Saturday, August 17, 2019

Hold - Bob Hicok (Copper Canyon Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Hold.  Bob Hicok.  Copper Canyon Press.  Port Townsend, Washington.  2019.

The South is the country I live in now

How I got talking to the guy I don't remember
on Sullivan's Island. Our dog was still alive
and had walked repeatedly illegally
on the beach according to the signs. Dolphins
needled back and forth, stitching waves together
almost close enough for me to hit them
with a rock, had I a better arm and more spite.
My wife held the shell of her sea-sounding head
to the shell of mine, we were empty
of worry and work and had seen where turtles
had come in to lay their eggs, I think
is what I pointed out to the guy
casting his line into an ocean to ask
what bounty it cared to share. Or the existence
of weather. Surrealism in French cooking. Whatever
we were talking about, smack-dab in the middle
or muddle of a sentence, I realized
I was looking at Fort Sumter and said, Oh my God,
that's where the Civil War began, my God
being no god but who's counting. And without
changing expression or clothes, levity or levitation,
he said, Yes, that's where the War
of Northern Aggression began. You should probably
know we were standing where slaves
had been brought in, since that's still a thorn
or red-hot poker in the paw of America
we're aces at pretending isn't there. Our height,
weight, color were very similar, and yet, had I or he
a womb or even eight, there's not a chance
we'd ever procreate, based solely on our views
of an island, making us technically
different species. I'm only thinking that
now. In the moment, what stood out was the gap
between the end of my sentence and the beginning
of his, something like a thousandth
of a breath, meaning the idea that the South
and slavery should have been left alone
is a loaded gun he carries everywhere he goes.
And of course we're not different species
but two guys with the same number of legs
and head and chromosomes, sons of the same mother
fucking war that isn't over.


All Today's book of poetry can do is to apologize and hold our heads in shame, we've never read Bob Hicok before.  Don't we feel foolish?  Hold is Mr. Hicok's ninth collection.  We will hang our heads, but we'll also send Milo, our head tech and book scout, out into the ether to find Bob Hicok's other eight books.

One read through Hold and Today's book of poetry knew we were in the company of greatness.

These are great poems.  Capital G, Capital R, Capital E, and so on.  Hold is so damned smart and beautiful and true.  These poems - these are the poems that other poets dream of writing.

Bob Hicok goes right at the thing, no playing around on the edges, no confusion.  At one point Hicok tells us that "running with scissors is the only way to make danger understand."  You just have to laugh.  And then Hicok is on to some sunny, sexy ode of kind and generous persuasion directed at his wife, another on the importance of being a good person.  Hicok uses the legendary Boston Celtic, Bill Russell, as his example of a good person.

Today's book of poetry has a BBall past, Hicok's ramble on Russell made this basketball loving fool gobsmacked happy.


At the rehab center
late at night when my father
presses the call button,
someone hurries in
and shuts it off, thus maintaining
their quick-response rate, but leaves
without helping him pee, he tells me
in a whisper on the best
spring day of the year so far,
of the century: I could have picked
two hundred
million snowdrops on the way in
had I patience
and a doll's fingers.               He's afraid

of angering the staff and has learned to pee
on himself with dignity.        It's all

in the not-crying.                   In imagining

he's a chunk of wind
the next day while his penis
is being washed
and he can't feel it, just a sock
with a hole in it.                    I'm afraid

of the future.             That I'll need a gun

to help me out of the jam
of having a body.       Is what I'm thinking

while holding his hand, while believing
there's nothing to be done

about the weight of the night
on his chest except to lift him
and carry him home and give him back
to his own bed to live in and die in,
as he and mother
gave me to the sun all those years ago
to run under and end up here,
not knowing what to do
about the rumor that part of us
goes on after the heart's last sigh,
other than applaud the possibility
as I would a woman
standing up from a piano
after the gazelles of her hands
have stopped running, the music over
but not the chance for more music
if we clap enough that she believes
how desperate we are and that only
she can save us.


This cat Hicok isn't afraid of a single thing, love, sex, death.  Lob them in and Hicok hits them out of the park.  Hold burns.

Bob Hicok makes Today's book of poetry a happy camper.  Bob, as we will now, overly familiar as hell, call Mr. Hicok, makes us want to write better poems.  Even more importantly, Bob makes us want to read more.  As old Willy Shakes had Miranda tell that old cat Prospero, "O brave new world. That has such people in it."  And you all know how much Today's book of poetry loves William the Shake.  Now Today's book of poetry is going to tell you how lucky we are to have a poet like Hicok.

