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The Dust We Cherish

Publication Details


The Dust We Cherish
by Amanda L. Hamilton
ISBN 978-0-9909921-0-3
hand-sewn saddlestiched © 2015
44 pages (6.5" X 8”)
out of print

The Dust We Cherish is a collection of poems about transition, isolation and almost communicating. Hamilton writes of her home in central Illinois, recalling rural landscapes alongside dream-like images.

Former Millikin professor Katie Schmid Henson notes in the book’s introduction that, “the speaker of these poems is mistrustful of language; aware that words are often a site of confusion or even worse, betrayal.” Hamilton takes the reader on a journey through transitions and resulting tumultuous emotions. Schmid Henson goes on to say that, “The impulse to both revel in a thing and question its pull runs throughout the chapbook….wrestling with an idea leads to understanding and celebration, and this wrestling is the great power of this collection.”

Student editor for The Dust We Cherish, Brittany Mytnik, states: “Bronze Man Books has paired beautiful photographs, edited to resemble pencil drawings, with the poetry. The result is a stunning and engaging reading experience.”



"Withdraw once again/To the desolate places/And try to call the words.” The opening lines of Amanda Hamilton’s chapbook are an invocation, an incantation, a command; a calling up of another world. Thus begins the poet’s struggle to break from, and return to, language. In this collection, the body, that “desolate place,” is mined for words, which have “settle[d] deep/In your lungs,/Away from the heart’s touch.” It is fitting that this collection begins with a speaker’s violent prying of words from the jaws of a recalcitrant body: this fight to release language becomes the task of this book, and is part of the speaker’s questioning of herself and the world.

Though to say that voice is the site of liberation in Amanda’s work does not do full justice to the troubling of language that happens here. The speaker of these poems is mistrustful of language; aware that words are often a site of confusion or even worse, betrayal. In “As Tiny Worlds Fall,” the speaker is in thrall to an unspoken anguish. Tension builds throughout the piece, in contrast to a placid outer world. Into this turmoil, suddenly “Someone gives an answer with my voice,/Smooth as a morning pond.” Voice, here, is chillingly separate from the speaker and the internal storm she suffers. As it protects the speaker, it alienates her from herself.

So, too, does memory become a scene both of joy and consternation. “Ever Present Past” argues for a past that both continues to exist and is gone forever, as an elderly man keeps his dead wife’s photo “In his wallet,/In his mind.” In the lovely “Loon Song,” memory is a feral animal, its fur a “matted fog” of obscurity and confusion. Quietly, quietly, the poet warns us of the undertow of memory: the joy of calling up the moments that bind the self to the world, and the risk of falling into a past that no longer exists outside of the mind, “it may twine around your ankles/and never let go.”

The impulse to both revel in a thing and question its pull runs throughout the chapbook. These are not contradictory to one another; far from it. In Amanda’s work, wrestling with an idea leads to understanding and celebration, and this wrestling is the great power of this collection. Return, for a moment, to the poet’s complex understand- ing of the dangers and exhilarations of memory. In one of the final poems of the collection, “Do Not Enter,” the speaker looks back at where she’s been. She looks at her own retreating form, exhorting her readers to “Watch my old self walk/Between lost days.” No longer “a desolate place,” as it was when the collection began, she

can see that the struggle to understand her past self has created new understanding and distance. This provides perspective: “It reminds me of a universe/Where I used to wander,” the poet says thoughtfully. And the speaker is in a new universe, now; in the alchemical process this collection undergoes, Amanda has created a new world. In Amanda’s chapbook we have this world she created out of loss, memory and that unreliable tool, language. Enjoy this little planet. We are just visitors here.

~Katie Schmid Henson


Author's Preface

I didn't know I was writing this chapbook. As I sifted through the poems I'd written over the last two years, I realized transition had become a central point of curiosity in my work. Having recently gone through a series of transition, writing about change brought me clarity.

The Dust We Cherish acknowledges that some worlds must be buried, no matter how much we want to carry its dust in our pockets. Sometimes what we need most is a chance to hold close the dregs of a past world before scattering it into its grave. Yet, no matter how carefully we release it, pieces of the past always remain— either through the haunting of old pain, or reminders of the comfortable and familiar.

The world is constantly changing around us, and that changing world in turn changes us. In some of the poems, once the speaker has stepped out of an old world, there is no returning. Although she may cherish a few grains of dust from that old land, the new world has altered her, and she is unable—even unwilling—to fit into her old self again.

A returning theme in this chapbook is the challenge of feeling isolated while in transition, made more complicated by an inability to communicate. Many of the poems linger on the edge of speaking with images contrasting silence and noise, city and country, individuals and crowds, freedom and fear.

Characters in these poems are rarely still. There is a sense of existing in-between, a search for peace. Travelling proves to be a dusty endeavor, and whether it swells in clouds around us or quietly encases familiar knick-knacks, we can't help cherishing it. Life is made from dust.

~Amanda L. Hamilton


Sample Poem

Try to Tell the Stars

Withdraw once againstars
To the desolate places
And try to call the words.

The wind
Throws them
Back down

To settle deep
In your lungs,
Away from the heart's touch.

Words yearning
Beyond bars of bone,
Struggling against

The locked throat.
The tongue lies blank,
Refusing to free

A secret
You meant to tell
The stars.

And so still
You can't speak
Your name.


About the Athor

BrysonAmanda L. Hamilton lives in central Illinois where the cornfields and flat landscape serve as an inspiration for her writing.

A 2014 graduate of Millikin University, she earned a bachelor's degree in English writing and music. In her free time Amanda likes travelling, spending time with her family, and playing the violin.

Attending a good symphony concert is one of her favorite ways to spend a Saturday evening.

This is her first published collection of poetry.






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