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Sport 11: Spring 1993

Stories Leading to More Stories

Stories Leading to More Stories

The contemporary poet with a comparable social programme to Baxter’s is Dinah Hawken, an ex-Catholic whose poems, without losing any of their focus on individual experience, do comment on and question existing power structures. In her latest book, Small stories of devotion, she transcends the private/public demarcation by use of dream-like narrative and some Jungian excavation of selves within the self.

Hawken, who is a feminist, is also (and this is something she shares with Baxter) a moralist, although the ‘moral content’ in her work is to be found deep within the swim of things that is the poem. She seldom broadcasts or overstates no matter how urgent or passionate the poem’s impetus. Relying on a deeply considered and variously sourced symbolism, her poems are subsumed in an irrational cloud of possibility and meaning, as many-layered as an illuminated manuscript.

As well as being a progression forward from Baxter’s poetic method and purpose, Hawken’s poetry demands also to be seen as a reaction against Baxter’s. Many of the things Baxter was prepared to accept, Hawken takes to task, particularly concerning sexual politics and the Catholic belief system. Hawken offers a very thorough and thought-provoking revision of the Baxterian agenda and method.

Her first book, It has no sound and is blue, includes a sonnet sequence in which 15 of the 16 poems use the same schema as Baxter’s late sonnets. In page 147 their spoken/written quality, they echo the Jerusalem Sonnets, although in their mood and voice they come across as more ‘sophisticated’, more considered—less earthy but every bit as heartfelt.

If there’s a knack to juggling attachment and
detachment, I’m writing to you trying to find it.

Like Baxter, Hawken has a few ideas about how the world could be improved:

If we could all get together—just once—like a sea
of winter trees flicking into leaf, then choosing
the right swami, the right economic theory, the right diet

wouldn’t matter, since any particular one
would be wedged against the nature of things
and it’s the nature of things I’m opting for . . .

(from ‘Traces of Hope’, It has no sound and is blue)