Sentences and Fragments: Evelyn Hampton’s WE WERE ETERNAL AND GIGANTIC

Magic Helicopter Press, 32 pages, $5.00

Many whiles ago a copy of this chapbook arrived in the mail, with a tiny little piece of notebook paper (complete with frayed left-hand edge from being ripped from a spiral binding), and on this piece of paper, a personal note from Evelyn herself. It appears that Evelyn hand-typed the note on a typewriter, and I’ve always loved that. As pretty much generally always happens when I receive a free book, little pleasure chills tickled my spine.

I have to admit, too, that the back cover copy made me think to myself, “Awesome!” This little chapbook, from Magic Helicopter Press, is described like this:
“Slippery when tender and wise as light squared, Evelyn Hampton’s We Were Eternal and Gigantic knows what the heart is for: it’s for beating someone in the alley.”
Who wouldn’t want to dive in and devour?

So it is my pleasure now to be able to write a few words here about some of Evelyn’s poems.

1.

“Some Haircuts”

This prose piece is made up of eight paragraphs, or perhaps eight prose poems. Each begins with the phrase “Some haircuts.” The first paragraph goes like this:

Some haircuts are red rooms. You walk around them feeling heavy in your blood. You are in love and you are nobody. Nobody could love you because nobody knows you. Not even the red room knows that you are you. You lie down in the red room and the red room does nothing to have you.

After this, the paragraphs’ opening lines are:

Some haircuts are wolverine kits. [. . .]
Some haircuts are animations. [. . .]
Some haircuts cling to hulls and rocks and bulwarks. [. . .]
Some haircuts are just haircuts. [. . .]
Some haircuts are a madness, a green scream. [. . .]
Some haircuts are making money. [. . .]
Some haircuts are people. [. . .]

My purpose in including these openings is to provide you with a sense of Evelyn’s writing. It is surprising at every turn. It is sensitive and also shocking. There is a sense of delight in discovery — a sense that the poet delighted in discovering just as the reader can delight in a different kind of discovery. Perhaps I’m making no sense. It’s possible. I’m hopped up on coffee after a night of no sleep. No sleep is my old friend. There is comfort in no sleep, comfort in knowing my sense of perception is slightly skewed. And I think this is the perfect way to be reading Evelyn’s writing, the perfect headspace from which to try responding to her work. Everything’s a bit off, just slightly skewed, in Evelyn’s worlds, so it seems fitting to be slightly skewed and a bit off balance myself. I don’t know, like standing in front of a funhouse mirror wearing a wig and someone else’s clothes. If there isn’t a sense of discovery when doing that, then I don’t know what. Maybe if by now you’re bored with this review you should just stop reading it altogether.

I’m supposed to be thinking about sentences here. These sentences that begin “Some haircuts” are fragments. The prose paragraph that completes the thought are also fragments. When read all together, these fragments offer up the larger picture of Evelyn’s definition of a “haircut.” I’ve never thought of a haircut in Evelyn’s terms. I’ve never thought of a haircut as anything other than a haircut, but the way she ends that paragraph, the one that begins “Some haircuts are just haircuts,” is like this:
“They shuffle around in the wind. Their hairs break off one by one, becoming lost in the city.”
A lovely, sad image. Which seems a good working understanding of Evelyn’s poems — lovely and sad.

The final prose poem/stanza/paragraph, the one that opens with “Some haircuts are people” ends like this:

“They are a little nothing with sky in it, then a cloud, then sky again.”

Have you ever read a poem like this? I feel like I haven’t. I feel like these words are new to me. I know these words: haircut, little, nothing, sky, cloud, again. But I have always taken them for granted. Now, instead, I see them as new things. I see people as cut hair, floating around and drifting gently, people with sky and clouds inside them, or maybe people bouncing around quietly into one another as if they are clouds in the sky. I see people, in general, in this new way. Lovely. Sad. Evelyn’s people. Evelyn’s haircuts.

And what about the other pieces in this collection? All right.

2.

“Cell Fish”

Which, of course, could be read “Selfish.” This is a longer one, maybe even more a story than a poem, but here’s the ending:
I waited a long time at the table, and then I walked to the dock. I waited until the sky was completely dark and the moon was a sliver in it, and then I walked back to the house.

He had scooped ice cream into bowls and the ice cream had melted. I felt one of the bowls and it wasn’t cold. Everything had evened out. I didn’t feel so strong. The light in the room was off. I heard his breath and felt something soft around my neck.

Here we seem to be situated in a clearer reality. Here we have characters. Setting. The conclusion of a plot or dramatic arc. The narrator delivers her thoughts in clear, concise sentences. The clarity is a nice contrast to details like “the moon was a little sliver” in the sky and the idea that everything “had evened out.” But does my earlier assessment change at all? No, the writing is still lovely. Still sad.

3.

We Were Eternal and Gigantic

I’m pretty sure I would like to hang out with Evelyn. I’m not sure she would want to hang out with me, but I think I would like to be invited into her home, to see where she lives, because I’m sure her living space is much more interesting than mine. There are probably interesting artifacts on her walls, or interesting art, or art she made herself. I bet there is something really tasty to drink in her fridge. There is only OJ and milk in mine. I bet she has something in hers you’ve never heard of. I feel like hanging out with Evelyn would be peaceful. I would like to touch her typewriter. I wonder what kind of music she listens to.

I don’t always react this way to writers, to poems. But there is something about the way Evelyn takes in and lets out the world she inhabits that I’d like to witness:

I bet she can keep a plant alive, which is something I cannot do.

I wonder if she has a cat.

Or a rare bird.

I wonder what kind of candles she burns.

I wonder if she drives a car and why not if she doesn’t and what kind if she does.

These are the kinds of things I don’t give a crap about with most people. But there is something about Evelyn, something about her writing, that makes me curious. And isn’t that pretty great? I mean, that you could read someone’s writing and want to know more about that person? Because, especially, she seems like she is someone on this earth who is unlike everyone else — someone unique and very special, someone lovely and maybe sad. I would like to touch that sadness, because the loveliness that comes with it is sure to lend it wings, like, made of bubbles, or maybe pink and purple feathers. You know?

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