Ella Longpre on Jaclyn Hawkins

“We are not constructed to contain such catastrophes; there must be a time of reconciliation.” –Jaclyn Hawkins

Being graced by the universe is rarely so much fun. I’ve been lucky enough to become a friend of Jaclyn Hawkins in the last year—and grace is the key word, here. And calm, and support. A fierce spirit. Jaclyn Hawkins is a Master of Writing and Poetics who graduated from the Jack Kerouac School of Disemboded Poetrics in Boulder, CO—a scholarship recipient and published poet whose home is the heart of Kentucky. Jaclyn Hawkins is a writer and a friend who values the absolutely necessity of darkness and grief, because she’s seen the exquisite joy that comes when we let ourselves emerge into the light.

She appreciates light, lightness, every day. We’ve had a book on our coffee table for a while, now, that lists the daily practices of famous writers: rise at 6, coffee, write on the sofa; write in bed; write only in the evening at the desk at the back of the house. I couldn’t find a writer in the book whose practice is to walk through the woods or climb a mountain—barefoot. Jaclyn Hawkins’ spirit reaches toward natural beauty, which is a site, for her (like so many great thinkers), of meditation.

How do you talk about the soul of a poet? Without failing. There’s something about a friend that’s only expressible by a deep sigh, letting out a mouthful of cigarette smoke.

One of the most striking characteristics of Jaclyn’s poems are their versatility. When she pursued her Masters at the Jack Kerouac School, she worked on poems documenting mountain-top removal in Appalachia. Some of these poems have the quality of myth with a violent shock of truth. Others read like Gonzo journalism, found-documents of a catastrophic scandal. There are narratives of disaster told in the style of a recipe. Her work focuses on geology and industry in order to measure the reach of a capitalism-fueled catastrophe, but she also uses cartography and etymology to chart the depth of that reach. (What are the boundaries of home? What is the root of Appalachia?)

Her poems are intimate, too. And cosmopolitan, in the sense that she inhabits spaces by taking a plunge into them, mud up to her knees, but still maintains enough distance to consider these spaces carefully, coolly. She and I have been exchanging love-notes on Joan Didion lately (in the form of pictures, quotes, internet articles, etc.), and it strikes me that these two documentarians share a similar poise. Delicate cool, like steel. A flame beneath.

Jaclyn Hawkins shows us, if we could touch wildness, it would have a soft texture. She takes us into wilderness, then, to find the roughness, the sharp edges of a heavy rain, smooth and lush, so that we feel as well as see what we endanger, what is in peril, when we threaten our natural surroundings, our homes, our hearts.

Writing, for Jaclyn, is an act of protection of the heart. And reading. Looking over, and she’s at the table, reading Richard Hugo. Because after an exhausting day at work, her soul needs to come home and read. This is the grace of a friend. The root of friend is to love. This Indo-European root, to love, is also the root of free.

Jaclyn Hawkins is one of the features at this month’s Bouldering Poets (7pm, Friday October 24th, Buchanan’s Coffee Pub, 1301 Pennsylvania, The Hill, Boulder)


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