by Christian Hawkey
Ugly Duckling Presse
$15.00 List Price
Christian Hawkey's hard-to-classify Ventrakl puts prose, poetry, and photographs to fascinating work as he attempts to draw closer to the early-twentieth-century German writer Georg Trakl. Trakl was more than slightly enigmatic in his own day—Great War medic, pharmacist, drug addict, blisteringly gifted Expressionist poet, and suicide at twenty-seven—and Hawkey (whose previous work includes the 2007 poetry collection Citizen Of) manages with great resourcefulness to both mitigate and highlight the cultural and linguistic gap between himself and his long-dead predecessor.
He does so in part by deploying numerous, often radical translation methods. These include, as he states in a preface, firing a shotgun at the pages of a Trakl book and working from the remains, or soaking a copy in rainwater "until its pages, over time, dissolved into words, pieces of words, word-stems, floating up and rearranging themselves on the surface of the jar." The result, to borrow Hawkey's term, is an "umdichtung: not a poem translated from another but a poem woven around another, from another, an image from another image, a weaving or an oscillation around or from." In this way, Trakl's haunting work becomes itself haunted, jostled, jarred awake.
Ventrakl is reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, in which Ondaatje creates a kind of collage of text and image around the legendary nineteenth-century outlaw. Hawkey is up to something more fiercely intimate, however, and Ventrakl will speak resonantly to anyone who has fallen for the work of someone long dead and