In September, I very cleverly poured an entire coffee into my laptop. This complicated many much more important things, but it also interrupted my access to this blog thus stopping me from posting more of my erasures of Bill’s work. So, instead of starting again or posting them in smaller pieces, I am just going to put the entire project up in one batch.
Below is a pdf of my complete erasure of William Hawkins’s Ottawa Poems (1966). For some background on the project, you can read this post from August. I had been using the working title “These Actual Lines” throughout the summer, but think I will simply call it “Ottawa Poems” from now on, following Bill’s original title.
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.
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.
On heels of rob mclennan’s profile of In/Words two weeks ago, poet, editor and friend Peter Gibbon has written a short memoir on his time with the magazine as well and published it on his Conduit Canada blog. Pete has a pile of smart and insightful things to say about the mag, and some hilarious memories too. You’ll also find some poems in there from Jeff Blackman, Rachael Simpson, and Pete, as well as the closest thing our In/Words generation has ever had to a family photo courtesy of the Maxfield-Blackman wedding. Go read it!
In other fantastic news, William Hawkins is being inducted into the VerseOttawa Hall of Honour as part of their inaugural round of inductees (along with Greg “Ritallin” Frankson). We love Bill here, and I’ll be reprinting a chapbook of Bill’s work that Apt. 9 published in 2010 to mark the occasion. I’ve also never heard Bill read, so it will be a thrill on March 17 when he is inducted. Be there!
Jay Macpherson died earlier this year (21 March 2012) at the age of 80. Her death was met with a surprising silence in its immediate wake (with a handfulofexceptions). Macpherson is known primarily as a poet. Her reputation is built on a small number of collections in the 1950s, culminating in a Governor General’s Award in 1958 for The Boatman.
My own research interests have turned up her name in the margins of a variety of fantastic projects in the history of modern Canadian poetry. She was an early reader at the Contact Poetry Reading Series, appearing on 13 November 1957, generating some of the earliest national press that the series received in the Globe and Mail; Macpherson is described as being “considered by many Canadians our finest young poet” (“Arts in Toronto Spurting Ahead at a Great Pace.” 12 November 1957. p.13).
In an Ottawa connection, she completed part of her high school education at Glebe Collegiate.
More interesting, and more relevant for this blog, she started a small chapbook press in 1954 called Emblem Books. According to the One Zero Zero virtual library of English Canadian Small Presses, Emblem ran from 1954-1962, producing eight books. Authors include Macpherson herself, Dorothy Livesay, Daryl Hine, Violet Anderson, Heather Spears, Dorothy Roberts, Alden Nowlan and Al Purdy. The Nowlan and Purdy books, Wind in a Rocky Country (1960) and The Blur in Between (1962) respectively, were designed and published by Robert Rosewarne, who we have already discussed here.
These two books are surely among the most beautiful produced in Canada in the 20th century. To my mind, they stand alongside the two books of poems produced by Avrom Isaacs’ Gallery Editions. A footnote from my M.A. research describes Gallery Editions as follows:
Avrom Isaacs’ Gallery Editions Press is one of the tangible products of the reading series. Although it only existed for a few years (1960-1962), Gallery Editions produced three books: Eyes Without a Face (1960), poems by Kenneth McRobbie with art by Graham Coughtry, Place of Meeting (1962), poems by Raymond Souster with art by Michael Snow, and Sketch Book: Canadian and European Sketches by Tony Urquhart (1962). Michael Torosian, writing in Toronto Suite, states “they are among the most elegant Canadian books of their day” (66). George Bowering, in an insightful review in The Canadian Forum, takes care to connect the books with their Gallery source: “I have never seen the Isaacs Gallery on Yonge Street except in photographs, but judging from the finesse with which that establishment has moved into the publishing business, I would be prepared to argue in their favour at the drop of a beret” (44). The books remain valuable documents of the interaction that occurred between poets and artists in the Greenwich and Isaacs Galleries.
I cannot scan the insides of either of these two without damaging the spines. If you have an opportunity, flip through both to truly understand their remarkable beauty.
Rosewarne’s work on these two Emblem books is astonishing. He pairs Purdy and Nowlan’s poems with the sort of abstracted, colourful images that we have already seen in his work with Bill Hawkins. Below is a poster he designed for a reading by Hawkins in 1962.
I’ll reproduce, without comment, a handful of images from inside each book below. My scanner is not always large enough to accommodate the entire spread, apologies where pages are cut off. I have tried to keep at least the images intact.
Nowlan, Alden A. Wind in a Rocky Country. Toronto: An Emblem Book, 1960.
Purdy, Alfred. The Blur in Between: Poems 1960-1961. Toronto: Emblem Books, 1962. [The edition I am using for this, borrowed from the University of Ottawa Library, has 1962 struck out, replaced with 1963].
