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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Hicok’


The first poem in the issue, “Privilege,” by Elly Bookman, seems to discuss white privilege, but indirectly. “Into this sky which has / more airplanes… (I) see half a dozen / small whitenesses passing / like tired stars.” Is the narrator a lifeguard? An observer? We have to hunt for clues. “I watch them instead of…the woman… in an oversized T-shirt that clings / to her body like slime…” There are a number of arresting images like that, giving the poem power. It’s hard not to read this as allegory, with white people being the tired stars, the introduced child with some protections and some distant dangers, and so on. But it is kind of fun to solve the poem as such a puzzle, and there is a depth that rewards close reading: “planes fly / low and heavy…practicing war.”

The other poem is by Bob Hicok, “Origin Story.” It starts, “Metal shavings on the bottom / of his wingtips, my father / would come home in the dark…” A poem about a boy admiring his father, missing his father, doing what he can to make his father’s life a little easier. His father works hard for the family, leaving in the dark in the morning, even. Then there’s a shock of a turn: “My father the vampire. / My father the bank.” Wow. Summing up the boy’s resentments and small selfishness as slick as that. His father evidently worked in the auto industry. The boy’s mixed feelings about that continue through the poem. “…which is how I got addicted to wind…became a bird… who rejected gravity, steel, middle management.” It’s the jostle of images placed one beside the other that create the power and depth of this poem, give us a poignant tweak, and a feeling of sadness mixed with hope for the narrator, by the end.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is a sweet, rueful look at a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, as well as with other fine e-retailers.

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Let’s pass over the first poem (or whatever you want to call it) in the May issue of Poetry Magazine, which begins with a few pages of meaningless scribbles then devolves from there (2 & 1/2 pages filled with the letter “t”, for instance) and proceed to the next poem, which is Joshua Mehigan’s “The Fair,” a short work of three stanzas. “The fair rode into town…like a plate unbreakable because / it has been dropped and glued so many times.” What a creative simile, one of a series of fun lines. “The fair was no fair.” There are deeper meanings here if you dig for them, but they do not become onerous. I just want to quote line after line because they are so chewy, but I’ll limit myself to one more: The fair slid into town…as a clown / slides into pants.” And the ending is maybe the best part of the poem.

Jessica Greenbaum also delivers an excellent poem, “For A Traveler.” In the first line: “Let me tell you the shortest story.” A good grabber, which matters with poetry as much as fiction, I have come to believe. It’s a straightforward poem: “when I was their son’s girlfriend…” about the narrator first harvesting from a rich garden. “the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini / lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their / minions…” Dig that quick rhyme. “That day the lupines received me.” The sort of poem one can dig into, to learn more about the craft. And again, a powerful ending.

Bob Hicok deconstructs and rearranges words and phrases to most satisfying effect in “The pregnancy of words.” “…times. Which is smite / for you violet types, a flower / that says ‘love it’ if you listen. Me, I…don’t feel it matters that evil thrives / in live.” and “with slips and slides / and elide’s eally ool.” Again, such fun. He goes on for maybe 40 lines of such language play, which seems a central task for poetry, to me anyway. “the tools I use / are the stool I stand on.” Enough! On to the next poem.

Jacob Saenz gives us a powerful one, “Forged.” “My brother wore bags over his boots / to keep the grease…from the steel mill off the carpet & steps // he mounted…” a gritty, blue-collar poem, the likes we don’t see enough of. “to control the two-ton bundles / held by a buckle above the heads // of hard-hatted men that could snap” notice how the ambiguous antecedent there adds meaning to what could snap, and what it means to control. Brilliant.

Vievee Francis gives us a bawdy poem, “Intelligent Design,” which is also great fun, though I can’t quote most of it without blushing. “I would worship at the fount / if I had more faith” is as far as I will go. Read it yourselves!

Lots of other good poetry in this issue, one of the stronger recent issues.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

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Paul Carroll delivers a very affecting and sad pantoum in the Winter 2013 edition of The Journal (Ohio State University), called “After Visiting The Holocaust Memorial Museum.”  It is amazing how powerfully the correct form can deliver the message — in this case, the repetitions of the lines (with slight variations) bring home the enormity of the tragedy: “a photograph of a girl in a winter coat…” how that girl comes back to us, in the same way the images of those times haunt us, the realization that this actually happened, that it could happen again, that genocide does keep recurring: “one photograph among the thousands…”  “Were it not for the star tied to her coat…” This poem alone is worth the price of admission of the magazine. 

There are also Bob Hicok poems, up to his usual high standards. I like the way “For you alone” begins: “One knows the world is falling / slightly faster than rising, / this is why one…tries to stretch the triple / into a love affair”  In fact, one reason to like him is the occasional smile — so much poetry is relentlessly downbeat, it’s nice when a little fun emerges: “One knows the sky is not actually / held up by this joy…”  His “Hope (testicular cancer)” is also a smile pasted over the pain: “A lover…counting your lonely ball / over and over in the seventeen languages she knows / to count to one in.”  Ya gotta like it.

And the last poem I will mention is the first, actually, in the magazine, Emilia Phillips’ “In vacuo, Universal Studios” discussing a visit to Universal Studios: “We begin in line. We end there.”  Also a poem with some chuckles in it.  People are getting absorbed into the numbness here: “In the gentle shuffle forward / of our incumbent spell.”  A different reality takes over: “Here, we measure time / in bodies.”  I won’t give away whether the narrator ever escapes.  It’s fun. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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