By Brian Nelson
Hannah Barrett’s 9:20 Advanced Composition class started without her. She was late. She slipped into room 201 and was greeted by a stranger.
“I totally forgot he was going to be there,” said Barrett, English sophomore, referring to a guest speaker. Barrett said she thought she had stumbled upon a priest as she entered the class. “He came around (the desk) and shook my hand,” she said. “He was a very sweet guy.”
Red Hawk is currently a professor of English at The University of Arkansas at Monticello. The English department recruited Red Hawk to conduct a workshop with students, speak in several classes and present a public reading, which took place Nov. 11 in the Harold Deets Library. The visit was not his first.
“He was here about seven years ago at the recommendation of a faculty member who is no longer here,” said Michelle Boucher, professor of English and director of general education. Boucher said the English department became very good friends during Red Hawk’s first visit, which allowed the department to recruit him again at an affordable cost. “He’s willing to work with students,” said Boucher. “Not all poets of his stature will do that.”
Red Hawk is currently 66 years old and has been writing poetry for 48 years.
“I started writing when I was 18,” he said. “Poetry has made me a better man. Poetry has showed me how to live.” His first poem was the result of a Composition II assignment. “I wrote a poem because it was short and quick and it was easy. I sat down to write it, and what came to me was a feeling.” Red Hawk’s roommate came across the poem and confronted him about plagiarism. “It was so good that he couldn’t believe I had written it,” said Red Hawk. “Poetry was a surprise to me. It was a gift to me from our creator.”
After sharing one of his poems, Red Hawk asked Hannah Barrett to share her thoughts. Her response caused Red Hawk to jump from his seat and rush to her side. He placed his hand on Barrett’s cheek and said she was very courageous for sharing.
“I felt like I had been lying to myself and about my life and where it was going,” said Barrett, referring to her response. Barrett said she has not been having a good year and has been very lost with who she is and what she wants to do with her life. “I did feel very brave at the moment and normally I wouldn’t have said something. I’m really introverted,” she said. “That moment was really a turning point for me.”
During his presentations, Red Hawk expressed the importance of worshiping women and bonding with children, for a positive future. He asked, “Do you know how to worship a woman?” With no response he demonstrated.
“At first I didn’t know what he was going to do,” said Lea Shores, English junior. “He looked at me and told me to turn around.” Shores said Red Hawk then got down on his hands and knees and kissed her feet. “It was a really humbling experience that someone who has been asked to come in as a guest would do that to one of the students,” she said.
Shores attend three classes with Red Hawk, went to the poetry workshop and also to the poetry reading. “By the end of my last class it was kind of exhausting because it was a very emotional presentation,” said Shores. She also said she found Red Hawk really interesting as a writer, but even more interesting as a person. “He had a very interesting life story, and it was very brave of him to share,” she said. “Because he did have such a rough childhood, writing became an outlet for loss in his life. It was very inspiring.”
Shores said that she collected a lot of his ideas that she will try to incorporate in her own writing. She also bought one of his books after his public reading in the library. “I had never heard of Red Hawk before,” she said. “But he is someone I will continue to look for poetry in the future from.”
Michelle Boucher said students really enjoyed the presentations and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “He seems to have a strong energy that draws people to him,” said Boucher.
Red Hawk’s energy can be found in his published works. He is the author of five collections of poetry and a new book, “Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience.” The book focuses on the practice of self-study in prose and poetry, drawing on ancient teachings to illuminate modern experiences.
“We are not here very long. We are here for a very short time,” said Red Hawk. “The only thing that matters is heart to heart connections. That makes life real. Otherwise it is not real. It is only a head trip. No love. No life.”
Shores said it would be interesting to be Red Hawk’s student for an entire term. “He tells the tale of suffering. He tells how we can make it into so much more.” Shores also said that her workshop with Red Hawk was interesting, though they have two very different ideas on what makes good poetry, though it doesn’t have to be one way or the other.
“Honesty, that’s the secret. Make it true, even if it didn’t happen,” said Red Hawk. “Words follow a path with heart. Let nothing come between you and your heart. Period. End of story. -Red Hawk.”
Brian Nelson is a senior majoring in English. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.