Bobbie Louise Hawkins passed away earlier this month. Her obituary in The New York Times quotes Anne Waldman saying, "Bobbie Louise Hawkins, story teller and monologuist and performer with extraordinary wit and timing, leaves a legacy of written work to be explored, performed and appreciated by a wide audience." Married to Robert Creeley for 18 years, Hawkins describes their relationship--challenging and generative--as a series of her own refusals of Creeley's pronounced limitations on her work as a woman and as his wife.
"When Bob and I were first together, he had three things he would say,” Ms Hawkins said. “One of them was ‘I’ll never live in a house with a woman who writes.’ One of them was ‘Everybody’s wife wants to be a writer.’ And one of them was ‘If you had been going to be a writer, you would have been one by now.’ That pretty much put the cap on it. I was too married, too old and too late, but he was wrong."
She added: “I think a part of what attracted Bob to me was competences I had within myself, but it was as if once I was within his purview, those competences were only to be used for his needs, in the space where we lived, and not as though they were my own.”
“What I was really fighting for wasn’t the right to be some kind of brilliant writer,” she said. “I was fighting for the right to write badly until it got better."
I appreciate Hawkins's irreducibility, humor, and presence, embodied in this great "Fuck you" sketch (from her website), and carried throughout the hours of recorded class sessions and readings at Naropa, available via the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics Audio Archive.
Hawkins and Creeley were both friends of Ted Berrigan, whose time together in Bolinas is documented in Joe Brainard's Bolinas Journal (Big Sky, 1971), including Brainard's introduction to a reading by Hawkins and Joanne Kyger. Twelve years later, after Berrigan's death, Hawkins would read at his memorial reading at The Poetry Project on November 15, 1983, which would have been Berrigan's 49th birthday. I recently acquired a partial recording of the event via the Pacifica Radio Archive. Hawkins's life and work will hopefully soon be memorialized with an event in her honor at the Project, and with her death it seems appropriate to share Hawkins's contribution to Berrigan's own memorial.
Including contributions from Clark Coolidge, Robert Duncan, Carl Rakosi, Philip Whalen, and many others, the memorial reading is a spirited tribute to Berrigan's presence as an unshakeable force in American poetry. Hawkins's contribution, in which she reads Berrigan's poems "Ann Arbor Song" and "Last Poem," is one of the funniest and most touching. She refers to a group reading of poems by Walt Whitman during the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Festival, noting how remarkable it was that each Whitman poem, performed by poets like Denise Levertov and Charles Olson with such distinct voices, immediately came to sound like their own poems. Hawkins then reflects: "The one thing, of course, that we're all here actually honoring that's markedly not here, time and again, is Ted's personal voice, which we all adored. And that fact of his voice investing with his own personal delight in them was a delight to us." Her readings of "Ann Arbor Song" and "Last Poem" are wonderfully funny, and you can feel the room's mood changing under Hawkins's voice, colored by her distinctly subtle, charming West Texas accent.