Thursday, March 14, 2013
BOBBY LOUISE HAWKINS' SELECTED PROSE
I've been meaning to write about this wonderful collection for a while now. They sent it to me before it came out last October. But I have stacks of books next to my bed that I'm working my way through, or in many cases enjoying my way through like this one.
My old friend Dale Herd (who Allen Ginsberg once said was his favorite prose writer) is the greatest writer of dialogue of my generation, and along with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, of my time. This isn't about Dale, whose books I wish will soon be all back in print, but about Hawkins, whose prose is now collected in this beautifully edited and produced book (there's a slim companion volume that brings Hawkins' famous—at least to some—FIFTEEN POEMS back into print as well, with some history and an interview in it). I wish I could quote a longer section, but it's late and my back hurts from sitting at the computer too long working on my own stuff and other necessary writing for my, and my loved ones', lives.
I first discovered Hawkins' prose and fell in love with it back in the 1960s. And here in this one big book you can find the reason why, and why this volume should be an essential part of the library of anyone who loves good writing. Like Dale's writing, when you read most of Hawkins' work you get the feeling she went around her life and world with a tape recorder, or took perfect notes (the latter). Every word resonates with a kind of pure reality that goes way beyond what that word stands for these days.
Some of her best writing, and maybe all of it on some levels, reflects the life she lived and the lives she knew growing up in the Great Depression that never seemed to end for her and her extended family in rural Texas, at least not until she left to make a life for herself, eventually, as a creator of unique works (she has done performance pieces and more, but this is about her prose).
But you can get the book to read those pieces and get into those rhythms that I've found so powerful I fall asleep thinking in her and her character's voices. Here instead is a short piece that begins like most of her short prose pieces with a phrase she then makes the title and is one of the few without dialogue, but it explains her approach:
I'VE ALWAYS BEEN IMPRESSED...
I've always been impressed by the ability some people have to remember everything, things from a long time back, the name of a first grade teacher, whatever.
What I have instead is page after page of random notes to remind me.
Miz VanAnt with the gun under her pillow and bullet holes in her door eating squabs in Mineral Wells
the old man throwing his shoe through the window and putting shoe polish in his nose
the lady with the crazy daughter
In a book like this, the "plot" is whether it can come together at all. It might help to think of it as having gathered more than having been written. Its got as much plan to it as tumbleweeds blown against a fence and stuck there.
[And here's another short one without much dialogue either, but the thinking of the narrator counts as dialogue too:]
IT'S A PHONY
It's a phony surface but who's to know the difference. Not enough time. All that flash.
Hey, it's as good as real. Like living a life.
"Who said that?" drawing back and centring. Let's show a little muscle here.
"You saying this ain't my life?"
Naw, I never said that.
"I know what's real. I feel it."
Yeah, we all do.
[Oh, what the heck, I'll get a little more cramped and write out a slightly longer but still short piece that shows what I mean about her dialogue:]
YOU KNOW HOW...
"You know how Louella's husband is about Sally."
"I don't appreciate that type."
"Who is that?"
"Louella's husband. He acts like a prude."
"He says, I have to keep an eye on Sally. She's the sexiest little bitch I ever saw in my life. Not that I'd touch her, mind you! I told Louella, I said, You better watch him!"
"Yes, she had."
"Damned well better."
"He looks at her just like she was a bowl of something good to eat!"
"She is beautiful and I'm not kidding you. She's got that long dark hair."
"I guess I never saw her."
"She's Louella's youngest."
"Peter's got the worst crush on her you ever heard of!"
"Well, any man would. Just look at her."
"She was a lovely little girl. I saw her a couple of years ago and she was a little doll then."
And my grandmother says from the bed, "Well, she's a grown girl now."