Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok’s most recent col­lec­tion is Words for Empty and Words for Full (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010). This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), was award­ed the 2008 Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress. His oth­er books are Insomnia Diary (Pitt, 2004), Animal Soul (Invisible Cities Press, 2001),a final­ist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Plus Shipping (BOA, 1998), and The Legend of Light (University of Wisconsin, 1995), which received the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. A recip­i­ent of five Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim and two NEA Fellowships, his poet­ry has been select­ed for inclu­sion in six vol­umes of Best American Poetry.


Poem that accidentally goes to the movies

So I’ve put the track­ing device on your lips
of my kiss. Everywhere you feel
you’re being fol­lowed by my face
attached to yours, you are
too sus­pi­cious for your own good. I should beep
like these things do in movies
so our stu­pid­i­ty will wise up
and we’ll get the obvi­ous absurdity
of how much the pop­corn costs. Who knew
a mort­gage would be required for snacks, Nostradamus
is the safe guess. I’m sor­ry, I suppose
you want­ed to work that sto­ry prob­lem out
on your own, you who are the read­er you
of this poem. Remember, par­tial credit
for show­ing your work
and cleav­age, hon­est­ly, how did a word
get to mean both severing
and this soft com­ing together
I like the hard­ly any of you reveal
except to me, you who are the you
of my OCD, divulge in a moment
which, were it filmed,
would go in the porn section,
since the “Eve Loves Bob” section
nev­er caught on beyond the cir­cum­fer­ence of nothing
else matters.


Translating Being

The vagi­na of Paris, Breton said
of the pink place Dauphine
on the Île de la Cité
I stood in front of, before and after
read­ing his anato­my les­son. Less
inno­cent after, when I licked
the build­ing so I could claim
to have gone down on Paris
to crick­ets, who along
with the peep­ers, do not quote
Walter Benjamin. Everyone else does,
as in, the gaze of the allegorist,
as it falls on the city, is the gaze
of the alien­at­ed man. Given the democracy
of alien­ation, I find it easy
to rephrase Benjamin: the shoe
of the sec­re­tary, as it falls on the floor,
is the shoe of the alien­at­ed woman.
The lick­ing of buildings
mit­i­gates alien­ation, the licking
of strangers, more so, even factoring
in the arrests. For in jail, one finds
more alien­ation than one can hold
in ones arms, if I may give estrangement
a mate­r­i­al exis­tence, a body,
as it were, for you to picture
as an ache of what isn’t there
being there, so to speak, looking
with the eyes of its non-existence
fond­ly at you, who have primped
before absence as before a mirror.
As have I, as recently
as now, though in mem­o­ry, where my bones
are so much moon­light rid­ing shotgun
through the tra­vails, I hold an ear
to Notre Dame and listen
to its unlan­guaged musings
on what pass­es for timelessness:
being. For clearly
non-being is a lousy place
to hold a mass, as technically
the void would be void of even notions
of the void, let alone the apse,
the clois­ter, the nave, what else
is there: the dream, the elbow,
the turn­stile, the numer­a­tor, the city,
the island, the crickets
with their fid­dle rhap­sody, that moving
tune whol­ly with­out tune.


Scene inside a snow globe

Snow, the qui­et of, is stacked
& mis­matched crys­tals or lit­tle caves
in which the sound of you crunching
toward the cedar to shake loose
the snow that will break it
gets lost, a lit­tle, and comes back whispered

There are too many cedars to save them all

Your finest fea­ture is that
you anthro­po­mor­phize the crack­ing of limbs
and feel for wood as the miss­ing arm
of he who wash­es i.e. smears your windshield
some morn­ings after you’ve turned into the lot
but on a scale of acres

The spine, though, of the dove
still attached to the head, speckled
as the snow around it with feathers
and blood, that a hawk dropped
from an oak, still warm
when you lift and want to press
what you’re try­ing not to think of
as sad­ness to your tongue, is sadness,
and you do press,
though you don’t this time
want to glue the feath­ers back
until lat­er, when your one son, for reasons
of who knows, stabs your oth­er son
in his fore­arm with a fork,
four small con­fes­sions of blood,
a wound you dress and say later
to your hus­band, “what a strange expression,”
his head between your legs and doing
what should make you hap­py but doesn’t,
when he looks up and says, what?,
his face ugly with consternation
and you want him to cry
since you haven’t for years
that you had­n’t noticed passing
so qui­et­ly until then, as you imagine
a tiny dress on your son’s arm
and going out and gathering
all the feath­ers and return­ing them
to flight impos­si­bly one by one


Goodbye, topspin

Life has tak­en my cartilage
and left me a biography
of Andre Breton. I will limp then
per­sua­sive­ly and write you a letter
sprin­kled with French surrealism.
This does­n’t feel like
but is tru­ly my goodbye
to youth as I prac­ticed it
when I was young. What a love­ly time
you showed me, car­ti­lage, heart, elbows,
pineal gland. There was a party
and I was invit­ed. There was sprinting
and wind looked at me
like a broth­er. There was yee-hah
and it was me
inject­ing complacency
with that hoe-down. But nostalgia:
go to hell. Not going to do that.
Not going to be a lamprey
on the side of the past, sucking
for dear life, since I have had
and am hav­ing a dear life.
Thank you sweat glands,
shin splints, kid­ney stones,
for telling me where I am
in space in relation
to sun­light, breasts, saffron,
life. Here. Here is where I am
in space. Here is where space is
in me.


