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Monday, January 2, 2012

Contributor Spotlight: Jeremy Allan Hawkins

It's a sunny morning where I live in Alsace. I'm drinking black tea, I'm listening to the French mostly not going to church, and I will say nothing about my poems (not even the one in HFR #48).

The poems do enough talking in my place. Most days, I have a strong distaste for overuse of the suffix –esque. It stands as a replacement for –like, sounding more French and therefore seeming more sophisticated. But it is neither. People add this tailpiece to names and nouns in order to make ambiguous adjectives of them and avoid using a strong verb. You might say I DISPLAY influences from the work of Carolyn Forché, but never that I am Forché-esque! The French themselves would never accept this, if for no other reason than because the sound has no natural musical rhythm; the reason arabesque works is due to the liaison between the b and the e. Vowel to vowel is horrendous, so don't use –esque as a suffix. Unless you're into ad-hoc diphthongs.

Kafkaesque is the one notable exception, as one discovers waiting in the interminable lines of the French bureaucracy—the meaning of kafkaesque fits the irritating nature of its sound.

Last winter I joked to my friend Christophe that I had discovered the secret to French philosophy: the climate encouraged people to stay indoors most of the year, thinking, analyzing, and arguing with each other. He did not think this was funny. He sought a graceful retort.

My friend David tells me that beginning with the weather is one of his poetry faux-pas. I see his point. It is no longer a sunny morning: French rain has ruined a French afternoon.

I believe in a generosity of criticism. Yes, criticism can be positive: a noting of strengths, praise of merit, and admiration where due. In another sense, it can be the free and bountiful giving of criticism in general. I think it a point of respect and admiration to engage with a person's work honestly, directly, and without pandering. I will work with your work, and that is how best I can serve you.

So I am now ready to tell you that if you need to tell me that something is in your poem, it is not there. Tell that to yourself.

The French do not want you to critique their food. If they ask how you like the food, they want you to say that you love it. You are allowed to coo. Under no circumstances should you say that while French cuisine is excellent, you sometimes miss cooking that is less limited to variations on salt and fat.

When people talk about France, they often talk about themselves. They say "the French this" and "in France that," while simply airing their personal philosophies, their joys, regrets, and manners of perversion. This is even true about the French themselves—proclaiming about their nation or their culture or history, they are usually writing an obtuse autobiography. This is very much the same as when people talk about what is poetry, or what is a poem.

It is a cold, clear evening. Here in France, people are falling out of love. You are too.

Jeremy Allan Hawkins was born in New York City, is an alumnus of the US Fulbright program, and currently teaches at the University of Strasbourg. He has recent work appearing or forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Salamander, Tin House, and Hayden's Ferry Review, among others. He is more upset than he expected by the death of Christopher Logue. 

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