reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Rayfish is a book of poetic meditations that vacillate between long prose poems and short lyrical essays. The book’s epigraph describes art as evoking a mutual response in the space between the work and the viewer, which is a central theme in Hickman’s work. The book’s title comes from the painter Soutine’s passion for making still-life paintings of various meat, including the ray, a flat fish that appears to fly like a bird through water. In the second poem, both the painter and the fish appear: “Soutine attempts to keep the color of his first carcasses fresh with buckets of blood.” Throughout the book the speaker reveals that she has worked as an assistant in surgery and goes on to detail the difficulties of that job: “Awake, I really did drop many valuable things. One of the things given to me to hold was the heart itself.” In another poem Hickman looks at the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi: “I use my patience looking at the skin of Judith and cannot face the dull cheek of Holofernes.” The poems also consider subjects like home, the Great Wall, the sculptures of the artist Eva Hesse, and aging. In addition to painters there are references to classic writers like Djuna Barnes and her book Nightwood: “I ask him ‘Why all this barbarity?’ He answers that he loves beauty and would have it about him.”
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2017.