risks being understood

Photo of Matthew A. Hamilton superimposed over the cover photo of his book, "The Land of the Four Rivers"

Matt Hamilton has packed more life into his 41 years than most of us could in twice that.

Of the many roads he has traveled – soldier, congressional aide, Benedictine monk, Peace Corps – one he likes best is the road that brought him to North Litchfield, S.C., where he vacationed last week and sat down in a Litchfield coffee shop long enough to be interviewed.

“My whole family has vacationed here for years,” he said. “We love it. The younger ones can go north to Myrtle, and the rest of us have Litchfield, Pawleys and Georgetown.”

A Kentuckian by birth, Hamilton grew up in Ohio and majored in history at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. He next earned a master of fine arts degree at Fairfield University in Connecticut, and he now lives near Richmond, Virginia, and works at Benedictine College Prep, a Richmond high school.

"The Land of the Four Rivers" by Matthew A. Hamilton To the school’s students, he is Matt Hamilton, school librarian. But to the wider world, he is Matthew A. Hamilton, prize-winning poet and a rising literary light. His first book of poetry, “The Land of the Four Rivers,” published in 2012, was hailed by critics and readers alike, and in 2013 walked away with the Peace Corps Writers Best Poetry Book Award, a coveted prize.

One critic wrote: “Hamilton’s poems do what a surprising number of modern poems are too cowardly to do: They risk being understood. If his poems were photographs, we would not only see them, we would feel that we could step right into them.”

The poems were about Hamilton’s experiences from 2006 to 2008 in his first Peace Corps assignment in Armenia, which is located between the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and has been called “the crossroads of antiquity.” Some believe the biblical Garden of Eden was located there and legend has it that Noah’s ark came to rest on an Armenian mountain top.

Armenia is a very poor country, but its ancient culture resonated with Hamilton, who only a short while before had been simply Brother Boniface, a Catholic monk at Belmont Abbey, in North Carolina. “We spoke a different language, but we spoke to the same God,” he said.

Hamilton left the monastic life in 2004 after “four years of loneliness,” he said, and an increasing call to plot his course “in a wider world.”

But he left with his faith intact and perhaps a divine going-away present: the knowledge that his contemplative monastic days had made him a poet.

“That’s when I began to write poetry,” he said.

Lips Open and Divine by Matthew A. HamiltonAnd he’s been writing it ever since.

Besides the prize-winning book, he has published widely in literary magazines, been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, and earlier this year published his second book of poems, “Lips Open and Divine,” based on his experiences in The Philippines, his second Peace Corps assignment, 2008-10.

Hamilton maintains a blog at MAHamiltonWrites.blogspot.com and is Facebook.

His first book is available from Cervena Barba Press. His second, by Wild Goose Publishing, is also available at Amazon.

His next goal is to land a teaching position on a college or university faculty. “That’s my dream,” he said.

You listening, Academe?

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Editor's Note: This story first appeared South Strand News.
Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb

I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After a stint in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English (Class of '61). I began my (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and went to work for The Constitution in, I think, 1976. I left in Sept. '82 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award and my second (Atlanta Blues, in 2004) contended for an Edgar Award. My latest novel won no honors but might well get me nominated for a hanging. Titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in a small Georgia town. I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.com and I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.