Get to know Grand Rapids (and the world)

Tim Hawkins, poet

In search of the perfect freelance article, Tim Hawkins made his way from Alaska to Mexico.

The journey encapsulates the first portion of his life — a portion that lasted more than 40 years.

His early life was filled with travels and jobs. At one point in our conversation in our Van Andel Institute he listed the jobs on his resume, and the list read like a NASA checklist.

But most of his years traveling were his desire to start a travel magazine and his teaching at schools across the globe for three year stays. (He told a funny story — in a German accent — of how Germans view Americans, “We are travelers, Americans are tourists.” Apparently they think because they go somewhere for three weeks it’s better. Hawkins just laughed because he was in countries for three years.)

His talks of his experiences were awesome and made me a little jealous, he lived what seemed to be a carefree life, moving about as he pleased and doing what he wanted. He said he whom he’d agree to meet in a certain city on a specified day, and they’d meet there.

But he seemed to hesitate in saying it was the way to live.

“I always just thought of it as a cool young man’s journey,” he said. “It makes for a great story later on, and I wouldn’t say I have regrets. What I gave in one (a stable home and career), I gained in another.”

During his life, Hawkins wrote. Most of it was in journals and just for himself. The past several years have been a whirlwind of getting poems published and he now has a book of the poems.

“I came home with 25 years of unpublished writings in notebooks,” he said. “I didn’t write them with a book in mind.”

But he came back to Grand Rapids — his hometown — and realized there was something there. Then his first three poems were accepted quickly by literary magazines, and he thought it’d be a piece of cake.

Then his fourth poem was rejected nearly 40 times and sent him tumbling back to Earth.

In the end his book was rejected about 25 times before a small publisher picked it up. Most of publishing is about persistence. As long as you have the talents and hard work, it will eventually pay off. Hawkins talked about a lot of young writers who give up way too early.

His writings are exercises in intellect, and his book allows him a trip down a memory lane of travels.

“I find out about things and about the places I’m in,” he said. “It’s not about expressing myself.”

He certainly doesn’t have to write anymore. He’s not relying on it to make money, and it’s not for expressing himself.

At this point, he just can’t imagine his life without it. The fact he’s a published author, just excites him.

“It’s just icing on the cake, it’s not why I do it. It’s about the process.”

Hawkins is reading and signing his book “Wanderings at Deadline” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Schuler Books & Music on Alpine Avenue in Grand Rapids. (He had another funny story about how he was doing a signing one day at a store and everyone was walking by, so he went to the poetry section to wait and talk to people browsing in that section. There was no one there.)

Van Andel Institute

Hawkins also is a communications manager at the Van Andel Institute, one of the world’s leading medical research facilities.

He showed me around the awesome building, which has security like a government building. There’s also a demo lab that looks like it could be in Jurassic Park.

Then we got lunch in the cafeteria. The menu and chefs were like a gourmet restaurant,  crab stuffed chicken, sautéed swiss chard with mushrooms and onions, and a huge fruit salad. An enormous amount of beverages, including Starbucks coffees.

It was definitely an awesome facility to be able to tour with Hawkins, even if he likes to keep the two lives of poetry and career separate.

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