Hamilton Arts and Letters


Hamilton Arts and Letters

By Norah Franklin

In May 1, 2008, editor Paul Lisson and art director Peter Stevens launched the first issue of their online journal, Hamilton Arts & Letters, and, within days, the website received more than 3,500 hits. Having worked in Hamilton for years as a writer, artist and activist, Lisson had detected this need for a new outlet for expression in the city’s artistic community. He had no trouble finding material for the periodical; in fact, his awareness of potential participants is what set the project in motion.

Hamilton Arts & Letters espouses a holistic understanding of place. Many of the articles in the journal relate individual histories or memories, and these come together to form an idea of a larger community. In her article, “‘The First Movie Star’ Was Born Here,” for example, Sara Oullette Knelman revives the history of a Hamilton actress named Florence Lawrence. Lawrence performed in more than 300 early Hollywood films before fading into obscurity and eventually committing suicide. In “Pantless Percy and the Good Life,” Samuel Isaac Robinson writes of Hamilton’s “best loved eccentric,” Percy Leggett, a hermit who came to feel at home in the city until the Midtown Seniors’ Centre rejected him based on his revealing attire.

Other writings investigate the way in which inanimate objects and physical places become vessels for memory and history. Michael Allgoewer’s “Recognition” is a story about the mysteries of association. The writer confesses that every time he sees the yellow house on his street, he remembers its former tenant. Meanwhile, John C. Weaver provides a fascinating study of Hamilton’s Gore Park in his article “Gore Park as Urban Artifact.” He demonstrates that the history of the city and the history of the park are interconnected, and argues that Hamilton’s past could be read on the Gore if the city allows it to survive.

For Lisson, an exploration of the ethos of a particular place is a step toward discovering the character of all places. He sees both the good and the bad in his city: “Hamilton was blessed by the gods of geography. A lake, a harbour, an escarpment–you cannot pave these things. … At the same time, Hamilton is the drain through which the sewage of the country empties, and this creates a unique view of the nation. Hamilton has been hardened. Hamilton is both victim and victimizer.” His journal, then, is a space for artists and writers to engage with their surroundings. “The contributors are prepared to critique Hamilton,” Lisson notes, “and maybe show a way forward or around.”

Hamilton Arts & Letters was updated in September, and can be found online at samizdatpress.net. Other contributors include David Cohen, Mark Mavrinac, Caroline Moran, Kåthe von Nagy, J.S. Porter, Robert Clark Yates, Jim Chambers, Robert Oldham, Tim Gibbons and Kim Neudorf.