I remember my friend Bobbie Louise Hawkins.
I remember Bobbie as one of the great teachers, and one of the great storytellers, and one of the great prose stylists.
I remember Bobbie led a long and well-travelled life: West Texas, New Mexico, Japan, Belize, Guatemala, Bolinas, England, Boulder.
I remember stories of a tough childhood in the Great Depression.
I remember she studied art in New Mexico.
I remember she was once married to a Danish architect.
I remember she studied art at the Slade. This was the 1940s. She wore old Levi’s. She must have been way ahead of her time. I bet she looked amazing.
I remember she was once married to a well-known poet who was clearly the love of her life, and the love who informed much of her most gorgeous writing.
I remember she was a mother and a daughter and a grandmother.
I remember Bobbie was a great talker, one of the great talkers. She had so many stories.
I remember that her workshops were some of the most fun we’ve ever had.
I remember her giving us exercises in acquiring overheard dialogue. We started every class by sharing the week’s haul with the rest of the group. Sometimes we went for an hour, reading aloud what we’d eavesdropped in cafes or while walking along the street. How we laughed! How we learned.
I will forever remember how Bobbie told writers to use their natural speaking voices. Such a clear and simple foundation for writing.
I remember thinking that I’d never heard anyone utter such articulate sentences in everyday life.
I remember Bobbie as a remarkable editor. She devoted time to meeting with every student, and then would ‘go in’ on your work, reading it aloud and editing as she went. You ended up with a manuscript covered with a spider trail of edits and a real understanding of the worth of revision. I’ve worked in publishing a long time now, and I’ve never met a better editor.
I remember Bobbie loved Alan Bennett, Colette, Richard Brautigan, Fielding Dawson, Camille Paglia, Lucia Berlin.
I remember she loved writers who possessed a feeling tone in their work.
I remember being her teaching assistant for the online class called The Feeling Tone.
I remember she loved a writer who wrote in order to use the semi-colon, but right now I don’t remember which writer that was.
I remember thinking that Bobbie must punctuate her spoken language.
I remember ‘connectives nearly always suck’.
I remember her saying that men in workshops often talked over their writing – reading it bombastically, and apparently disproportionately so.
And I remember her saying that women often talked under their writing, reading it aloud sheepishly and in a slump, not doing their work credit.
And I remember she recommended that such women take themselves up to the Canyon, to the top of a cliff, where they could read their writing aloud, free to shout it to the universe.
I remember her saying we should lock ourselves in our bedrooms and practise reading our work aloud.
I remember Bobbie so often said that reading aloud created a chemical shift in the body. She often talked about the chemistry and science of writing and the brain.
I remember Bobbie adored Alfred North Whitehead, and would read aloud from his work.
I remember Bobbie’s politics, her realism, her scorn for -isms and -ists and people who voted for Ralph Nader.
I remember Bobbie’s stories of living in London when she was in a relationship with another poet. She used to have lunch at the Chelsea Arts Club, then drop into the Hammersmith Library every day, starting with books shelved under A, and working her way around.
I remember her stories of the other poet!
I remember her tales of the department, and I remember the way her eyebrows raised.
I remember Bobbie’s love of gossip. And boy, how we gossiped.
I remember Bobbie’s gardens. I remember benches, and wicker chairs, and metal chairs, and tea. I remember shady spots where you could drink tea and talk for hours (and we did). I remember her telling me about a fox that came to visit.
I remember Bobbie’s houses. She was a canny investor. She always advised making sure to buy a house that looks good from the street.
I remember the garage she converted into a theatre that she named the Bijou. She used it as a classroom, when Naropa needed one. She used it as a tv room, where she adored Jon Stewart. She used it as a studio, where she made otherworldly collages from pages torn from magazines that she shaped into landscapes and abstractions.
I remember books, and bookshelves, and piles of books, and boxes of books.
I just remembered Bobbie teaching me how to make dirty martinis when I reread the inscription in my copy of The Sanguine Breast of Margaret: ‘friend, co-conspirator and drinking buddy’. She wrote the loveliest inscriptions in the books she gave me.
I remember later remembering The Sanguine Breast of Margaret was published by a small press in the UK. And I remember checking where it was based, and discovering that North and South Press was based in Egerton Road in Twickenham, which is the road at the end of my road. And I remember thinking about all the full circles and synchronicities of our lives.
And I remember Bobbie every day when I walk my dog down Egerton Road.
I remember her telling us always to align ourselves with the most intelligent person in the room.
I remember her saying that when writing about emotions ‘nobody gives a shit about your feelings’. But the feeling clearly had to be there in other ways.
I remember Bobbie’s monologues: wistful, funny, intelligent. Listen to this one.
I remember Bobbie’s smile.
I remember her beautiful voice.
I remember Bobbie’s great beauty.
I remember Bobbie was much loved – the most loved among her students.
I remember so much more.
You live in a place for a while, and you make it a home, and then you leave, and then people there die.
And then – because you’re not there, at the event of their dying – death becomes something you hear about. It’s just another form of absence.
And you have all those memories, and gratitudes – things you carry forever, things that never die. And great writers never die, and neither do great teachers, so on two accounts Bobbie Louise Hawkins is immortal.
Thank you, Bobbie, for giving us so much, and for gracing our lives with so much. You will always be remembered.
Bobbie Louise Hawkins, 1930-2018