For most of the last fifteen years now, Ann Arborites have had the opportunity to watch the remarkable talent of Bob Hicok grow and mature. It wasn't long after he started writing poems to perform at the monthly local Poetry Slam that he began to find outlets eager to publish his work. His poems appear regularly now in the yearly Best American Poetry anthologies, and this year he was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, one of the three most prestigious awards an American writer can win. Animal Soul, the book that almost won the prize and Hicok's third full-length collection, has led to some major magazine attention, some of which may finally be changing the conditions of Hicok's life, at least a little bit.
For years he practiced his art in between the busy times of an independent die designer, mostly for the manufacture of auto parts. Hicok would work on his poems early in the morning before he submitted to the demands of making a living, and he would spend his evenings getting the work out, looking for an audience. Now he can actually take some time away from his successful private business; this year he's teaching poetry at WMU, and he has finally been invited to read his poems in the U-M Visiting Writers series at the business school's Hale Auditorium on Monday, November 4.
Hicok's poems have always had an edge to them. The poems are often funny, placing unexpected things next to each other in startling ways. For instance, "How Origami Was Invented" begins:
| The last I went to confession was to whisper
I like being alone. I was penanced to sing
Stayin' Alive one hundred times. Solitude
almost tastes like grapes, of course not
but alone I can think such things,
there's no one to counter strawberries.
I don't think there's another poet who uses the commodities of popular culture to evoke conditions of the soul as successfully as Hicok. That same balance of the very serious with the frivolous also enables him to persuasively engage issues of social concern, like child abuse or homelessness, making these themes part of his poetry without sounding as though he's engaged in any easy moralizing or trying to beat some political drum.
Above all, Hicok's poetry is carried forward by the sound and play of words. As he says in another poem, "If you don't pay attention to the tune / something mystical happens and there's music / despite your best intentions."