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, ladyâ€¦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.
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 CafÃ© 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
in our front field
where shadow never is:
stray bull, Picasso-black,
mammoth straight horns.
His black balls
a second disproportion.
like some horrid stamen,
drops his head
on noticing our cows,
and plowsâ€”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)