The Purdy is especially notable for Rosewarne’s work. The Nowlan book does not acknowledge Rosewarne’s contribution. The Purdy book lists him on the title page, as well as includes further information on the colophon:
This book was published in one edition of 300 copies. It was designed by R.V. Rosewarne. The text was hand-set by Axel Harvey in 10 point Light Gothic leaded with a strip of light cardboard. The book was then hand printed on a press of the Washington variety by The Blue R Hand Press (Ottawa Canada).
The Washington press in question is surely (without any proof) the same one used by Rosewarne’s Nil Press to produce the Hawkins poster poems. Rosewarne is operating the press in the detail from an Ottawa Citizen article below. These two books are contemporary with the poster poems, and it is difficult to imagine Rosewarne having access to two different Washington presses in Ottawa in these years. Seeing these, it is a shame that Rosewarne did not produce a series of chapbooks under his own imprint.
I have a soft spot for poets who print and distribute work by others. It is important work and is largely unheralded, certainly rarely acknowledged in a way commensurate with the time and labour invested. When you read and remember Macpherson, think of Emblem Books as well.
[I do not own the rights to Emblem Books. I have reproduced the images above with respect and admiration for the work of Macpherson and Rosewarne. They represent only a small portion of larger books. I will gladly remove the images if the estate of either requests it. I encourage everyone with the time and means to seek out these books to further understand the work of both.]
Something Else was a short-lived Ottawa-based literary magazine. It survived for a single issue published in March 1963. I turned up a listing for it in the process of searching for previously uncollected William Hawkins poems.
Hawkins edited the mag along with Denis Faulkner. Harry Howith and F.A. Harvey are listed as “Associates” on the masthead. Howith collaborated with Hawkins on their 1965 book Two Longer Poems: The Seasons of Miss Nicky by Harry Howith and Louis Riel by William Hawkins (Toronto: Patrician Press). Something Else also lists R.V. Rosewarne as responsible for “Design.” Rosewarne was another regular Hawkins collaborator, designing and printing some of the iconic 60s poster-poems as well as running Nil Press (who published Hawkins in 1966).
The mag earned a mention in Canadian Author and Bookman 38:4 (Summer 1963):
As yet far from luxurious in presentation, but also commendable in content, is SOMETHING ELSE, a spirited newcomer to the periodical scene. The first issue, dated March 1963, is notable for “Looking for Dylan”, a rhapsodic-reminiscent piece by Charles Fisher which catches, obliquely but exactly, the beery yet somehow magnificent aura of the poet’s genius and the spirit of his time . . .
SOMETHING ELSE is published in Ottawa, and is edited by William Hawkins and Denis Faulkner. It deserves a more attractive format (ie. a bigger budget), Like many another magazine in Canada, it appears to be functioning not according to the laws of economics, but on faith, hope, and precious little charity. We can only with it luck and send in our three dollars (for six issues, interval not specified). Address: 248 Bank Street, Ottawa 4, Ontario.
248 Bank Street was home to one iteration of the legendary Le Hibou coffee house, host to an astonishing range of poetry readings and musicians during it tenure.
The publishing of the magazine overlaps with other publishing ventures in Ottawa of the early 1960s. Aesthetically, it bears striking resemblance to the Hawkins/Roy MacSkimming book Shoot Low Sheriff, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies!, self-published by Hawkins and MacSkimming in 1964:
It can also be matched to Harry Howith’s Burglar Tools, published by Howith’s own short-lived small press Bytown Books in 1963. Bytown was announced in the same issue of Canadian Author and Bookman:
Bytown Books, a new Ottawa venture, is looking for short (150 pages maximum, for the present), modern manuscripts. This is not a “vanity press”, not is it, yet, a commercial publishing house. “I suppose we’re something like a co-operative”, says editor Harry Howith. “For the time being, at least, we expect to ask most authors to contribute something towards production costs. If the book sells well enough, this will be refunded. If it keeps right on selling, we’ll pay royalties. But we will not publish anything unless we believe in it.”
Bytown Books will be published cheaply, but attractively, Mr. Howith Says. “We are most interested in contemporary poetry, but we would be glad to see prose fiction and even non-fiction. We are particularly interested in humour, satire, and polemics. No juvenile material.”
Bytown Books announced a second book, That Monocycle, The Moon by Seymour Mayne, in an issue of Louis Dudek’s Delta in 1963, but the book was never published.
Hawkins recalls that Something Else was discontinued because it was “probably too much work.”
Between Nil Press, Bytown Books, and Something Else, 1962-1965 were amazingly fertile years for poetry (and art generally) in Ottawa. Howith would go on to be published by DC Books as well as have the distinction of writing the final book published by Contact Press (Total War, 1967). Denis Faulkner was increasingly busy with Le Hibou. Rosewarne continued his own work as an artist, as well as designed titles by Al Purdy and Alden Nowlan for Emblem Books out of Toronto [look for a future post about these two unbelievably beautiful books]. Hawkins would achieve the height of his publishing success in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The four overlapped in various forms during these years. Something Else is a remarkable document of their interactions.
