Dane Hamann

Pine Row Issue No. 4 Winter 2021 - Featured Poet

The Promise of Light

after the painting "Tornado over St. Paul” by Julius Holm

After the treetops have slowed their mad dance

and the charcoal-black funnel has finished

drilling the bluffs over the great river, a house

painter, hoping for once to paint something

other than plaster or clapboard, buys a souvenir

stereograph card of that day. On the card,

sunlight crashes against churches

and south-facing storefronts and the city

seems ready to reemerge to mend fences,

gather debris, and brush dirt from soaked brick

and timber sticky with creosote. But the card shows

the funnel growing tree-like, without knot or twist,

over the rooftops. Clouds bloom like soot

from a candle held too close to paper.

Miles of haze and dust feed a blanketing smudge.

The painter’s heart pours into the darkness

of the funnel. It is an unmovable iron

blot. It seems the city will be undone

by the weight of air. He buys a small brush

to shape on canvas the cracks of warehouse slats.

He mixes a dark red for the grain elevator

and shapes the skyline with the typical

midwestern jaggedness, the horizon pierced

by five spires and a tree line. He takes care

to match the cream of limestone, the warm

brown of brickwork. He paints rows of windows

one by one and so on for every story

of each office building, embellishing them

just enough that they seem haunted

by the faint shadows of concerned onlookers.

But to ease the burden of memory, he’s left

the city of timber and stone empty.

The only presence other than the tipped

inkwell of the funnel is an oak standing

just above his painted signature,

alone against the tornado. But the truth

is that the funnel is distant. That day is distant.

If this was always his dream, he must also

always dream of the menace of wind.

He must dream that he is the oak,

well rooted and admired. He must dream of

creation and the dancing light of the new world,

how a little paint almost captures the promise

of this light before it’s swept away.

> Hear it:

listen to this poem read by the poet on SoundCloud

Interview with Dane Hamann

by Pine Row Editorial Board

How did you get started as a poet?

Slowly, to be honest! I only became seriously interested in poetry once I started reading contemporary poetry. This occurred outside of the classroom, with the exception of graduate school. In the fall of 2006, as a recent college graduate, I interned with Milkweed Editions. While there, I was reading poetry by the late Bill Holm to familiarize myself with the press’s catalog and authors, and for the first time, poetry felt accessible, like something I could write. Though my time with Milkweed awoke an interest in poetry, I didn’t start writing my own poems until two years later when I began studying for an MFA. Initially, I was going to concentrate in creative nonfiction in my first MFA program, but when I changed schools, I also changed tracks. Truly, I have to thank my professors and peers at both schools for their support.

Do you show your work in progress to anyone?

I earned my MFA in 2013, so that was the last time that I truly had a workshop experience. For the past several years, only my wife, a fellow editor, has read some of my draft poems. There is a lot of value in letting someone else see your work, but I try not to impose on my wife’s time too often. Usually, I’ll only ask her to read something if I have my own questions about whether it works. I’ve been working on “The Promise of Light,” the poem published here, for so many years that its vastly different first draft was seen by a mentor in my MFA program and in its various other stages by my wife.

Who are three influential living poets?

This is always a difficult question. There are so many poets who inspire me through their brilliance. These days, busy with family, work, and whatever else is thrown at us, I tend to only read poetry when I’m going to work on my own poems. One of my writing practices is to cycle through books and journals to reestablish a feel for what’s fresh and what works. That being said, three poets whose work I’ve recently read are Brian Komei Dempster, Jennifer Sperry Steinorth, and Keetje Kuipers.

How did you first get published?

I rarely submitted early in my writing career, and I’m still not a prolific submitter. My first publication came when I started to research journals that would be a good fit for my work. I found it very valuable to spend time reading journals from all parts of the literary ecosystem to find the ones that I believed would champion my work. This is a practice that I continue to use. This way, if nothing else comes of it for my writing, I still get to read a lot of exciting work and discover new writers!

Favorite quote (doesn’t matter the source)

It’s a bit of a cliché in running circles, but as I inch closer to 40, I’ve been thinking a lot about the famous quip attributed to Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

What would you say is your most interesting writing habit?

I keep this circular, flat, palm-sized stone (which is black basalt, I think) that I picked up from Lake Superior near my desk. Not too unusual or interesting as far as writing habits go, I know. But holding the stone is a relaxing, absent-minded task that also brings back fond memories of visiting friends and going on training runs in northern Minnesota.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

I’m reading the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. I don’t often read poetry at night since it sometimes feels a little too much like work, so I’ve been reading more sci-fi and fantasy now. The last book of poetry that I kept near my bedside was Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro, which is an appropriately reflective and serene book for night reading.

Anything else you'd like us to know? (personal website, upcoming reading or new work, etc. )

You can find me at www.danehamann.com. Also, my first full-length book, A Thistle Stuck in the Throat of the Sun, was recently published by Kelsay Books, with cover art by one of my oldest friends from childhood, and I’d be thrilled if you took a look at it!

Dane Hamann edits textbooks for a publisher in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, later serving as the poetry editor of TriQuarterly for over five years. He is the author of the poetry collection A Thistle Stuck in the Throat of the Sun (Kelsay Books).

Julius Holm’s “Tornado Over St. Paul” from 1893, on view at Mia in gallery G303

Minneapolis Institute of Art