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Illinois, My Apologies

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Justin Hamm
  • Date Published: 2011
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-4507-4865-0
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 29pp
  • Price: $10.00
  • Review by: C.J. Opperthauser

Justin Hamm's first chapbook of poems, Illinois, My Apologies, is a wonderful sampling of Midwest-soaked poems, dripping in fathers and broken down factories. As a Midwesterner, I not only identify with these poems, but feel they express the frustrations of the region with the utmost accuracy, accompanied by some light humor and beautiful language. The beginning of “At Sixteen” showcases this best:

The Midwest belches
from its smokestacks
beside the churning river
and all of its fathers stretch
bleary eyed and bitter
about their swollen
father ankles
their crooked
father fingers
their click-clacking
father joints
and their endless
father mortgages

The many pains of the Midwest show their faces in this section. Smokestacks and rivers; the skin of the region. It's true—wherever you go in the Midwest, you are probably no more than twenty miles from an operating or non-operating factory of some kind, and the rivers they lean on. The physical pains of the blue-collar job are also expressed here, with wonderful, precise repetition. The pacing is consistent throughout the book, as well. Punctuation is minimal, but the line breaks and the stanzas help to slow down the reader in all the right places.

Aside from his personal relationship with the Midwest, Hamm touches on many human relationships, most of which are family. In “Sunrise Subterfuge (In the First Person),” the speaker is trying to convince his father that he cannot and does not need to work, assuring the father that

this back of mine
it too will break
this hopeful spirit
it too will rot
like so many tiny
factory towns in shambles
all around us

To this, the father only scratches himself, and the poem ends with the thought “his disappointments / as deep as the pockets / of the rich men we'd serve / but never become / each of us / for a different reason.” The father then is stuck in this blue-collar, painful job, but the son refuses to fall into that same trap, opting for an entirely workless path.

Illinois, My Apologies expresses this tight connection between person and region. Even the distinction between family relationships and area relationships is hard to make—the love of one's father is the love of one's surroundings, and vice versa. This Midwestern collection is a crisp, lively, and sadly true collection of poems which sum up the cornfields and smokestacks in a beautiful fashion.

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Review Posted on April 14, 2011
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