Bob Hicok’s poems are humorous, but while the reader might chuckle at the speaker’s associative connections, the subject matter is hardly ever laughable. With references to 9/11, a shooting at Virginia Tech (where Hicok is an associate professor), parenthood, religion, and the economy, Hicok’s poems call attention to the frustrating absurdities of our political circumstances, the difficulty of forming relationships, and the desire to find meaning in chaotic and incoherent situations. Hicok is “someone intensely interested in our lifelong quest to be comfortable in our own skin” writes David Kirby in the New York Times Book Review “and our ability to do so rarely, if ever.”
X gave me a poem
in which she was in love with a woman
and the church but the church
couldn’t accept four breasts in one bed.
When I asked if our coworkers knew,
she dropped her head and I said nothing
for years until this morning I realized
no one reads poems: my secrets and hers
are safe in verse.
(from ‘A private public space’)
The self-conscious honesty and off-the-cuff style of Hicok’s poems makes inhabiting the speaker’s skin familiar and yet uncomfortable, as larger societal issues mingle with daily confusions, doubts and disappointments that are more intimately experienced:
“and” that is good
for sewing the minutes together, which otherwise
go about going away, bereft of us and us
of them. Like a scarf left on a train and nothing
like a scarf left on a train.
(from ‘In the loop’)
Hicok’s poems are focused on recording the passing moment, the birth of a thought and its connection to the next. Perhaps if these fleeting thoughts can be pinned down, a constellation of meaning can surface. “It’s a large part of the joy of writing for me,” Hicok muses in an interview with Gulf Coast’s Matthew Seigel, “to arrive where I didn’t know I was going.”
Bob Hicok is the author of several collections of poems, including The Legend of Light (1995); Animal Soul (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Clumsy Living (2007), which received the 2008 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress. His most recent book is Words for Empty and Words for Full (2010). Hicok has won Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He once worked in the automotive die industry and owned his own business, Progressive Technology; he has taught creative writing at Western Michigan University and Virginia Tech.
Words For Empty And Words For Full, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2010
This Clumsy Living, the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2007
Insomnia Diary, the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2004
Animal Soul, Invisible Cities Press, Montpelier, 2003
Plus Shipping, BOA Editions, Ltd., Rochestser, 1998
The Legend of Light, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1995
Bearing Witness, Ridgeway Press, Detroit, 1991
Poetry Daily: ‘Is a Pepper Steak a Steak Made of Pepper?’: An Interview with Bob Hicok from Gulf Coast
PBS Newshour: ‘Poet Bob Hicok Reflects on Economic Hardships in Mich.’
Poetry Magazine podcast: ‘Loneliness Rhymes and Slippery Slopes’ audio recording
More poems by Bob Hicok on poetryfoundation.org