Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Uncredited interview with William Hawkins (1978)

An uncredited interview with Ottawa poet William Hawkins from the long-defunct Ottawa literary magazine Sparks: Poetry Newsmagazine (January 1978, Volume 1, No. 11):

When you think of William Hawkins, you think of many things. Mordant wit. A presence in the Oxford Book of Canadian Verse. Ottawa. Some would add a certain madness.

The poet is tallish, solidly built, with a vague air of being ready for anything. (A fight? A revelation?). He wears a Fu-Manchu moustache and a Depression Era cap with a silver Maple Leaf stuck into it. Present occupation: Taxi driver. A man who works ten hours a day, and more.

There is a certain grimness there. Times are hard.

Hawkins was often in the public eye during the Sixties and early Seventies. Books of poetry. Rock and roll records. Sojourn with Ginsberg on the West Coast. Canada Council grant.

Surrealistic year in Mexico. Lately, he has not been heard from too often. Mention this to him and be the victim of a carefully-selected Hawkins grin (suggestions of the shark in Jaws and a character in a Dostoyevsky novel).

"I am retired."


"I am 37, but I have been retired since I was 33."



"Thirty-three, eh? The age of Christ . . ."

"I am anything if not a good Christian . . ."

Hawkins’ verbal thrust into Christian symbolism is not pressed further. He is not a mystic, but a flower child a dozen years older. Somewhat bitter. Almost never unfunny. The sardonic humor of the Irish is always a hovering presence. Hawkins will not deny the ethnic connection, one of the two sides of that divided, eloquent nation: the Protestant side. He is named after King Billy. (There is an English connection, too. Hawkins’ middle name is Alfred, for Alfred the Great, a fact revealed by Sparks, possibly for the first time. . .).

Hawkins is an Ontarian to the core, the dark, surprising other side of the province’s bland coin. His present literary project is to write a history of the Lebreton Flats, drawing from newspaper clippings, remembered tough guys, pool hall lore, etc. Part of his childhood and youth were spent in the area and he has an affinity for it, or at least its memory. But Hawkins’ reach as a writer and musician is at least federal. A long poem about Louis Riel is in his arsenal of poems-to-be. (Of course his reach is universal. How un-Canadian can you get than King Kong in Saudi Arabia?).

The presence in Ottawa of the man who went to Vancouver so long ago and then on to points south, may seem surprising.

Hawkins chuckles. "I told everybody that I went west, but I stayed right here." Recently, he has been acting definitely un-retired, having given readings in the Ottawa area that have convulsed audiences with laughter, often laughter with pain, a la Lenny Bruce.

Supporting himself in these non-boom times is a struggle and Hawkins does not skim lightly over it. But poetry is always easy. "I have never had to work at these things. When I wanted to write a song or a poem, it was just there."

So Hawkins stays, for now, at the center of Canadian federalism (or of folklore). He is not a weeping prophet. "I am not all that enthused by the state of the world," he admits. "Maybe I am a comic realist."

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