Vlad Savich: Today my interlocutor is Judson Hamilton. Tell me, and our readers, a little about yourself.
Judson Hamilton: I always find this question difficult. I’m not sure what information would be useful. Would it be useful to know that I’m originally from a city outside of Houston (extreme humidity, swarms of mosquitoes, alligators, petrochemical plants), studied English and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin? Or that after a stint in Seattle (rain, movies, books, rain) I now have lived in Wroclaw, Poland (formerly Vratislav, Preslaw, Prussia, Breslau, etc.) for nearly 20 years? Or that I’ve published a book or short stories and a book of poems? shrugs
VS: Please tell me, which do you like better: Texas extreme humidity, Seattle’s rain or Polish churches?
JH: I’m not sure I really miss extreme humidity. That feeling of being slowly and steadily decomposed on a cellular level isn’t pleasant. I didn’t mind the rain in Seattle so much as the gloom. Some of the Polish churches are very beautiful especially the interiors and bas-relief work but I’d take the perpetual cloud cover over a church any day.
VS: Who are the heroes of your stories? Are these real people or were they born in your head?
JH: Well I’d say they are based on myself or people I know but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Neither are they entirely figments of my imagination though.
The common denominator I suppose would be the abject horror or phantasmagoric bewilderment they feel when confronted with reality, the extraordinary, or the spiritual.
VS: I am a writer too and I call my work Prerealism. What would you name your genre? Classicism, Sentimentalism, Romanticism, Realism, Modernism Socialist Realism, Postmodernism?
JH: Oh, “prerealism” — I like the sound of that. Of the genres you shared I’d like to say that “postmodernism” comes closest but I can’t say that in good conscience since I don’t think my technique is daring enough (perhaps I should change that?)
I was once in a bar in Kraków and, in describing my work to a stranger, a friend of mine referred to it as “magic realism”.
I nearly threw my drink at him. So that’s out.
“Surrealism” probably comes closest but I’ve always sided with the Dadaists in that particular war.
Joshua Rothes, editor of Sublunary Editions, in an unpublished interview kindly referred to me as a “Fabulist” which I was delighted with but doubt I’m worthy of.
I’ve always felt that my work is closest to the visual movements of Expressionism & Symbolism. The grotesque and absurd are what interest me most.
VS: «I was once in a bar in Kraków» WOW! How did you end up in Poland? I think it’s an interesting story.
JH: It was the end result of a series of impetuous decisions. I’d come over to Europe for extended stays twice before and enjoyed it. I was at a crossroads in my life and all things seemed to be pointing here. I’d been introduced to Kieślowski’s films about a year prior to moving here. Had been reading Gombrowicz and Schulz (and a great deal of other Central European literature besides) and randomly met someone who’d moved here. It felt like it chose me as much as I chose it. I had no initial plans to settle here but I fell in love with the city, met someone, and one thing just led to another. There never seemed to be any reason to go back.
VS: Tell me please, is there a difference between the American and European way of life?
JH: Places are more and more the same or perhaps the differences remain but are less discernable.
Some of the things that first attracted me to Europe in general are still present namely public transportation, universal healthcare, better working conditions (although those last two are always being chipped away at). It’s nice to have other countries, languages, and cultures within a short drive or flight. And America is vastly more violent than Europe because of the prevalence of guns, so there’s that.
VS: “Blessed is he who visited this world” by Fedor Ivanovich Tyutchev. Blessed. You think so too?
JH: I’m tempted to answer “in spite of everything yes — blessed” but that would be disingenuous.
Some people are born into unimaginable hardship and although there may be moments of joy and wonderment I would have to here rein in my romanticism and stop short of calling them “blessed”.
VS: If you had a choice to give birth or not to be born, what would you personally choose?
JH: Giving birth looks like a painful exhausting business but I’d choose that over self-nullification.
VS: Now a pandemic is raging across the world. Is this theme reflected in your work?
