Christian Hawkey. Citizen Of. Wave Books, 2007.
Review by Mathias Svalina
Within a limited set of parameters, with a limited way of defining this & at the risk of courting hyperbole I want to tell you that Christian Hawkey is a superhero. Christian Hawkey can do things in poems that normal humans can not do. Witness:
…some creatures move
a few inches every time they blink
I opened my eyes you were my wife
hand a little lower on my spine
although always the smell of tire
burning through the night some creatures
move a few inches each time they flinch
At night the jaws of turtles creak open
to collect rain, heat lightning
reflected in their wide, sad eyes.
A tear falls. A turtle tear! Two musk deer
shiver across a meadow, dusk
a brief firefight, our names
appear & disappear, like that.
Alison I stored in a bottle in the ground.
I’m standing on a love song. I can hear it tick.
Then she removed
her Donald Duck
lay with me,
down, in the
field from which
my mind was waving
If you’re not Christian Hawkey you simply cannot do that. I know. I know that you think you can, but you can’t. I’m sorry. You do not have the super powers.
All three of these are dazzling displays of evocative leaping, yet they do not flail, no strings dangle from their seams. They are gemlike in their precise refraction of ecstatically wild associations. They create a world in which anything is possible, so long as it stays close to the skin & immediately accessible for an individual speaker.
But these are hardly isolated incidents of poetic heroics. Open Citizen Of to any page & randomly drop your finger down. You’ll find another one & it will clutch you & invite you to continue reading. It’s a bibliomantic divination process, but rather than auguring the future it ostends toward poetry that jumps off the page & squirms through your sheets.
Much of Hawkey’s surreal dazzle is predicated by the individual’s emotional experience. The sentimental functions as a tether to keep the surreal from clambering off to go roll around in something stinky. Yet this is a book that focuses us from the title to the role of the individual within a state. It is a book that refuses to ignore politics while at the same time remaining aesthetically unwilling to engage in a traditional kind of political debate.
Even The New Yorker’s Briefly Noted took note:
The title of this collection serves as a challenge to readers in a political climate where alarmism seems to alternate with complacency. “Hour with One Hand Inserted in a Time of War” asks, “Should we / stand guard at the Level of One Hand Raised / to Block the Lemon Seed of the Sun / or should we push off, down the tunnels, / dig a hole in the side of a wall & wait?” Hawkey effectively conjures a contemporary scene that seems peaceful, even while “Landmines whisper sideways underground.” Everyone, he says, is “no longer / a crow’s nest but a cluster of nests, / urban, suburban, some with turbans.” Humor, stemming more from exasperation than from delight, eases immersion into the tight-knit poems, but amid the laughter a loud alarm rings: “At least the bird’s brain was focused / on something.”
He read one poem that was a dialog between video and performance artists Vito Acconci and Ana Mendieta.
Mendieta, from the Tree of Life Series (1977), wherein the artist is plastered in bark and gesso, standing next to a tree.
Poetry! Video Art! Politics!
Go buy Christian’s book, or see him read somewhere.