Wayward Thinking

The Book of Funnels
by Christian Hawkey
77pp, $13, Verse Press, Amherst, MA, www.versepress.org

There is a whispered playfulness about Christian Hawkey's first collection, appropriately indicated by its whimsical cover illustration: a stuffed toy duck teeters poignantly on the edge of a hotel bed, echoed by its back-cover duck reflection in an impersonal dressing table mirror. This strange repositioning of the urban and the everyday filters through Hawkey's poetry: in a way it is the poetry, as the delicate sifting process of the poet's wayward thinking forms the real fascination of his writing.

Thoughts in 'The Book of Funnels' are lively, buzzing, cannot really be owned: 'A thought drones in, trailing its landing gear' ( 'The Isle of Monapia') - wasps, moths: perceptions flutter and are uttered, but each moves mysteriously and of its own volition, 'as if it were someone else's and not your own' ('Up Here in the Rafters Everything is Clear').  Yet this collection is far from objective or anonymous - there is an insistently present narrator, and this is what makes Hawkey's poetry such an interesting mix. In the vast majority of the poems an 'I' speaks, in others there is a 'he'; very few are 'objective' and these few are sustained by the personal nuances of the rest. I loved Hawkey's neologism 'whispercourse' ( in the 'funnels' section of the book); it captures the lyrical way the poems work, as the connective sidesteps of image, mood, word, create both fresh perspective (one of the fundamental projects of poetry) and leave evidence of their own choreography. 'I negotiate/ a stream of particles' he writes in the same sequence, seemingly endless but for the human presence of 'the red warmth of soft breathing'.

Of course this method is probably easier to trace in the poems than describe in prose! It has elements of classic stream-of-consciousness, but also of poetry's resonant, clear-cut phrasing: Hawkey finds his own forms but is generally loyal to their architecture. More often it is in permutations of phrasing that ideas float and mutate. 'I Return to the O's in Oblivion', for example, is a beautifully sculpted poem, starting from an abstract premise but ending in a touchingly bizarre humanity 'large man/ in a white dress, soaking up the moon./ Nights I took down, gently, and put on./ White moon soaking in the backyard'. The poem tracks impulses to embody and release, and the interplay between the cerebral and the visceral: 'His aorta pulsed. His mind pulsed back'. The 'O' is zero, nothing; is an exclamation of wonder, and then becomes the white reflective disc of the moon.

These poems are both baffling and entrancing: I particularly liked 'Slow Waltz Through Inflatable Landscape', with its sense of journey and ineluctable companionship. In many, the sense of identity is very fluid and somewhat lonely. The occasional poem - 'Note Left Behind on a Table' 'Secret Ministry' - evokes a  personal relationship, though in these too there is an exploration of incomprehension, of absence. Although there are some cultural references - Goya, John Clare - for the most part Hawkey's writing is an organic, self-generated process: intriguing and original; but also good humoured and open enough to invite you in for further reflection.
         Sarah Law 2005