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Bob Hicok doesn’t turn down a chance to interview and from my internet gleanings I have come to the understanding that Bob Hicok would be an excellent bar stool companion regardless if he drinks, which for the first time I’m just now aware that Dubya’s drinking habits were lost on the legions of his fans when many said they’d like to have a beer with the teetotaler. (I’m glad we’re through our regular-guy-for-prez phase.)
Through these interviews, Hicok, a former businessman in the automotive die design industry and now professor at Virginia Tech, reveals many keen insights on the current poetry landscape (the compartmentalization of contemporary poetry is crap) and his writing process (he has a work-a-day, blue-collar approach). He pretty much was outside the poetry-making system (MFA programs) for most of his early career until he broke down and went to a low-res program after publishing his first four books and found it annoying to workshop poems. Amen. Now he’s officially on the grid and churning out his own League of Hicok.
And, if they’re like their leader, is churning out exuberant and witty verse, sometimes funny and sometimes the opposite of funny.
I’ve read and re-read the poem that appears in the December 8, 2008, issue of the New Yorker like 37 times and trying to find a hook in the poetries that have come before it (which is just the way I read –how does this relate to the late greats?) and can’t (though I hear a little Frank O’Hara). It’s a self-contained universe. If we were in a university setting we might say it is a verisimilar piece. And if we were in a workshop we’d say that the exploding pigeon is cool but the poem is too long and that he should consider cutting out the middle section–the bit about the turtles and the roads–and probably change the title because it doesn’t say anything and that the ending falls a little flat–it feels like an epiphany but really isn’t and a stronger ending is in order. Work on that.
And then the poet, emerging from his bubble of silence would begrudgingly thank everybody for their comments and, resisting the urge to leave it at that, tell his classmates that the middle part is actually a series of metaphors about death and dying and the finality of it all and how those who believe in reincarnation are morons because this world is shit; that this poem is a series of metaphors about leaving, the irreplaceable, unexplained moments that make up what will be a forgotten life; that the last image isn’t supposed to be an epiphany because epiphanies don’t come cheap and often like sugar packets and, frankly, epiphanies shouldn’t come at the end of a poem anyway because they shouldn’t be endings but beginnings….
A reflective silence (sans the uncomfortable creaking of chairs and a muffled cough) ensues before the professor says “hmmmmmmm” a beat too long and then moves on to the next student’s poem.