Hawken Transforms Daily Life into Poetry

by Nancy Talley

Wendell Hawken holds her mirror straight at the facts of everyday living, sometimes enlarging, sometimes distancing, never flinching.

Readers stunned by the Clarke County poet’s 2008 collection, The Luck of  Being, about such country  quotidian as the horse sought before dawn, the  calf hand-raised for eventual  slaughter, and the hunter’s effort to console  with “Don’t worry, lady…I’ve slit his throat”, and such emotional memories as  her second wedding, her first grandson’s birth, and her mother’s funeral,  will  not be surprised by the intensity of what she has written  since.

Her friends and colleagues will expect Hawken’s recent  poems, not yet  published, to be wrenching metaphors for her husband’s ongoing  cancer  treatment.

And so, for the most part, they are.

Hawken unveiled a selection of these in a reading to a  full-house audience  at the Shenandoah Arts Council’s Winchester headquarters  July 31.  The  evening was sponsored   by The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review and the SAC, and  organized by Sow’s Ear managing   editor Bob Lesman of Clarke County, himself a poet  recently appointed   SAC board member.

Poet Wendell Hawken resides in Boyce, Virginia - Photo courtesy Shenandoah University

Reading  after Hawken, infrared to  Hawken’s ultraviolet, was Steve Scafidi of Summit   Point.

Sow’s Ear and the SAC will sponsor a second reading at  7 p.m.Saturday,  August 28, also at SAC headquarters, 811 S. Loudoun  Street. That evening’s  writers are Judy Halebsky and  Mark DeFoe.  Like the first event,  the second  is free, with wine served before the program.

Hawken has given readings locally at Grace Episcopal  Church under the sponsorship of the Barns of Rose Hill, at Handley Library in  Winchester,  and  at private book signings and  book clubs.  In 2006 she taught a  poetry  workshop for the Barns, followed by an open reading at Grace Church, by   Hawken  and her students.  The  reading was sponsored by the Virginia Commission for  the Arts.

As a part of its mission, the VCA underwrites school  programs and programs for mature writers.  Hawken found this 2006 open reading well-attended.both by poets and by  poetry readers.

“It was a perfect example,” she said, “of  how the arts bring  people together.”

Outside the area, Hawken has read at Rock Creek  Park in Washington, and at  Cornelia Street Café and the Bowery  Poetry Series, both in New York City’s  West Village.   “The Bowery was sort of a big deal,” she  admits. But the Library of Congress “was my big thrill.”   Her reading there was a  session in the  Library’s Poetry at Noon series, for which a selected few  writers are chosen  upon submission of their work.

Hawken finds readings both interesting and  instructive.   “To put your  voice in  that room is very cool,” she said.   “I always get nervous beforehand.  “Well, maybe not nervous, but edgy.   I think it’s important to get a  little edgy.   You learn so much about your  own work.”

Last month, for example, Hawken discovered that one poem  is too long, and  another, about an African political atrocity, should not be  read in public.

“I saw the contorted faces in the audience,” she said.  “That wasn’t good.”

Her husband, Vaughn Clatterbuck, reads the poems  silently, to himself, and  was not feeling well enough to attend the  reading.   “The collection moves  deeper and deeper into his illness,” Hawken said “as the illness takes  over more and  more.”

“I think I’m worrying for both of us.”


By  Wendell Hawken

A moving apparition
wanders  in,
in  our front field
where shadow  never is:
stray bull, Picasso-black,
mammoth straight horns.
His black  balls
a second disproportion.
He  coughs,
purple tongue
like   some horrid stamen,
drops his   head
on   noticing our cows,
and plows—he will not scare! –
to where the whole herd, ears out now,
rises   (as if his coming
is just the   thing).
I wave my stick and shout
but  he slips among them — black
spot in a churning red mass —
to leave me
standing feet flat,
broken bough in   hand.

(Reprinted with  permission)