Never has a hotdog been so elevated as in ‘The Hotdog Variations’ chapbook


The Hotdog Variations

Chapbook, James Hawes, 14 pgs, above/ground press,, $4

Never has “a hotdog with mustard & relish” been so elevated. This humble phrase constitutes the entirety of James Hawes’ chapbook. Poem after poem is built by rearranging — and using all of — the 24 characters of that dog description. Each line and stanza is a jumble of the letters in “a hotdog with mustard & relish.”

For some reason, the word “with” is never altered, always appearing as is. The remaining text shifts into a mix of non-sense — such as “do thog & rast / umd with is a rhel” — as well as strange but sensible verse: “a slide with & through stardom.” Some of these poems, viewed individually, evoke tangible feelings regardless of one’s ability to understand the content. When the reassembled words in a poem are all curt, for example (that done on purpose by Hawes, one would assume), they speak with anger or disgust.

Nearly more interesting than these poems is imagining Hawes’ process. Why a hotdog? Did he use some sort of anagram generator or painstakingly rearrange these letters from scratch? Do the seemingly nonsensical lines make sense to him, in some way? Why no ketchup?