A Prose Piece about Poet Bill Sovern by Joan Hawkins

Cut-up Bill Sovern in the Manner of Glissant

It’s been a long hard week, waiting for a poet I love and admire to die. He was in a car accident and within days was taken off life support. Gracie Strange stayed with him, day and night, reading the posts and poems people sent, playing him music. I couldn’t post anything. Just news about his condition. And the obvious observation that my heart was broken. That I sent love. That I was in a fury against the universe.

I lost my datebook. Full of passcodes and important numbers, so I was frantic. A young couple found it, outside the Good Will, and brought it to me in the kind of downtrodden car you rarely see anymore. None of the doors opened and they had to crawl in and out through the windows.  She was swathed in cloth because, she said, she is allergic to the sun. I gave them an envelope containing $100, and thought of Bill. “For gas,” I said. And wondered what he would poetically do with such a dire affliction– being allergic to the sun.

My internet connection died in the middle of a medical phone call. My insurance refused to pay for a prescription. I saw two friends and nearly quarreled with each of them. Afternoons tipping down into depression after coffees that should have been fun– or at least interesting.

I heard the news about Bill’s accident at a picnic. All around us people were laughing– and Tony said, “have you heard about Bill?” Now at my age, that’s never good. Prizes and honors are announced with flourish, right in the lead. “Have you heard about” always means the world has tilted on its axis. The strong full moon in Aquarius has exerted some maleficent influence. Even though I don’t believe in Astrology, I always check the signs and this week the signs have not been good.

On April 20, 2021 there was a freak Tuesday evening spring snow. Tony and I were invited to read at the Bokeh. Light dusting of snow as we walked into the bar, building into a real storm, throughout the evening, visible through the windows behind the stage. We worried through tacos and tequila, and Bill moved us up in the reading queue, so we could leave before the roads got too bad. Even so, it was a gnarly drive. Tony sitting ramrod straight in his seat, me making deals with God all the way to Bloomington. Poetry is a dangerous business in Kentuckiana, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri. We commute long distances to readings– bookstore to bookstore, bar to bar. Shit happens. Cops pulls us over and dangerous blue-haired poets are arrested for pot. There are flat tires; there are accidents. “It was snowing & the cold wind was blowing,” Bill posted the next day, “but there was a full house at the Bokeh last evening. Want to thank everyone who performed.”

The FBI raided Trump’s place in Mar-a- Lago–looking for classified documents. The war in Ukraine has come perilously close to a nuclear power plant. The Arctic is warming faster than predicted. Heartbreaking pictures show polar bears floating on chunks of ice that look like the saucer snow sleds we had as children. Just big enough for an 8 year old. There was an impromptu reading in Bill’s honor. People feeling they had to do something to mark the vigil, to send some kind of energy out into the universe. Bill’s energy– the kind that always says poetry matters- no matter what the fuck else is going on.  I can’t be there. Read the poems and tributes, hoist a glass in his honor. And am quietly glad when I read that the Senate has finally passed a bill supporting medical treatment for Vets. Salvador Dalì is dead.

I could go on like this forever. Pictures posted on Bill’s facebook page, show a tall thin man-sometimes bathed in colored light. Beat poet. Jazz poet. When I knew him, he always read with the Monkeys’ musical accompaniment. “Beyond each gentle thigh of curve/ technicolor roadkill pulsating/ on the blue collar horizons truck stops framed like/ oversized Hopper paintings” -That quote from “Blue Highways” posted alone. His facebook wall is peppered with posts from Tuscan poet Giulio Tedeschi, hinting at an international dimension to the man who liked being called “Hoosier Bill.”  Reminds me of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Before it was translated, Tedeschi’s most recent post read “Deceduto l’altro giorno.. Che la tiera ti sia lieve Bill!” “Died the other day, may the earth rest lightly on you, Bill.” And on Tedeschi’s own wall, messages of grief at the news–from all over the wide world. Another poetic night at the Bokeh. From Gonzo Fest, the motto from the statue of liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses- yearning to be free.” The paint on the banner hanging behind Bill has dripped, so the words look like they’re crying.  

The day Bill died, Salman Rushdie was stabbed 10 times onstage. If he survives, they fear he will lose an eye and the use of an arm. It is open season on writers. And the universe has gone mad. Words.  I need words. I need millions of words. Words that turn you on. Words that turn you off.

Words. The poetry reading on the 16th at the Bokeh Lounge will be a celebration of life. I will scatter his ashes at the curve of the Muddy River near the city that was his Patterson.

Full house at the Bokeh last night. I want to thank the poets.

 It’s official. Rest in peace.

Bio: Joan Hawkins is a writer and spoken word performer, who focuses mainly on creative memoir.  Her  poetry and prose have appeared in Avalanches of Poetry, Fevers of the Mind, the Performing Arts Journal, Plath Profiles, and Sand.

Two poems are forthcoming in a special poetry issue of The Ryder Magazine. She and Kalynn Brower have co-edited an anthology called Trigger Warnings, which contains one of Joan’s stories; it’s currently under consideration by Indiana University Press. “My Writing Teacher”  comes from a manuscript in progress– School and Suicide.

Joan lives in Bloomington, IN with her cat Izzy Isou. She is currently the Chair of the Writers Guild at Bloomington.