In November 2010, I published a bibliography of William Hawkins through my own Apt. 9 Press. In my brief introductory note, I wrote “this bibliography will likely be out of date upon the day of its publication. I imagine, and I hope, that once it is in people’s hands it will spark new discoveries of “lost” Hawkins work.” Before the folio was formally launched, rob mclennan wrote a review of the Folio that pointed already to further available material. Specifically, he mentions “that magnificent anthology Northern Comfort, the transcript of a reading in the Byward Market hosted by and dedicated to Hawkins.” This note is to discuss and describe that anthology. I intend to return to this space over the coming months and describe further items that have come to light since that initial bibliography was published.
Northern Comfort was published in 1973 by Commoners’ Press (Ottawa). The title page elaborates on the function of the book: “being a reading of poetry by various people, given in the back yard of the Victoria Hotel 18 Murray Street, the Byward Market, Ottawa, on the evening of June 29th, 1972.” The text was transcribed from recordings provided by “Peter Lamb of Coon Hollow Films and Mariea Sparks of Ottawa Living Radio.” It was transcribed by “Monk Besserer” – two streets in downtown Ottawa.
An introduction by Neil Whiteman explains that the reading was organized by Peter Geldart, Alyx Jones and Bill Stevenson. The three were co-ordinators of “Market Projections,” a group of artists who primarily did work “of the “happening” variety.” The reading, or at least the book, is dedicated to the loss of the Victoria Hotel Building (built in 1962 at 18-24 Murray Street) as well as to “MR. WILLIAM HAWKINS.”
The text of the book is a transcription of the readings that took place on June 29 1972. The list of readers, speakers, and musicians included: William Hawkins, Alyx Jones, Robert Hogg, Marius, Kociejowski, Christopher Levenson, Neil Whiteman, Jack Nathanson, George Johnston, Ronnie Judge, “Unknown Reader,” David Andrews, The 47 Argyle Street Band, Christopher James and Bill Stevenson.
The charm of the book lies in its apparent faith to the recording. The transcription includes the speakers, the banter, the introductions, comments from the audience, as well as a generous selection of photos of the event. Hawkins, in addition to reading, hosted the evening.
Hawkins: The whole concept of reading poetry is…is rather a strange one. Uh…it sort of got a renaissance or a start back in, I think, ’58, when all the crazy San Francisco…like…Kerouac and Ginsberg, started reading. But, you know, really, when you get down to it…it…
Voice: Southern Comfort!
Hawkins:…it’s a very, very funny thing. It’s somebody talking about what they should feel very personally about and what they should not really want to talk to anybody else about. That’s the way I feel about my poems…and that’s why I don’t read very often. Because…um, they’re private. So I’m gonna start…I got this book you can’t buy at your nearest bookstore…
(Scattered applause. Drumbeats)
because…uh…freaks like Whiteman have already put it out of print.
Hawkins reads some of the early poster poems (including “King Kong Goes to Rotterdam,” and “Two Short Ones”) and Ottawa Poems, as well as reading five new poems. In my own reading and research of Hawkins, I’ve not found these poems or lines elsewhere in his published work. (Please contact me if you have!). After several readers, Hawkins returns to the stage and reads “Willful Murder,” which was printed as new material in The Gift of Space: Selected Poems 1960/70.
Hawkins biography modifies his own history: “William Hawkins, 33, lives in Mexico at 182 ½ Dalhousie Street. In 1967 he was voted one of Ottawa’s Finest Young Men.” The reference to Mexico touches on the poems he wrote on a Canada Council Grant in the late sixties and early seventies. The “Finest Young Man” Award was actually an “Outstanding Young Man Award.”
The historical study of literary readings is difficult to undertake. Readings are, by nature, ephemeral. While today we increasingly see detailed audio-visual records maintained by many reading series, it is difficult to reconstruct readings that occurred decades previously. Rather than authoritative texts of events, we have fragmented production and reception histories, primary details, anecdotes, memories and other forms of unreliable evidence. We can find manifestations of audience response and interaction in the wake of events, but we cannot return to the events themselves.
Northern Comfort occupies a unique position in these respects (at least so far as my own reading has turned up). While the text initially appears to offer an unadulterated transcription of the reading in question, numerous editorial comments, as well as an introductory note, make clear that this is a fragment rather than a whole. However, what is most interesting about Northern Comfort is that it was produced in the immediate wake of the reading, rather than at a later date and further distance. It was transcribed and published within one year of the reading. The effect of this, in my opinion, is to create an object that shares the spirit and intent of the initial reading. It is not total narrative, but rather a strange, bizarre, wonderful book-object that mirrors the described strange, bizarre, wonderful reading-event. The fidelity of Northern Comfort is not to the reading, but rather to the spirit of the reading. It is a baffling book but also a “magnificent” one, as rob mclennan described it. It is a nearly-forgotten piece of Ottawa’s literary history that is firmly embedded in the moment it was attempting to describe.