Deep feelings one September A.D. in D.C.

O trees.
I’m look­ing at the none of you here

where I’m miss­ing you in the Grand Hyatt
isn’t. It’s swell
to sleep in cer­tain­ly a bed
but there’s noth­ing green in room 1080
except the view
because I love the Portrait Gallery and love
is verdant.
I’m wear­ing a bon­net to sug­gest a canopy

could be portable and in need of a shave. Once,
about a sec­ond ago, I watched
a thou­sand peo­ple mak­ing their way home
into twi­light and honk­ing and hugged them
with my brain in this accidental,
occi­den­tal city that is a forest
of stoned glass and not knowing
what is nat­ur­al: this or a cave

of lava, of mist. As if a choice
is a thing to make
when din­ner is called for: whole wheat
penne with it turns out
so much gar­lic, I love
civ­i­liza­tion dear­ly but don’t know
what to do with it except give in
to the triple-choco­late cake
with the bit­ter-sweet choco­late sauce
for eight bucks from room service
that is pricey but yummier
I hope than the Platonic ideal.


Neurological considerations of Frisco

This woman in San Fran on Powell
was miss­ing, is still missing
both legs below the knees
whether or not she has survived
the eight days since I last passed
her sign, EVENSMILE
HELPS. I nev­er expect stumps
to be so round­ed, so smooth
and kiss­able look­ing, like a shaved face
or com­merce in that area
to stab with so much shine
and trin­ket and cheap, and went to the ocean
and seals for the bath
of their unhu­man. I could­n’t manage
a smile, not even change
this time, not even
to turn my head into gardenias
or bougainvil­lea is what I love
about California, which more than any metaphor
is a state: fresh start: don’t you just love saying:
fresh start: say it with me: fresh
start: now just the peo­ple with ear hair
say it: fresh start: now only the tweakers
say it: fresh start: now Jesus
let me hear you: fresh start:
how about death row: fresh start: and yet
every time she looked at me, she smiled
in a way that, if not a begin­ning, had no end
to it, all high-beams and brown teeth
and insis­tence upon cutting
out of the wash of need fuck punch trick whim­per sigh, this
sec­ond, this graze, this mutu­al stroking
by the inti­mate feath­er­ings of sight,
the reach­ing out to a face and draw­ing it
into your brain, your axons, neu­rons, den­drites, your soul
if you believe in such a thing, your soul, even
though I do not



buried deep
in apho­rism. It only

occurs to me now
that my tongue
resem­bles a shovel,

that lan­guage is either
dirt in or dirt out.
Behind me, holes

and the lit­tle mountains
beside them
of poems. Or as the saying

goes, what the fuck
are you talk­ing about?




Introduction & Interview by Meg Pokrass

My hus­band and I met Bob Hicok at a read­ing here in San Francisco at Bookshop West Portal. After the read­ing, a mem­ber of the audi­ence asked Bob Hicok, “What kind of audi­ence reac­tion makes a writer com­fort­able?” Bob said, “You guys were way too qui­et.” And it was true. We were qui­et. Quiet lit­tle San Franciscans who drink too many acai berry blends and who have lost the abil­i­ty to react in pub­lic. My chilly city. Yes. The truth was we loved Bob Hicok’s read­ing. It was elec­tric. Most of us were mur­mur­ing like qui­et, con­tent­ed pigeons. Cooing (inaudi­bly). The ‘vibe’ in the audi­ence was great. Still, how could Bob Hicok have known? Later, when Bob was sign­ing my copy of Words for Empty and Words for Full, I said, “We were too qui­et. What should we have done?”  He said, “Oh… laughed, moaned, shuf­fled, fart­ed.” I thanked him for the instruc­tion. Ever since, when we’re at read­ings, I am laugh­ing, moan­ing, and shuf­fling like crazy.  MP

Do you men­tor? Have you had mentors?

I Mentos but not men­tor. Nor have I been men­tored, or mete­o­red, though I minored in miter­ing in trade school.

When you are feel­ing blocked, what do you do to fight it if you do? Tricks to get­ting unstuck…

Roughage is good for this. Also I use MiraLAX every day. Two answers, two prod­uct place­ments: I should be a movie. Writing is the way around writer’s block. I think what gets to peo­ple is fret­ting about the results, try­ing to
steer what doesn’t yet exist into waters of greatness.

Do you sit down to write with any clue about what you are going to write?

Almost nev­er. Only that words will be involved.

Can you offer one or more of your own writ­ing exercises?

Yes. Write a poem. There’s anoth­er one I like: write anoth­er poem. I’ve nev­er had writ­ing exer­cis­es. Writing is exercise.

Do you lis­ten to any­thing (music) when you write? For years and years now, Erik Satie.

How can we writ­ers remain cre­ative when so wor­ried about mon­ey? How can we not? Whatever trou­bles us, writ­ing gives us an activ­i­ty that can push these con­cerns away. Something to get lost in.

Do you read your work aloud as part of your own edit­ing process?

I read my work silent­ly aloud. Did you know the tongue moves when we read in qui­et, as if we’re read­ing out loud? Silly tongue.

Who are human beings that you admire?

Some peo­ple you wouldn’t know or know of. People who aren’t crack­ing when they prob­a­bly should, giv­en all the trou­ble, large­ly eco­nom­ic, that they’re having.Call them X and Y.


Bob Hicok answer­ing ques­tions from his audience