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Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok was born in Grand Ledge, Michigan, in 1960 and worked for many years as an automotive die designer and a computer system administrator. He began teaching in 2002 and received an MFA from Vermont College in 2004.

His first book of poetry, The Legend of Light (University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), received the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. His other poetry collections include Animal Soul (Invisible Cities Press, 2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), winner of the 2008 Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress; and Sex & Love & (Copper Canyon Press, 2016).

Hicok writes poems that value speech and storytelling, that revel in the material offered by pop culture, and that deny categories such as “academic” or “narrative.” In an interview in Gulf Coast, he elaborates, “Being open to all kinds of poems allows for a fuller range of expression and helps the poet write out of different kinds of moods and sensibilities.”

As Elizabeth Gaffney notes in the New York Times Book Review: “Each of Mr. Hicok’s poems is marked by the exalted moderation of his voice—erudition without pretension, wisdom without pontification, honesty devoid of confessional melodrama. . . . His judicious eye imbues even the dreadful with beauty and meaning.”

Hicok is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, and his poetry has been awarded three Pushcart Prizes and selected for inclusion in five volumes of Best American Poetry. He currently teaches at Virginia Tech University and lives in Virginia.


Bibliography

Sex & Love & (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007)
Insomnia Diary (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004)
Animal Soul (Invisible Cities Press, 2001)
Plus Shipping (BOA Editions, 1998)
The Legend of Light (University of Wisconsin Press, 1995)

By This Poet

9

Go Greyhound

A few hours after Des Moines
the toilet overflowed.
This wasn't the adventure it sounds.

I sat with a man whose tattoos
weighed more than I did.
He played Hendrix on mouth guitar.
His Electric Ladyland lips
weren't fast enough
and if pitch and melody
are the rudiments of music,
this was just
memory, a body nostalgic
for the touch of adored sound.

Hope's a smaller thing on a bus.

You hope a forgotten smoke consorts
with lint in the pocket of last
resort to be upwind
of the human condition, that the baby
sleeps
and when this never happens,
that she cries 
with the lullaby meter of the sea.

We were swallowed by rhythm.
The ultra blond
who removed her wig and applied 
fresh loops of duct tape
to her skull,
her companion who held a mirror
and popped his dentures
in and out of place,
the boy who cut stuffing
from the seat where his mother
should have been—
there was a little more sleep 
in our thoughts, 
it was easier to yield.

To what, exactly—
the suspicion that what we watch 
watches back,
cornfields that stare at our hands,
downtowns
that hold us in their windows
through the night?

Or faith, strange to feel
in that zoo of manners.

I had drool on my shirt and breath
of the undead, a guy
dropped empty Buds on the floor
like gravity was born
to provide this service,
we were white and black trash
who'd come
in an outhouse on wheels and still

some had grown—
in touching the spirited shirts
on clotheslines,
after watching a sky of starlings
flow like cursive
over wheat—back into creatures 
capable of a wish.

As we entered Arizona
I thought I smelled the ocean,
liked the lie of this
and closed my eyes 
as shadows
puppeted against my lids. 

We brought our failures with us,
their taste, their smell.
But the kid
who threw up in the back
pushed to the window anyway,
opened it 
and let the wind clean his face,
screamed something 
I couldn't make out
but agreed with
in shape, a sound I recognized
as everything I'd come so far
to give away.

In Michael Robins's class minus one

At the desk where the boy sat, he sees the Chicago River.
It raises its hand.
It asks if metaphor should burn.
He says fire is the basis for all forms of the mouth.
He asks, why did you fill the boy with your going?
I didn't know a boy had been added to me, the river says.
Would you have given him back if you knew?
I think so, the river says, I have so many boys in me,
	I'm worn out stroking eyes looking up at the day.
Have you written a poem for us? he asks the river,
	and the river reads its poem,
	and the other students tell the river
	it sounds like a poem the boy would have written,
	that they smell the boy's cigarettes
in the poem, they feel his teeth
biting the page.
And the river asks, did this boy dream of horses?
	because I suddenly dream of horses, I suddenly dream.
They're in a circle and the river says, I've never understood
	round things, why would leaving come back
	to itself?
And a girl makes a kiss with her mouth and leans it
	against the river, and the kiss flows away
	but the river wants it back, the river makes sounds
	to go after the kiss.
And they all make sounds for the river to carry to the boy.
And the river promises to never surrender the boy's shape
	to the ocean.

Epithalamium

A bee in the field. The house on the mountain 
reveals itself to have been there through summer. 
It's not a bee but a horse eating frosted grass 
in the yawn light. Secrets, the anguish of smoke 
above the chimney as it shreds what it's learned 
of fire. The horse has moved, it's not a horse 
but a woman doing the stations of the cross 
with a dead baby in her arms. The anguish of the house 
as it reveals smoke to the mountain. A woman 
eating cold grass in Your name, shredding herself 
like fire. The woman has stopped, it's not a woman 
but smoke on its knees keeping secrets in what it reveals. 
The everything has moved, it's not everything 
but a shredding of the anguish of names. The marriage 
of light: particle to wave. Do you take? I do.