Wendell Hawken


A Washington, D.C. native now living across the Potomac in Virginia, I came to poetry late in life, after raising my kids and finishing with a full-time job.  My first poem, an ode to my uterus, bubbled up during recovery from a hysterectomy at age 47, marking my need for continuted creativity, I have decided, with my biological option gone.

Here’s a piece about that:

While Loading Calves Into The Trailer

Our old shaggy stray — who climbs stairs
one leg, two, and some nights now not at all,
who gets a daily needle in her neck
to compensate for kidneys, her head wobbling
like the doggie decoration across a car’s back seat —
this polite doe-eyed white shadow barks and bites
trailer tires like she’s some choke-chain cur
and with calves let loose in their new field, she runs –
low-slung, fast, nipping heels – ignores her name
to shape those eight calves to a herd.
Ambling back to where we’ve draped the fence
to watch her work, her tongue’s scrolling,
her sides heaving. She is shiny-eyed. He says,
Must have some shepherd in her.
What more to hope for: late in life,
a welling up of what you revel in, find
you’ve had some shepherd in you all along.

Wendell Hawken is my literary and legal name though I am known in my rural community as Wendy Clatterbuck.  My husband’s people used to clatter the bucks in England’s New Forest when the royals hunted there.  The town the Clatterbucks came from was Bartley.  In 2002, when we carved out a place in the bare limestone and scrub of Clarke County, Virginia in the northern mouth of the Shenandoah Valley, we named the farm “Bartley.”  A sense of place, this particular place,  is important to my work.

A chapbook, Mother Tongue, was published in 2001 by Argonne House, a D.C. poetry press.

Then, at a summer writers’ conference at Sarah Lawrence College, I was encouraged to apply to the low residency MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.  It had been my dream to go there, and an earlier application had been rejected.  I tried again and, mirabile dictu, I was accepted in January 2003, earning an MFA in Poetry in July 2005, thirty-nine years after receiving my BA from Vassar.  While thirty-nine years may not be a Warren Wilson record – many students there are of an age – the time span must be right up there.

Mr first full collection, The Luck of Being, was brought out in 2008 by The Backwaters Press of Omaha, Nebraska.  Many of these poems came from my time at Warren Wilson.  A second collection, Ordinary Means, is currently making the rounds.  This new work deals with my husband’s double diagnosis of multiple myeloma and myelodysplasia.

We are now exploring a bone marrow transplant at Johns Hopkins.

Seeking the Second Opinion

As Bede saw life a small bird flying from the dark
across a lit hall
and out into the dark again,
                a cardinal hurls
his red self flapping at the feed-room window: thump
and drop, thump and drop
              stirring equine medicines
along the feed bin shelf. All he knows: try to fly,
not yet so exhausted as to let
my hands around him,
            not yet having brought
the barn cats down the loft stairs.

His fear of me sends him frantic, higher
harder at the glass,
  the feed sack I pick up
too stiff to drape him quiet, though stiff enough
to nudge him toward the lesser light
of open feed-room door
                where his wings recover
weight and measure, flutter righting into flight
down the barn aisle to disappear
on the soft air of before, as this new doctor
will turn you back to how you were.

Nothing I can do about his illnesses, so I directed my helplessness into starting a food pantry at our church. In February 2010, Christ Church Cares had its first distribution serving 16 families.  One year later, in January 2011, we fed 36 households with 89 people. The need has proved enormous, and many people have rallied to this work. Clarke County is a small, basically rural county lacking a reliable network of social services. Our pantry has won grants supporting our work from Land O’Lakes Foundation and The Diocese of Virginia, so now we have refrigerators and freezers on site.

Likewise, the lack of arts education in our local schools is appalling.  For example, our middle school has one art teacher for its 400 students. Since July 2005, I have served on the board of The Barns of Rose Hill, and we have raised $1.6 million – a huge amount for this area — to convert two 20th Century dairy barns in Berryville, the county seat, into a community and arts center.  The goal is to offer after-school arts programs that target middle-schoolers.  The barns are under renovation right now and should be finished by July 2011.