mac, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham (0121 440 3838)
Review: Rod Dungate 10 July 2003
Male emotionally charged vulnerability: a delicacy that belies its power
mac’s Poetry Bites are relaxed and friendly affairs. Each event (2nd Thursday every other month, July, September and so on) mix floor spots with a guest. This relaxed setting sits at one with Robert Hamberger’s conversational style. His poems deal with deep emotions but often it’s his (and by extension men’s) vulnerability which comes through. The effect is delicate but lasting.
He read mostly from two volumes WARPAINT ANGEL and THE SMUG BRIDEGROOM though included three new poems one, written on the major Iraq War Peace March he describes as ‘already something of a historical document.’
Many of his poems draw on his experience as a married man with children, his subsequent divorce and relationship with his gay partner.
Here he is in a sonnet speaking of taking his small sons swimming ‘ . . . I become their raft, and pass/ each child from one hand to the other, before the eldest tells me to hold tight . . . They hang on like snow/ hugs a branch, until the time is ripe to let go.’ Or lifting the sons from bed at night ‘I whisper their names to wake them. They come/ into my arms as if they trust their lives to me, drop/ their dozy weight against my shoulder.’
Hamberger’s quiet and easy delivery is no preparation for the emotion that sweeps over you like a great wave holding you weightless for a while. This effect is mirrored in later love poems. Here another sonnet ‘If I half-wake and touch you/ we brush past each other in our dreams: / knock a wrist, bump a shoulder.’
Hamberger approaches pain with the delicacy he approaches love. He frequently explores and opens up the sonnet form. Here’s an extract that will strike home to many gay men ‘How old was I? Thirteen maybe,/ One insult too many smashed that armour/ I’d constructed: ‘Fucking queer.’/ This classmate looked inside me,/ knew the secret, smelt it.’ This simplicity, this powerful directness is the mark of all the poems Hamberger read.
That he deals with emotions in this way in an achievement, that he does it without a sniff of saccharine is a very great achievement.
Warpaint Angel: Blackwater Press
The Smug Bridegroom: Five Leaves