rob mclennan on Bill Hawkins

Another remembrance and tribute to Bill, this time from rob mclennan. Read it here.

Hawkins’ exploits are as legendary as they are apocryphal, including tales of facilitating Jimi Hendrix’ recording of a Joni Mitchell performance at Le Hibou on his reel-to-reel (later recording Hawkins performing a new song on guitar at the after-party), a run-in with Mexican police at the Mexican-American border involving a pick-up truck of weed (and Trudeau’s subsequent interventions on their behalf), and a day-long reading at the site of a former hotel in Ottawa’s LowertownAnother story has Hawkins sitting on stage reading quietly to himself in a rocking chair during a performance of The Children at Maple Leaf Gardens, as they opened for The Lovin’ Spoonful.

Bill Hawkins Remembered on CBC

CBC Ottawa ran two pieces on Bill yesterday.

Alan Neal had Bruce Cockburn and Sneezy Waters on All in a Day to discuss Bill. You can listen to that here.

And the 6pm News on CBC ran a short story on Bill built around an earlier 2008 profile. The 2008 profile can be viewed here, and the newer piece begins at 37:00 here.

And from the Ottawa Sun, a profile from 1997 here.


William Hawkins (1940-2016)

Bill - Le Hibou_0008

William Hawkins died yesterday, July 4 2016, at age 76. He spent a short time in the hospital, and his passing was both a surprise and not a surprise–it was expected but not expected quite so soon. It hasn’t yet been 24 hours, but I wanted to try to write something. Apologies for the disorder of these thoughts.

I’m sitting in my office surrounded by Bill and his work. One of the poster poems, “Postage Stamps,” is above my desk. A different poster for a reading at Le Hibou hangs on the adjacent wall above a bookshelf (with a little handout made by jwcurry for Bill’s 65th birthday tucked in containing a Frank Zappa quote with a nod to Bill). All of his books and assorted other ephemera are on the shelves in their right place. Just yesterday a really lovely tribute poem to Bill by Neil Flowers arrived in the mail (Taxi Cab Voice, published this month by above/ground press). The tribute record, Dancing Alone, is running in the background. Only a few weeks ago he passed me a binder full of old photos to scan and put online. He’s everywhere.

I last saw him on Thursday, and had made a plan to visit him again likely today (when he was supposed to be out of the ICU). I was looking forward to talking about the Wimbledon results with him (he’d be delighted that Roger and Milos are still in it, and I know he was happy to get the news that Novak went out on Saturday). I first met Bill while working at Octopus Books in 2009. We had corresponded over email and he swung by the store to say hello. He ordered some books and was as kind and charming as ever. My partner Jenn has known him for much longer. Her father, Mike, met Bill in the 1970s, the two of them working as cab drivers in Ottawa together for four-plus decades. The first barn that Jenn ever got up on a horse at was one owned by Bill’s family. In turn, Jenn’s family turned Bill onto Czech beer and to the end he went back on forth between Pilsner Urquell and Kozel depending on his mood. The first book of Bill’s I got was his 2005 selected, Dancing Alone, that I’m pretty sure Jenn got signed for me by passing it through Mike to Bill.

Bill was a good friend to me, and his work and support meant a great deal to my own writing and sense of being a poet in Ottawa. I’ve written and spoken about Bill’s work a number of times in different places over the years. I don’t want to repeat myself or others here. My favourite piece of writing on Bill is Roy MacSkimming’s introduction to Dancing Alone (followed by rob mclennan’s talk inducting Bill into the Verse Hall of Honour).

It was such a joy to spend some five or six years putting together his Collected Poems, published just last June (read my introduction here). That project followed the publication of a long-lost poem, Sweet & Sour Nothingsas well as a descriptive bibliography that was part of my ongoing attempt to find as much of his work as possible. Bill was always receptive and appreciative of attempts to find and make available his work, if not a little skeptical of the whole thing. He said to me more than once that his Collected probably shouldn’t be done until after he died, but he seemed happy to have it in his hands once it was published and I’m incredibly happy that he got to hold it. He even managed to give one final reading at The Manx last November to celebrate the publication of the book. It was filmed (I can’t remember who by, but thank you!) and you can watch it if you never had the joy of seeing him recite his poems from memory and delight a crowd. I can only imagine what his readings were like in his prime in the 1960s. You can also hear him recite a few poems and answer some questions from Alan Neal for All in a Day here.

