I have another book to bring to you today, this time a short collection of poetry and prose called Woke Up on the Wrong Side of the Universe: A Collection of Poetry & Prose by Nick F. Hawkins. If you’re looking for writing which is transcendental and abstract, this work might be for you.
Woke Up on the Wrong Side of the Universe begins with an introduction from Hawkins himself, explaining how we have gone almost as far as we can as humans but not as parts of a much more expansive universe. He describes how we do not—perhaps even cannot—see and hear everything in the universe but must still try, as well as his own efforts to see and hear beyond what he can detect with his senses. From there Hawkins takes the reader on an emotional journey of poetry, both traditional and nontraditional, and ends it with a fascinating short story and another note from the author.
Hawkins’s collection packs a powerful punch for only being 86 pages. I think much of this is due to the fact that each poem is quite literally two poems in one. Through the use of red highlights, Hawkins hides the words for a second poem within the lines of the first; it’s up to the reader to figure out how to put them together.
I found this element of the poetry to be very refreshing. Many poems-within-poems, when they are published, do not so obviously indicate how to string together a second poem. The red lettering here presents a reasonable challenge for the modern reader: not so difficult to spot that readers will either blow past it or give up yet not so easy as to bore them.
Better still, Hawkins’s poems-within-poems adds extra layers to the original poems. Sometimes they enhance the meaning, and sometimes they contradict it. The fun is in trying to piece together the second poem and decipher how it connects to the original poem.
If you like a mix of rhyming and un-rhyming poetry, you’ll like this collection. Not everything rhymes, a fact which I’m personally grateful for. However, some lines rhyme and many of those do not come off as cheesy. One such example is the poem “Soothing Night Skies”:
I desire the soothing night skies,
The stars intrigue my mind
Like beautiful submissive eyes,
A gaze that’s only
Tarnished by the sun rise,
Cosmic frequency arise
Making me feel more alive,
I decide my vibe
To feel the beauty of life,
Avoiding patronizing parasites
That cultivates a futile demise,
I’m honored by the night skies,
An endless space and time
Defined by intricate signs
Still, my favorite poem from this collection is actually “Our Love Was a Typo”. I especially found the last four lines touching and beautiful:
If only our love story
Was written with a typewriter,
Maybe the ending would have
Turned out to be joyful
Considering I’m a writer, I typically enjoy any reference to writing within writing, so this poem and its message about lost love really captured my attention.
The collection isn’t perfect, though. I can usually brush off what I perceive to be typos or grammatical errors in poetry because of the very nature of this art. However, there were moments in which the wrong word was used (“compliment” for “complement”) and the singular form of a verb was used when the plural version was needed, even for the poem-within-the-poem. While most of the illustrations were simplistically elegant and fit the poems, but some seemed random to me. Perhaps I’ll see the reason in a future reading, but as of right now, I don’t see the purpose for all of them.
I also think that the short story is the collection’s weakest link. I felt compelled to read it because of the premise, and I think that alternate world Hawkins built is worth pursuing. The theme also fits with the introduction and the poems. Regardless, I don’t think that he develops the story well enough. I felt ripped off by the end of the story, as though someone had dangled a Twinkie in my face but only gave me the exterior without the cream. Very short surrealist stories can be very effective. In this case, I think Hawkins needs more space to achieve his goal for the story.
Overall, Woke Up on the Wrong Side of the Universe is an enjoyable and spiritual read. I can connect with the messages of Hawkins’s poems, and I think that anyone could benefit from them. I also think that more proofreading is in order, especially in the short story. While it fits thematically, the short story might do better to be expanded and then released on its own. A mix of poetry and prose can be interesting, but in this case I think that the story distracts readers from the wonderful poems.