While editing The Collected Poems of William Hawkins (2015), I began doing erasures of Bill’s poems. I focused on his 1966 collection Ottawa Poems and completed an erasure of each of the 28 poems in the book. I didn’t begin the work thinking of them as poems that I would share, instead thinking of it as a way to engage more deeply with Bill’s poems and to practice erasure. When they were finished, I liked them as a set more than I expected. I showed them to Bill, and he kindly gave me his blessing. One went on to be published as an above/ground press “poem” broadside (#336), and selections from the full set were shortlisted for the 2016 John Lent Poetry/Prose Award from Kalamalka Press (Okanagan College) under the title “These Actual Lines: A Book of Erasure.”
The John Lent Award is a prize where the winner’s chapbook manuscript is printed by design students using letterpress. I submitted the erasures because I thought that they would pose an interesting challenge on letterpress. I like erasure when it keeps the words in their original positions on the page and when it does something interesting visually. Letterpress would likely be an excruciating way to print poems of this sort given all their blank space, but I suspect the outcome would have been beautiful.
In any event, I didn’t win, and so have been trying to come up with a more interesting way to present these poems visually.
Following Bill’s death in July, I was gifted his typewriter.
It is an Olivetti Lettera 30 from, I believe, the 1970s (at least according to a rough google search). My plan is to use his typewriter to re-type Ottawa Poems, and subsequently to perform my erasures on the poems directly using the typewriter. I ran some tests on the first few poems today, and I’m happy with the results. I suspect I could use a new ribbon, but I’m enjoying the process so far and think it works for the poems. I’m not sure if the “x” is the best way to block off words, but I used it today.
Given that it is a 1970s typewriter, it comes after the writing and publication of Ottawa Poems (1966), but nonetheless, I feel like I am communing with Bill when I use it. I am now re-typing the book for the second time (I re-typed on the computer for The Collected Poems). The original book was published by Nelson Ball’s Weed/Flower Press using mimeograph, and so Nelson would have typed stencils for the book before printing, re-typing from Bill’s manuscript. Re-typing this book on a typewriter feels particularly relevant given its original print form.
Anyway, I’ll be at it for a while, but below you’ll find Barbara Caruso’s cover for the original edition, followed by my erasures of the first four poems in the book. I’ll post subsequent pages in small groups as I complete them.