Ventrakl by Christian Hawkey


Seminary Co-op Bookstore (Chicago)


Is it possible to co-author a book with a long since deceased poet? Can you immerse yourself in someone else’s verse to such a point that his voice begins to blend with your own? What if you also study the person’s life history, or photographs of him and his family? Can you feel your way into another human being?

These are some of the questions that motivate Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, an extended engagement with the poet Georg Trakl. In the introduction, Hawkey describes the work alternately as a collaboration, a translation (though Hawkey did not know Trakl’s native German when he was working on the project), and a form of friendship. Translation, in this book, is not so much a transportation of words from one language into another as it is an effort to enter a space outside of language and bring something back.

This engagement takes different forms, some of which are more accessible than others. There are brief dialogues, meditations on photographs, anecdotes from the poet’s biography, various lists, assemblages of lines from Trakl’s poetry, and short poems whose contemporary diction makes Hawkey’s presence more tangible (“A dork mutters Milton”). While those moments are occasionally off-putting (duck farts?), others are quite lyrical or strangely absorbing, as when Hawkey considers the way the light plays on Trakl’s earlobe in one photograph.

This is not a book that you read passively: it invites the reader’s active participation in the process of thinking through and into another’s life.


Ventrakl is published by Ugly Duckling Presse and distributed by Small Press Distribution.

$17   PB   152 pages with 19 bw illustrations   ISBN: 978-1-933254-64-7   Pub date: October 2010