploration of human connectedness. Hammond wisely reminds us that enduring love is the central quest of the human condition. Reading this book is a transformative experience." 

—Sonja James, The White Spider in My Hand

 

"In Mary Stewart Hammond's first book, Out of Canaan, the telling is a gorgeous, manic outpouring of lyrical narrative… Hammond is an original, witty, lush writer, mature enough to embrace her friends' sufferings, the mixed pleasures of a household with adolescent daughters, the rich torment of family life, her own childhood . . . There's a largesse to this writer, an irresistible radiance that catches the grief and joy of an examined life."

—Gail Mazur, The Boston Sunday Globe
 

". . . stunning first collection…  richly textured language and ambitiously extended narratives… The best of the pieces in Out of Canaan are hardly 'breath-edged' pennies. On the contrary, in their associative sweep and the scope of their elaboration they are 'As big as the eye / of the train.' But they do 'hold such power.' [H]er 'ear,' as she puts it in "Grandmother's Rug," her book's bravura closing poem, 'is full of sky.'"

—Sandra Gilbert, Poetry Magazine
 

"Out of Canaan is a book so intricately woven that it becomes one poem… This poetry is dense, not suitable for skimming, not a coffee table book, but one that engrosses readers so much that they lose track of any small talk going on around them. We are in a theater completely absorbed by the zest of a good play… [S]he puts more action and complex characterization into her tightly compressed lines than most writers could get into a novel… [Her] ability to achieve dialogue with readers occurs in every poem I pick up and indicates that Out of Canaan is a very good book indeed. I also have a hunch that it is a great book… [W]hat makes this book great are that clear head and that ranging, raging heart."

—Alberta Turner, Field
 

"This first collection of poems introduces a distinctively energetic Southern voice. Hammond's language fairly crackles with words that "escape rebelliousness as steam / from the snap-bean pot." In addition to weaving rich linguistic textures that offer surprises at nearly every turn, Hammond is a powerful storyteller."

—The Virginia Quarterly Review

 

"In Out of Canaan, her stunning first book of poems, Hammond evokes the poignant history of four generations of her Southern family. The reader is immediately attracted by the sheer sparkle and vitality of the language… A very accessible book, recommended for all collections."

—Library Journal
 

"The confessional tradition is not dead, this superlative new book shows us. As fiercely as Anne Sexton, as complexly as Robert Lowell, with the formal control of Sylvia Plath, Hammond explores the intricacies of family and psyche… [T]here is a stern, unyielding honesty to Hammond's work that makes it penetrating, unforgettable."

—Booklist
 

“Mary Stewart Hammond’s first book, Out of Canaan, cannot be called promising because she has already arrived. These are confessional poems with a difference. Hammond draws on her Southern background for a linguistic richness and sense of play few confessional poets possess, perhaps none after the original ones. Her work exhibits the complexity of diction and tonal register common to much of the best Southern fiction… [She] also displays a fine lyric gift… [M]any writers could learn from the way Hammond grounds her lyricism in specific actions and integrates levels of diction. Indeed, in her best dozen or so poems Hammond writes circles around established poet Dave Smith and Louise Glück.”

— David Dooley, The Hudson Review
 

"Mary Stewart Hammond has been called a confessional poet, but I don't think she fits into this category all that well. Although her subject-matter--a mother's cancer, a father's abuse, a daughter's disloyalty--may qualify as confessional, she never once brings down the level of her art for the sake of revelation… Taken as a whole, Mary Stewart Hammond's poems suggest, with an extraordinary and quite relentless intensity, that a cleansing of the human spirit is possible in a world that at every turn seems to deny it."

—Robert Richman [From an introduction given at the West Side Y in New York]
 

"[The] poems of celebration…are in themselves worth the price of the book."

—Harvard Magazine

PRAISE

 

“I’ve read, loved, admired, enjoyed, and was generally knocked out by Entering History. [Hammond] is sui generis as a writer. [The poems] fit in no school, are not summable up, have more wit and candor and sheer nerve than a dozen others. [The] comic turns scour our pretensions; some of the poems are harrowing, always revelatory, incredibly smart, and finally cathartic.”
Eleanor Wilner, MacArthur Fellow, Tourist in Hell

 

"A book of luminous things. These radiant lyrics are as clear-eyed and unflinching as they come, full of urgent truths about marriage, about aging and illness, and about the ache of loving--and lamenting--what we will lose. In an age of so much bravado, what a delight it is to read Hammond's wise and sad and beautiful poems."

Patrick Phillips, Blood at the Root finalist for the 2015 National Book Award



“The poems seem both vast and focused or intimate… ‘There’s nothing special about being a poet,’ the poet says, but there’s lots special about poetry that’s alert to the secret vibrations of contemporary life… These terrifying and glorious poems brim with proof of the powers of the poet’s transfiguring imagination.”

Henri Cole, Guggenheim Fellow, Nothing to Declare

 

“A beautifully readable book. Intelligence permeates each phrase; [Hammond’s] language is alive to corruptions and multiplicities of sense… Her wit is an instrument of moral intelligence.”

Rosanna Warren, Guggenheim Fellow, Departure and Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry

 

"Entering History has an enormous range of tone from biting social criticism to a gentle, lyrical compassion....This is a book to be grateful for."

Grace Schulman, Guggenheim Fellow, Without a Claim: Poems

 

"'Memory,' as this poet quotes from Nabokov, 'is the only real estate," and for her it is fertile earth indeed. What she works with, however, is not so much the friendly soil of flowerbeds as it is acres of hardscrabble — rank, tangy, obdurate with the clumpings of a grim religion, of cancer and body casts, of mania, death and suicide, of unwitting cruelty of parent toward child and child toward parent. But what survives the labor is triumph and celebration." 

John Frederick Nims, Guggenheim Fellow, Western Wind

 

"Out of Canaan brings together an absorbing mix of high and low dictions, a succession of jaunty and prophetic tones, a suite of unforgettable voices and haunting subjects. It is an original and representative family romance, a tale of one tribe transfigured into an emblematic book of wisdom and delight."

—Edward Hirsch, MacArthur Fellow, Gabriel A Poem

 

"Deaths and marriages, contemporary life, interplay of generations: these pages brim with what the whole world knows. The novelty is how entertaining and up-to-date they are. Without even having to eat the meal in her priceless "Making Breakfast," Mary Stewart Hammond's reader is bidden to a linguistic table where the tartness we must no longer call 'breeding' may well be hailed as talent."

—James Merrill, A Scattering of Salts

 

"In Out of Canaan, Mary Stewart Hammond looks back lyrically on the Biblical South of her childhood and also looks around her at the strange new world of her life in the Northeast. Passionate yet clever, resilient yet rich with it and word play, Hammond's poems dive again and again toward the depths."

—Andrew Hudgins, Guggenheim Fellow, A Clown at Night

 

"Out of Canaan is about America, about family life, and about the glories and terrors of having a voice and the powers of invention. It's a wonderful book."

William Matthews, Search Party