Kissing Georg Trakl: How I Found Christian Hawkey in a Shopping Bag
I barely recognize you. I don’t recognize you. Your face seems to be powdered, as if you were an actor dressing for a part, or an actor undressing after playing a part.
And that part in your hair is breathtaking. Majestic.
One could lose oneself in that part.
Two years ago, my boyfriend fell in love with a woman who gave me a shopping bag of Ugly Duckling Presse books. This was just before everything between us unraveled. I sensed their mutual feelings, but I took the books (who would refuse Ugly Duckling?), and spent late evenings with the handbound beauties, touching the pages, staring at the letterpress fonts. I was alone in his house, in a quiet bedroom, too depressed to concentrate on reading, but I found Ventrakl in the bottom of the bag, the unassuming minimal design of a white cover, waiting for me.
“This book is a ghost containing a ghost,” Christian Hawkey writes in his preface to Ventrakl, a collaboration between himself and the dead poet Georg Trakl, in which he utilizes various modes of translation to generate poetry and prose: black and white photographs (“I am seeing his image as a word—I am seeing words in his image”), online translation engines, a version of homophonic translation (“homographonic drafts”), and interviews with Trakl. The resulting collection occupies a liminal space, “between our languages, texts, and names, as well as between our (ghostly) bodies.” When Hawkey converses with Trakl (he admits this was initially quite difficult because he didn’t read or speak German), their two voices alternate, interrupt, invert, wander and disappear into a third voice, the “between-voice,” pointing to and away from itself simultaneously as we follow a mind’s trajectory:
can you read the space between the flesh that covers the teeth, you mean the lips, no the spacebetween them, which a mouth inhabits, delimits, circles, a non-space, a void perhaps, don’t be pretentious, what then, picture someone speaking, now erase the face, the lips in motion, and leave the space between them
Paradoxically, the non-space (“between-voice”) takes shape. It is formed by and inside the boundary of the mouth, spoken:
the moment a shape, oval, hair falling around the light, the waves of light, lowers itself into our field of vision, odd, territorial phrase, the space of our own face, a between space, what about the tongue, what about it
After the face is erased, who continues speaking? The lack of distinction, a blurring of voices and identities (we are one and we are no one), compelled me to keep reading. Hawkey is obsessed with this non-space, the “immaterial made material,” or a “hole” he defines as: “the suspicion that one’s face is being erased in the act of kissing.”
Months before our breakup, before discovering Ventrakl in a shopping bag, I wrote this song: “How To Kiss A Ghost.” Poets are excellent at seeing into the future. (Or I suppose we know the future is already here.) The lyrics are: “I’ve learned a lot about how to kiss a ghost. You rest your lips on his and watch him as he floats.”
“The between-voice is a ghost, a host.” Hawkey reminds us we’re no longer standing at the center of the text or image, but meeting in the periphery (in his case, conversing with a poet who died in 1914). We lean into the mouth of the poem, even as it floats away from us, dance between states of being, nod toward the center, and inhabit the margins. It is in this space (or non-space) where translations breathe. Gertrude Stein: “act as if there is no use in a centre.” We become host to a multiplicity of voices, the ones speaking from every direction all at once. Authorship moves between the singular and communal. It is a séance called poem-making.
Is this who I am speaking with?
Don’t be so literal. You’ll never get anywhere.
Isn’t it exactly the opposite?
Then why ask the question.
The question of what?
Of who is speaking.
Who is writing then?
The week before I moved out of my ex’s house, I went to bed every night with Ventrakl. I cried into the binding. I said my favorite lines out loud, knowing they had already changed, uttered by my own mouth—that I was reanimating a ghost materialized in this collection. I looked at Trakl’s portrait. Once, I think I kissed it.
Christian Hawkey:: Ventrakl:: Ugly Duckling Presse