Our morning read was a little more difficult than usual and Today's book of poetry will explain that in a moment.  Please know we gave Bob and his very fine Hold our open hearts and our best efforts.  None the less our Today's book of poetry did a sterling job.  Of course Hicok's poems were extremely helpful to the effort.

Today's book of poetry just loved the way the man thinks.

Our morning read was tempered by the news that Canadian poet Nelson Ball died yesterday.  We knew that Mr. Ball had been ailing.  Nelson Ball is one of the poets Today's book of poetry most admires and we are terribly sad to hear of his passing.  We do know he was with friends


We were going along. Holding 
hands. When we came across a man
punching another man. My lover's
a creature wired with surprising
windings, and noticed the man
doing the punching looked tired.
She offered and was accepted
in her offer to punch the other man
for the punching man awhile.
Then gave me a look that said,
Where are your manners?
and I donated the punched man
my body to be his body
for a period of time. During
this rest, they took a tender
interest in each other, asking
after children and spouses
and bets on long-shot horses,
even sharing a ham sandwich
one had kept hidden & warm
under his arm. when they ran out
of things to say, rather than accept
the onslaught of silence, the one
tapped her shoulder and the other
mind. To his thank you, I said
a bloody you're welcome as we
walked off again holding hands.
Of all the reasons I love
my love, not the least is
she knows how the world works.
Badly. Etiquette is the way
she fights back. And with a right cross
I can tell you from experience
is lovely. My head still rings
from how considerate she is.


This last poems tells me that Bob Hicok must have a K.  Today's book of poetry has a K and if he were a better writer he would have tried to write "Civilization" for her.

Take our weary word, Hicok is a poet who will break and strengthen your heart at the same time.

Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok's poems have appeared in a wide variety of magazines, journals, and anthologies, including the New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and numerous volumes of The Best
American Poetry.  His books have been awarded the Bobbit Prize from the Library of Congress and named a "Notable Book of the Year" by Booklist. Hicok has worked as an automotive die designer and a computer system administrator. He is currently teaching at Purdue University. When asked in an interview "What would Bob Hicok launch from a giant sling shot?" he answered, "Bob Hicok."

"Hold… urges readers to consider our faults as a nation—environmental destruction, gross financial inequities, police brutality. By turns wry and witty, Hicok’s plain-spoken writing highlights some of the pleasures and pains in this world, and humanity’s need for reflection."
     —Washington Post

"In Bob Hicok’s Hold… the poet’s humor, punning, wit, wisdom, and humility lead to small revelations, introspections, and musings on the human condition—all in the face of danger and atrocity. If Hold asks many questions throughout, they are not rhetorical, nor are they theoretical—instead, they’re practical questions about our world. In a unique blend of punchline and sincerity, Hicok confesses, ‘I’m scared, but not shitless.’ As its title might suggest, this book yearns for and struggles to hold strong to self and to community, to hold to the body, to hold to the world, to hold—yes—to optimism, to hope."
     —Arkansas International

"Bob Hicok is a spectrum... I’d love to see an MRI of his brain while he’s writing, as the neurons show us what’s possible, how a human can be a thought leader, taking us into the future… Hicok interrogates the world with mercy andwit and style and intelligence and modest swag. He’s one of America’s favorites—and to make the reader want to share the poet’s reality fulfills poetry’s finest aspiration."
     —Washington Independent Review of Books

"In his ninth collection, Hicok navigates a world bereft of empathy and kindness, leading by example with a charm and emotional intelligence that speaks to a deep insight into the human condition… Mixing cleverness with tenderness, Hicok demonstrates how to be a beacon of light in the darkest of settings."
     —Publishers Weekly

"As always, the multi-award-winning Hicok manages to be both freshly whimsical and knife-sharp insightful in his latest collection."
     —Library Journal

"Bob Hicok is that rarity, a cheerful contemporary poet―if not completely happy, still hopeful and celebrative."
     ―Los Angeles Review of Books

"Yet ultimately the most potent ingredient in virtually every one of Bob Hicok’s compact, well-turned poems is a laughter as old as humanity itself, a sweet waggery that suggests there’s almost no problem that can’t be solved by this poet’s gentle humor."
     ―The New York Times Book Review

Bob Hicok
Video: PoetryAtTech



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Goodnight Nelson Ball

1942 - 2019

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