The stories of his life and work are well rehearsed these days–the legendary posters stapled to telephone poles and otherwise sold for beer money; driving across the country with Roy MacSkimming to attend the era-defining 1963 summer poetry seminars at UBC (and Robert Creeley paying to have their car fixed when it broke down en route home); appearing in Modern Canadian Verse (edited by A.J.M. Smith) on the strength of his work in the Souster-and-Coleman edited New Wave Canada from Contact Press; the time in Val Tetreau Correctional Institute as a young man; travels through Mexico on a Canada Council grant, and various drug related mishaps; the songs, beloved and recorded by others; his work at Le Hibou, hosting poets and musicians in the heart of the 1960s. Nelson Ball, publisher of Weed/Flower Press (and thus of Bill’s Ottawa Poems), credits Bill with turning him on to imagism. He was in the important mags and anthologies and published by important presses. He played with and inspired important musicians (Bruce Cockburn says that he began writing songs to put music to Bill’s lyrics). His songs were featured in the 1967 NFB documentary Christopher’s Movie Matinee, a film in which cameras were “put in the hands of a few young people [to make] this film about themselves and their world.” His writing anticipated and engaged with the currents of 1960s small press poetry in Canada, moving through free verse experiments, historiographic longer forms, projective verse, 1960s lyric poetry, as well as the concrete and visual experiments of the poster poems, and his efforts as a songwriter.

Bill was a radical force in Ottawa, and despite his occasional travels elsewhere he returned to and remained in Ottawa. His bio in New Wave Canada, ending “Living now in Ottawa,” feels as much like a confession as a statement. He would probably be more well and widely known if he had up-and-moved to Toronto. And for all this, somehow, Ottawa celebrated him, giving him an “Outstanding Young Man Award” in 1966, perhaps not fully aware of Hawkins’s entire lifestyle. This was the same man who only a few years earlier had been institutionalized for “some misdemeanour involving other people’s cars”; the same man whose name was on graphic and obscene posters stapled to the city’s telephone poles; the same man whom collaborator and peer Roy MacSkimming describes as follows: he “took drugs, drank too much, insulted important people. In fact he insulted most people, important or not, more or less on principle.” Years later, in 2012, Bill was inducted into the Verse Ottawa Hall of Honour by rob mclennan, a gesture befitting his importance to poetry in Ottawa, one celebrating the way that his work has resurfaced periodically over the years and found new writers to influence despite his near silence between 1974 and 2005.

And the work really does endure. The poems, like the songs, are funny and sad and sometimes dark and sometimes sweet and (almost) always full of love. I don’t know how to excerpt his life’s work, but here are a few that I particularly love:

The last poem in his Collected is an elegy for a friend that died (“In Memoriam (Sandra Jane Sutcliffe)”) that feels sadly appropriate today, and the next-to-last poem (“Memories Memorial”) feels closest to the Bill that I came to know over the last seven years.

I didn’t know wild Bill of the 1960s. I knew Bill later in life, full of memories and regrets and sad stories and happy stories and crazy stories and poems and songs. I know less about his life in music, and sadly never had the joy of hailing a cab and finding Bill at the wheel, though we did spend plenty of time sitting in his car in front of the house. It’s nice to think of the thousands of people that crossed his path in that cab, and at shows, and readings, and in books, or stumbled on a poster in 1962 and were baffled or delighted. If you don’t know Bill’s work, there are lots of places to find it: The Collected Poems of William Hawkins, Dancing Alone: Songs of William Hawkins, Time Capsule: The Unreleased 1960s Masters by The Children, or spend some time looking through his website. I’ve also got two copies of Sweet & Sour Nothings left that I’ll happily give to anyone interested, just send me a note [both have since been claimed–sorry!].

Stories are being shared over Facebook, and the media are taking notice, and I’m sure there will be a public celebration or two before long. I’ll share those details once I have them.

Thank you for everything, Bill. I can’t believe you’re gone, King Kong-ing off to whatever-comes-next. Send us back a poem. I love you and I miss you.

Bill - Le Hibou_0006



Contact Press | A Dudek Addendum

A post-script of sorts to the Contact Press post yesterday. Below you’ll find a small handful of Louis Dudek-related items from my shelves that overlap with Contact Press (1952-1967), and below those, a couple related little magazines.

Related Little Magazines:

Contact Press | Ongoing

After acquiring a copy of Trio yesterday from Richard Coxford (formerly Bytown Bookshop, Ottawa) and George Ellenbogen’s Mcgill Poetry Series entry Winds of Unreason from Liam at Patrick McGahern’s (Ottawa), I decided to take stock of my small but growing Contact Press collection. Below you’ll find photos and some small notes on what I’ve currently got on my shelves, both Contact Press itself and a few related things. There are 15 Contact Press titles, 2 from the McGill Poetry Series, one from First Statement Press, an issue of Combustion, two of Michael Gnarowski’s bibliographic works, three books related to the Contact Poetry Reading Series, two Anansi reprints of Contact titles, a couple broadsides, and a small ad.

