The Brooklyn-based poet Christian Hawkey reads tomorrow night at the monthly Blue Letter series, as ever in the back room at Watty and Meg. Hawkey’s newest book, Ventrakl, a cross-genre exploration of the life and work of Georg Trakl, has just been released by Ugly Duckling Presse. He is currently working on a libretto titled “An Untitled Opera Based on the Story of Milli Vanilli.”
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
A 70-year-old lady said that hearing my poems made her remember the time she got stoned on a large waterbed and watched an enormous pirate ship descend out the sky. Another person said that each of my books are very different. Someone else said that I seem to be obsessed with the same things: the question of the voice, the category of the human in relation to technology, and Montgomery Clift.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Nothing changes us permanently for the better. Work I love reaffirms that we are not damaged, not broken, not disabled, not mentally ill, not freaks, but perfect. Arthur Russell’s music—every song, every album—does this for me, as well as Larry Eigner’s poems: “When, wandering, I look from my page // I say nothing // when asked // I am, finally, an incompetent, after all.”
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
No. Never had that bourgeois luxury! I’ve always worked. Hard.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
One reader translated my poems from English into English; another turned a poem into a graphic novella; often people give me poems written during my readings… this strikes me as ideal, since my own poems are written the exact same way.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
No, but when I first started writing I thought that the poet’s only obligation was to write well—get the music right—and that poets constituted some kind of special “outside,” uncontaminated by or non-complicit with flows of capital and social forces that make us docile and obedient and maintain fictions of ablebodiedness and machinic perfection. But if one cares about issues of social justice one also has to examine or re-think the role of poetry in general—how it functions within given social structures and how certain forms or modes of address either challenge or maintain those structures. There is no outside. We’re all embedded and entangled and you’re reading this with me.