William Hawkins’ work is important in Ottawa, as well as more broadly in Canada. The 1960s were fertile, active years in Canadian small press publishing, but discussions of such are largely focused on Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver. In Hawkins, we have an Ottawa-based model deserving of celebration.
The writing, of course, stands up today. His poetic accomplishments were consolidated in the 2005 selected poems, Dancing Alone. However, the details of his publishing intersect with a broad cross section of people and events that made invaluable contributions to the development of Canadian Literature. Shoot Low Sheriff was published in the wake of the famous 1963 UBC conference where Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and others influenced the next generation of Canadian poets. Ottawa Poems was published by Nelson Ball’s now legendary Weed/Flower press. Hawkins’ inclusion in the Raymond Souster edited New Wave Canada not only saw him published by Contact Press, but also published alongside early work by Michael Ondaatje, bpNichol, Victor Coleman and Daphne Marlatt (then Daphne Buckle) among a long list of others. See Roy MacSkimming's excellent introduction to Dancing Alone for further description, but these details of Hawkins’ publishing life are important. They place him in significant currents and developments in Canadian poetry. Yet, the specific details of this publishing activity have remained scattered. (Cameron Anstee, Wm Hawkins: A Descriptive Bibliography)
After months of work, Cameron Anstee’s Apt. 9 Press has finally released Wm Hawkins: A Descriptive Bibliography (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2010), as well as the simultaneous Sweet & Sour Nothings (2010), a “lost” poem of Hawkins. Held together as a folio, Wm Hawkins: A Descriptive Bibliography lists Hawkins’ work over the years in trade, chapbook, broadside and a few anthologies; being detailed, but not exhaustive; the list doesn’t include journal publications, for example, or that magnificent anthology Northern Comfort, the transcript of a reading in the Byward Market hosted by and dedicated to Hawkins. Instead, the detail comes from the individual titles, compiling small stories to go along with Shoot Low Sheriff, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies! (1964), Hawkins: Poems 1963-1965 (Ottawa ON: Nil Press, 1966), Ottawa Poems (Kitchener ON: Weed/Flower Press, 1966) and The Madman’s War (Ottawa ON: S.A.W. Publications, 1974), and even reprints some of his poster poems from the early 1960s (a magnificent rare treat in of themselves), yet doesn’t delve into the near complete silence from 1974 up to the publication of his second selected poems, Dancing Alone: Selected Poems (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press, 2005). Considered the most dangerous (and one of the most active) poets in Ottawa from 1964 to 1974, what, exactly, happened?
I see an adjectival world.And I consider allnouns improper.
In freezing rain—in March—in a cold placefilled with diffident people.
There is no antonym for freezing rain I recognize.
Seeing Eagles in the dark—pathetic hallucinationssuffered by oneout of every three.
One out of three.
Trinity is what is sought—ill deserved and poorly defined.
One out of threedoes not playwith a full deck.
The chapbook Sweet & Sour Nothings, a thirty-five part poem, is, as Anstee writes in the bibliography, originally appeared in Anthos: volume two – numbers one & two – Special/Double Ottawa issue (1980), and “Like the new material printed in The Gift of Space, this since poem represents enough material for a separate, new book relative to the size of his previous titles. In fact, an announcement in the Ottawa Citizen from 1980 states: ‘Bill Hawkins, whose new book, Sweet and Sour Nothings, is coming out this year.’ It is clear that this was intended to be a complete book.” Again, what happened? Was the manuscript itself abandoned, or does it sit somewhere in Hawkins’ archives, perhaps even long lost or thrown away? There are many questions here left unanswered, and the fact that the author is not only alive but available makes the gaps even that much more frustrating.
Still, there is much here to admire, and much to appreciate, and hopefully this will be but the beginning of new and further attention for William Hawkins work. Might it even prod Old Railroad Bill (as he calls himself, sometimes) to start writing anew?