Only a few dozen Contact titles to go! Michael Gnarowski’s checklist puts the total at 49. Peter Miller cites 61 titles. Or, for the more ambitious, Nicky Drumbolis’s Contact checklist of official titles, variants, and related materials run to 355 items. It has some repeat items with signatures and associations, but it shows how much material can be gathered under the Contact name.

Donations welcome! Haha.

Contact Press (click through the photos for notes):

Related Titles:


Collected Hawkins | A Review!


The fine people at Vallum saw fit to publish an 8-page review of The Collected Poems of William Hawkins in their latest issue (13:1, “Open Theme”). David Swartz wrote the review, and I was delighted to see how much time he spent thinking about Louis Riel, which is almost certainly the book of Bill’s that has received the least attention over the years, critical or otherwise (none of it was included in his first selected poems, The Gift of Space, in 1971). Swartz is a good reader of Bill’s work. I couldn’t be happier. Thanks, Vallum, and thanks David!

What gives Hawkins’ poems depth is their immense weight and beauty, their intricacy of thought, luminosity, and comprehensibility. (David Swartz)

The timing is great, as the book just celebrated 1-year in the world (though we launched the book in June 2015, it arrived from the printers in April). I remain immensely proud to have edited it, and I hope that it keeps finding new readers for Bill. Go buy a copy if you haven’t already!


The Poets Series, Melanie Janisse Barlow

I’m really delighted to find myself included in Melanie Janisse Barlow’s “The Poets Series.” In her own words:

The idea behind the Poets Series is to paint portraits of living poets and let each poet pick the next as a practice of praco-poesis. More simply put, I hoped to create a round robin of poets. I began this work by crowd sourcing poets to begin each branch. I asked the poets who were picked if I could paint a portrait of them, and if they wouldn’t mind selecting the next poet to add to the series. The response has been astounding. As the beginning poets included other poets, and the archive began to grow, branch by branch into an amazing narrative of contemporary poetry. The Poets Series is a celebration of the complex tangle of living poets that belong to a loose archive.

She has just set up a website with information about the series, images of completed and in-progress paintings, as well as giclee prints for sale. My portrait is based on a photograph that my partner Jenn took while we were in New York City in Spring 2014. I’m really astonished by the whole thing. What a strange thing to have a portrait, and even stranger to see it in the company of the people it is in the company of (I must be the only poet in the bunch without a trade book). Thanks to Melanie, and thanks to Nelson Ball for adding my name to the archive! I can’t wait to see it grow.

Two New Little Poems

Two new minimalist poems of mine appeared in the world in the last 24 hours (Happy National Poetry Month!). The first, “Refrain”, was done up in a beautiful little single-poem chapbook by Michael e. Casteels through his Puddles of Sky Press (Kingston ON). It is available on its own for $2.00, but you will get it for free if you place an order of $15.00 or more for other Puddles of Sky stuff (spend $30.00 and you’ll also get chapbook-poems by Marilyn Irwin and Stuart Ross!). I’m a huge fan of Michael’s publishing work (and writing), and can’t say enough how happy I am to be a part of this series. You can and should spend $15.00 to support what he does, so take a look around. If you don’t already have them, I would recommend buying back issues of his mag illiterature.

The other poem, “Thrum”, is on page 9 of the brand new issue 11 of NOON: journal of the short poem.  I always love to read NOON when it appears, and I’m really delighted to finally have a little poem in its pages.

If you aren’t already, follow along with some poem-a-day initiatives going on through April to celebrate National Poetry Month. I’m keeping an eye on Justin Million at Synapse, Jeff Blackman, jesslyn delia smith, Chaudiere, and

rob mclennan | VerseFest Hall of Honour

rob mclennan was inducted into the VerseFest Hall of Honour last night here in Ottawa in recognition of his long service to the poetry community as a publisher, editor, organizer of events, ambassador, historian, bibliographer, writer, and a hundred million other roles he has taken on over the years. He has been a great supporter of so many here (and elsewhere), publishing first chapbooks, first books, making first readings happen, putting all those first people beside established people, taking work seriously across a huge range of styles and aesthetics and levels of experience.

Hall of Honour inductees Andree Lacelle and rob mclennan. Photo by Pearl Pirie.

On first meeting rob sometime around 2006, when I was a very young poet among other very young poets at Carleton University, our sense of Ottawa’s community was that everything that happened here seemed to happen through rob. Publishing and reading and whatever else all seems to pass through rob on their ways to existing. As young combative poets we thought that was ridiculous, but for the wrong reasons. For a long time (though this certainly wasn’t true in 2006), rob was often the only one doing things here. He seemed like the only game in town because in a lot of ways and for far too long he was the only game in town, keeping a lot going in Ottawa and keeping Ottawa in touch with a lot going on elsewhere. He has certainly been the only one in Ottawa bothering to do all of this for so long and with such sustained energy. above/ground press is 23 years old now. The Factory Reading series came into the world about the same time. The twice-yearly Ottawa Small Press Book Fair has been his doing since 1994. Chaudiere is the only trade poetry publisher here seriously engaged with the local community. ottawater is our annual online stock-taking of different voices and a great annual reading tradition in the new year, going back twelve years! This barely scratches the surface.

