HR Hegnauer’s Sir is a gorgeous, heart-breakingly honest tale (or non-tale?–“perhaps this is grief in its most idyllic form”) that feels (even after multiple reads and an experience of hearing the book recited) like a radical compassion-site–not the usual dyad compassion of one figure to another solely, somehow Sir’s compassion is compassion within a stratum of compassion. It loops in itself tenderly. It tends to and attends.
This wonderful chapbook was published by Portable Press @ Yo Yo Labs. Brenda Iijima drew the compelling cover artwork (for Sir) resembles a combination of flashes of nebula meeting a crumpled up page of a manuscript. There is an element of this artwork that is really telling about the book itself. What the art for the book and the book itself are telling us is subtle, has to do with the way that time (and so relations that occur within time) is limited and in its limit, we are somehow limited by it.
So who are we in limited time? And what are we to do with the limits of time?
As I move through HR’s Sir I feel more and more that what we are to do with our understandings of ourselves as part of the limits of time, is to enact ourselves “like a spliced thing trying to rivet its selves back together, but not really knowing what this might actually look like”—so we have effort and ethics, effort and ethics.
My creative engagement with HR’s book is rooted in various integrities (both personal friendship and art-based admirations). It has to be named here that HR is my friend–that I have heard HR recite Sir in the old backyard where that very special sky poured over the fenced-in green. That as I read this I think of the upstairs wooden inner-stringcourse in HR’s bathroom and its relation to “Sir’s” wooden slats that existed to hold his brushes.
It is for reasons of such intimacy, that when I read phrases like: “when I was still a little girl”—I wonder into the book–well, what are you now? Knowing Hegnauer’s body perspectives and identities that root in “and” more than in traditionally gendered terms or categories, I wonder (also: “I buried the dolphin in the back of the garden. Right between my goldfish, Alfred, and my rabbit, Sarah-The-Boy”) if we are not also always getting some of Hegnauer’s own gender and identity transgressiveness here too? Is Hegnauer now somehow saying, both: I am no longer little and I am no longer a girl—or at least not a girl in “that” way? I have to mention here that the “I” of Sir used “Sir’s” bathroom, and not “Alices”—these types of things are telling. They perhaps make the book confessional by way of it articulating its relations. Later in the book we come upon this phrase: “the first time I was ever called Sir, I was eleven years old”  “I went home, shut myself in my bedroom, and I stared in the mirror. I said to myself, I am not a sir.” These lyric complexities reveal that in addition to Sir being a compassion-site, it is also an identity book. I love manifold complexities! The diversity of identities present and also able to be further unearthed. Extended.
There are sections of the book that are alarmingly beautiful. They root the “I” in its relations (to “Sir” and “Alice” and memory and gender/s and even “Elle” (by slant)) as they attempt to unfold its I ethically: “maybe you don’t believe me but the letters were made of tiny humans lying on their backs with their arms crossed over their chests, and they were breathing. They looked something like miniature living corpses on their deathbeds”“I started to cry for the letters”  “this is where a word goes when it’s ready to die.” Sir is a gentle grappling. A struggle to understand, while the I continues to live on beyond or through the “I”: its losses and deaths.
As I mentioned above, I have had the gift of hearing Hegnauer recite this entire text. This is how Hegnauer “reads” (meaning I have heard HR read this way re other works before) and per Sir, it is a supremely tenderizing experience to hear and feel. That is why when we get to some of the physical-emotional phrases in Sir, we feel like we know so much of (and by) Hegnauer’s cadence. Feeling by cadence, yes. Like a dirtied (not gritty or edgy, but dirty as with hands stained by rust from working for duration holding and pounding in “Sir’s” nails), sexless siren saying “my mouth felt like it was somehow broken [by this].”
Mid-text we hear that the character “Sir” has died. When a core character (one of the impetus’ for the book) has died, has the book Sir died as well? If so, the remaining half of the book is no longer Sir but something else. An apparition? A sweet account of “Sir’s” attempts to reach for, touch and attend to the I and the “I” in the book?
I feel that at the end of Sir we are sort-of left (by Hegnauer) in the space of our own capacities re volition. We are left to potentially incorporate Hegnauer’s memories as well as to (by proximity to such a gorgeous well of Hegnauer’s memories felt) perhaps take more seriously our own: “this is supposed to be about living. And this is supposed to be about remembering that we are living right now.”
2 thoughts on “Creative Engagement with HR Hegnauer’s Sir (PP@YYL, 2011)”
Thank you, j/j, for all of your words and intuition and insight. I so appreciate your thoughts around Sir.
Thank you for composing such a provoking book HR! It is thoroughly worth any attention it gets! It is sort of like having a full bronze breast plate in your pants pocket as you walk across a field…