Annabel Hawkins (words)
Alice Clifford (design)
In a dimly lit Meow, with her glasses donned, Annabel Hawkins recites, between giggles, amid banter with the audience, a selection of poems from her debut collection This Must Be the Place. Hawkins adopts a wry smile and convinces the audience that she’s just “Jenny from the block”; having her first collection of poetry published at age 23 isn’t something she imagined happening—she’s just from Hawke’s Bay.
The collection has been adapted from Hawkins’ blog, Scrap Paper and Spare Pencils. The blog started when she was 21, and filled a void that had been created in the vortex of post-university life as she prepared for her eat-pray-love adventure. Never conceived under lofty ambitions, it was merely a place where, as the name suggests, those musings found on scrap paper, written with spare pencils, were given space and permanence. They were quiet and fragile, and I think most importantly, they were honest.
After emailing her former lecturer Mary McCallum, of Makaro Press, a link to her blog, Hawkins had a book deal, and a secret. It was a summer of secrecy, as she waited for her best friend Alice to return from England. Alice would be the designer, an incredibly important facet of this book. But Hawkins knew it had to be both of them.
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Alice is a freelance designer who specialises in typography. This was a perfect opportunity for both of them to have their work published, as designer and writer. While Alice battled directly with printing presses and sourced found images and rights to types, Hawkins was determined to translate the blog to a collection of poetry.
The move from a blog, where the posts were an amalgam of structured poems, as well as open-form entries with no real structure, was a challenge. Here, in This Must be the Place, these have been collected, worked on, revised, and her words are bound together with feelings and memories. The form is stricter, but the intentions and honesty remain in the collection. Hawkins avoids high-brow language and form, aiming instead for accessibility. Her language oscillates, as if working to a pattern, between poeticism surrounding time and abstract emotions, and specific language of both time and place—with references to polar fleeces, durries, skateboards, ripped jeans, Briscoes, all carving out an eternal moment in time.
The book, as I write this, sits on my desk, among a collection of New Zealand poetry books my mum saved from the rubbish bin at her school library. Among the 1970s editions of pastel colours, repeated patterns, and stylised imagery, This Must Be The Place looks at home. A pallet of colours which have already faded, a book that knows its age and youth at the same time. Ingrid Horrocks, as she launched the book, called it “contemporary retro”, an accurate description of the particular aesthetics, founded upon the duality of past and present that traverses the poems in this collection. With imagery inserted throughout the collection, the design and production of this book is in direct discourse with the poems on the pages.
Hawkins’ collection is informed by her life from 21 to 23. A period of such ripening and growing has been treated with honesty and courage; an age where the relationships that change and grow become defining experiences. The collection looks at families and lovers, but spends most of its space meditating on friendships and memories—Hawkins’ work is particularly affected by those friendships and relationships that have been altered, or gone.
The collection opens with “When we flew”, which remembers nights spent skating and smoking, and the feeling of freedom that they allowed. While many poems remember past moments of intense friendship, her poem “For Alice (from Fiji)” imagines their friendship in the future, as she watches two older women enjoying the beach—“Perhaps they just stumbled home one night, clambered in to bed in borrowed T Shirts and socks, lay down and talked about their dreams, and ended up here.” Friendships exist as past and eternal in the same breath.
Her poems are full of we, a we that is of her and Alice, as well as of the reader. For we, those who hold this book, are invited to imagine their own versions of these stories beneath the poems—it is not the details that are primary, but the emotions that flow underneath.
It would be wrong to reduce Hawkins’ work to journal entries of a young woman. These are potent works, which are full to the brim with the experiences of youth, the trauma of changing worlds, and the power of a notebook. Didion writes in her essay on keeping a notebook that it is not the facts that are important to record, rather “how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow”. Annabel Hawkins has evolved what lived on scrap paper, into a blog, and once more into her debut poetry collection, where her words are about finding a way back to a feeling.