JH: I completed a short story collection that has yet to be published towards the beginning of the pandemic. And I feel like a few of those stories are in an abstract manner about what it feels like to be in the midst of a pandemic.
I finished a book of poems (likewise not yet published) at the end of August that was written entirely during the pandemic and is stained and bruised by it through and through.
The pandemic has stripped us all bare and illuminated everything while simultaneously dimming the lights so that we glow against its backdrop.
VS: What can you say about this moral imperative «Is universal harmony worth the tears of one tortured child» Yes or no and why?
JH: Anyone who would torture a child will have proven themselves unworthy of universal harmony.
VS: Not a day without a line. Do you work by this principle or when you are in the mood or the does the muse often visit you?
JH: I have a family and a full time job so I write whenever I can find the time and am not totally exhausted. It helps I think to try and show up more often for short stretches (an hour before work or on a weekend morning) than it does to try and schedule a 10 hour block or something. First of all, I don’t have that luxury but I don’t know what I’d do with that much time. I write better in intensive short bursts. It’s about consistently inching projects forward. Of course, you never stop thinking about them, the stories/poems I mean. They are always running somewhere in the background, and I make a lot of notes on my phone between sittings.
VS: “Beauty will save the world” – Dostoevsky. What do you think our world needs to be saved?
JH: I think it needs empathy – more understanding for one another. It is the callousness of a rushed schedule and the sickness of the inflated ego that blind us to the suffering of others. But whatever I do to another, I do to myself.
VS: Judson, what do you young people worship today?
JH: I’m not sure I qualify as young anymore and so am not sure if my answer will be accurate. It seems to me that if there is any worshipping it takes place in the digital space that, though most times invisible, pervades our thoughts and environment. You see heads bowed to it wherever you go.
VS: They say that a writer is in some way a prophet. What our future’s gonna be?
JH: Humankind will continue its inevitable and evolutionary interface with the increasingly self-aware systems it has created. This newly recombinant life will be by turns inspiring and terrifying. We will find new ways to connect: with ourselves, with one another, and with our sentient creation. Everything will depend on the types of connections we make and how we use the tools at our disposal.
Meanwhile the physical environment will become ever more present and real, for those who care to look.
VS: By the way, what are you reading right now?
JH: I’m reading the Collected Stories of Paul Bowles. I haven’t had so much time for reading lately. Maybe 2022 will be different.
VS: What are you writing now? What’s your new book about?
JH: I’ve just started writing some short stories again after a break of several months from writing. I have them mostly framed up but for now they are talking and I am listening.
VS: To my question, what is the recipe for happiness, my acquaintance, a writer, answered like this «The secret to happiness is burying all your true feelings and living a life of bland compromise» Judson , do you have a recipe for happiness!? Please give it to me!
JH: Everyone has to define what constitutes happiness for them. To me, happiness is having something to do that you enjoy (a job or an outside interest), a close group of friends and family, and looking for joy in the little things. Too often people stake their happiness on the erroneous concepts of “making it big” or “being someone” and I think they can only lead to unhappiness.
VS: The writer looks a bit like Sisyphus What is the meaning of Sisyphus’s punishment?
JH: The meaning of his punishment? That you can’t cheat death, you can only postpone it.
They say the mind makes the task so when I think of his punishment I wonder if he is content. Perhaps he practices the Buddhist philosophy of continuous improvement and treats each trip uphill as a chance to make subtle adjustments towards the path to perfection while all the while knowing that its attainment is beyond his grasp. shrugs
In the words of Albert Camus, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” One must find purpose in the absurd.
Judson Hamilton lives in Wrocław, Poland. His most recent work includes a book of short stories Gross in Feather, Loud in Voice and a book of poems The New Make-Believe both with Dostoevsky Wannabe. For a more extensive bibliography at his work please visit his website: neutralspaces.co/judson_hamilton He can be found on Twitter: @judson_hamilton All images by Hamilton