Photographers Unknown, He Bequeths the Gift of Breath
And they all forsook him and fled. And there followed him a certain young
man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid
hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
St Mark, Chapter 14, Verses 50-52
He’s my firmament.
I hang on every word,
lassoed by considering the lilies,
by camels and needle eyes,
bread of life and light of the world.
I studied his mouth, hour by hour,
until I confessed a thirst for his throat
exposed below the beard,
his wrists, slender gazelles
when loose sleeves slip to reveal them.
What could I do
but give up everything
to sip his shadow?
He admits me to his gaze,
permits my passion. He lets me stay.
I could have been the woman
who stroked the edge of his robe,
who wiped his heels with her hair.
His men buzz as if he’s honey
as if we might swallow him whole.
Tonight’s moon notes his cry
among the camellias.
He kneels to call the air father.
Saints snore while I shiver in linen,
keeping my chilly vigil.
My prayer marries his:
Run with me now where no God
can catch us. He walks instead
to swords and spears and glamour,
one man kissing another.
When they prod a blade at my ribs
I leap from their net,
wrestle free from my sheet
as water strips a skin.
My glimmer swims naked through fig trees.
He leaves me to my betrayal
between the olive groves.
He bequeaths the gift of breath
to my body’s temple.
Robert Hamberger, Gethsemane Nude, Torso, 2007, Redbeck Press, Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK
Born in Whitechapel, East London in 1957, Robert Hamberger is an English poet, author and educator. He studied English Literature from 1975 to 1978 at Sussex University, a highly-ranked university in Brighton, United Kingdom. Hamberger was awarded his Master of Arts in Social Work from Leicester University in 1988.
Following his graduation, Hamberger worked for thirty-eight years in social work for the Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and West Sussex County Councils. During his residence in the East Midlands, he established the Corby Writers’ Workshop and the Wellingborough Writers’ Workshop. Hamberger also participated in the East Midlands Art’s first New Voices Tour and edited four anthologies by local writers. He currently resides in Brighton with his husband Keith Rainger, who lends his translation skills to Hamberger’s work.
Robert Hamberger prefers writing outside the literary mainstream. He has particular interests in working-class, pro-feminist, radical and queer writings. He uses his own experiences of fatherhood, marriage and separation, loss of friends and queer identity as the foundations for his examinations of love, death and memory. As such, his work remains very personal and true to his self-identity. In addition to publishing his work, Hamberger has taken part in numerous readings online as well as poetry festivals and workshops. Most recent of these was the October 2023 reading and panel on “Genre-Bending and Queering Words” at the Coast is Queer Festival held at Sussex University.
Hamberger’s first full-length collection of poems “Warpaint Angel” was published by Five Leaves Press in 1997. Its poetry explores the experience of fatherhood and existence as son, the meaning of family and friendship as well as the nature of love. The volume is a mixture of casual, frank narratives and lyrical poems both tough and delicate. Hamberger’s “Rule of Earth”, a winner in the 2000 Poetry Business Competition, is a chapbook that contains a sequence of twenty-one love sonnets. These sonnets describe both the daily routines and ecstasy of a gay relationship, which is unexpectedly impacted by heart disease.
Robert Hamberger’s 2002 collection of first-person poems, “The Smug Bridegroom”, explores the experiences of fatherhood, love and change which, through shifts in family relationships, lead to both a marriage breakup and renewal of hope. The 2007 “Torso”, Hamberger’s third full-length collection, continues his exploration of existence as father, son, lover and poet. Included among its sequences are a celebration of Federico Garcia Lorca’s love sonnets, elegies for a friend, and queer interpretations of sacred texts.
Hamberger’s fourth collection entitled “Blue Wallpaper” was published by Waterloo Press several months prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019. Divided into six subtitled sections, this volume of sixty-one personal poems contains sonnets, elegies, free verse, and other poetic forms with the topic of love between men frequently central. Among the poetry in “Blue Wallpaper” are works centered on familial memories from Hamberger’s youth, his mother’s dementia, the poets he admires, mythical and natural creatures, the work of Arthur Rimbaud, and the deaths of close friends during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “Blue Wallpaper” was shortlisted for the 2020 Polari Prize, an annual United Kingdom literary prize established for LBGTQ+ literature.
Kept in an asylum for four years, the peasant poet John Clare escaped in 1841 and walked over eighty miles to his home in Northamptonshire. Suffering from poor mental health, Clare was attempting to reunite with Mary, his idealized first love, unaware she had died three years prior. In 1995 with his personal life in crisis and mental health fragile, Robert Hamberger retraced poet John Clare’s route over a four-day walk. In June of 2021, he published his finished “A Length of Road”, a work part memoir, part-literary criticism and part travel-log. The volume is a deep, poetic exploration of the issues of class, gender, grief, masculinity and sexuality as seen through Hamberger’s own life as well as the autobiographical writings of poet John Clare.
Notes: Robert Hamberger”s website, which contains readings on videos, interviews, writings and contact information, can be located at: https://www.roberthamberger.co.uk
Popsublime is an interesting literary, film and pop culture review site that has be publishing online since 2010. It has a review by the site’s author on Robert Hamberger’s 2002 “The Smug Bridegroom”. The article is located at: https://popsublime.blogspot.com/2010/08/robert-hamberger-smug-bridegroom-five.html