Some above/ground chapbooks with “poem” broadsides.

I have personally benefited enormously from rob’s support. He published two of my chapbooks (and one of those ubiquitous “poem” broadsides) through above/ground; Chaudiere published The Collected Poems of William Hawkins, a book that I edited; I’ve read in the Factory  Reading Series a whole pile of times; he has been the most active and visible reviewer or my work and of my little Apt. 9 Press; he has interviewed me all over the place; he passes me books all the time above and beyond my above/ground subscription (and once, many years ago, gifted me an above/ground subscription when I couldn’t afford to keep it going just because he knew that I cared); I’ve been in all kinds of his magazines, in print and online; and he’s been a friend. (Plus, undoubtedly, dozens of other pieces of support that escape me right now.)

My experience above is probably the same as the experience of so many. I really don’t thank rob enough, privately or in public (I doubt many of us do). He has been doing all of this for so long, and seemingly so tirelessly (but he must get tired), that I think that we take him for granted too often.


So rob, congratulations on a very well deserved honour, and thank you. Ottawa is lucky that you’ve stuck around here, and all of your work is appreciated.

I interviewed rob in 2013 to mark the occasion of above/ground press turning 20. I published the interview as a chapbook through Apt. 9 Press. Below is a pdf of the entire thing. While focused primarily on above/ground, we cover a lot of material, connecting the press to other pieces of his small press labour. Despite how much of his work we cover, it still feels incredibly preliminary simply because of how much rob has done.

I simply began: above/ground press at twenty

“The the” rob mclennan, with an alphabetical nod to Barry McKinnon.


2015 Year-in-Review

Following last year’s year-end post, here is a self-centred accounting of 2015 as a doctoral candidate, poet, and publisher.


As of last week, I have now completed drafts of all four chapters of my dissertation on bookselling and the small press in Canada after the Second World War. It is sitting at some 200 pages and 60,000+ words. There is a long way to go yet, but there is something to work with anyway. I published an article at Amodern on the Canada Council and the history of funding for poetry readings in Canada. A second article is due back any day now from the printer in the Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue d’études canadiennes about Raymond Souster and the Contact Poetry Reading Series (1957-1962), a long overdue piece based on my 2009 M.A. research. I also wrote an entry on Contact Press for the forthcoming Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, set to appear online sometime in 2016 so far as I know. I presented only a single conference paper (on William Hawkins at ACCUTE), instead focusing my energies on the dissertation and teaching responsibilities. 2016 should see extensive revisions on the dissertation with true optimism to submit in September, and hopefully at least one conference paper along the way.

On the poetry side, the big news was the publication of The Collected Poems of Williams Hawkins by the fine and hardworking team at Chaudiere Books. It launched in June, and we were even able to get Bill out to read from it in November. Watch the footage of his astonishing reading here. Bill and I also appeared on CBC’s All in a Day to talk about the book, and it was received well, garnering a number of reviews and other bits of media.

Apt. 9 Press had the great fortune and privilege of publishing new chapbooks by Marilyn Irwin, Lillian Nećakov, Nelson Ball, and Michael e. Casteels, and dragging our wares to book fairs in Ottawa and Toronto. A chapbook is forthcoming in 2016 from Lea Graham, followed by a hiatus for the remainder of the year in order to finish the aforementioned doctoral degree.

I published a new chapbook, Consider Each Possibility, with London’s always-excellent Baseline Press. I had a manuscript on the shortlist for the John Lent Poetry-Prose Award from UBC Okanagan’s Kalamlka Press. Bardia Sinaee wrote an unbelievably kind essay about a handful of my earlier chapbooks. I gave readings in Kingston (The Interim Reading Series, with the Accord of Poets), Toronto (Baseline Press Launch), and Ottawa (AB Series, Factory Series, Chaudiere Press Launch, OAR), published poems in or at Industrial SabotageFlat Singles Press, The Steel Chisel, Peter F. Yacht Club, and the Matrix Ottawa Dossier (ed. by Jason Christie), had a little poem broadside come out from above/ground press, and was interviewed at Ottawa Life Magazine and the Town Crier. I’m also in the roster to appear in this series of painted portraits of Canadian poets by Melanie Janisse Barlow. The full-length manuscript, as ever, continues to develop.

Whatever I am forgetting at the moment, I apologize! My great thanks to all of the editors, poets, organizers, students, professors, and supporters along the way that made each of the above possible. I can’t wait to see what happens in 2016!