003.1: Bob Hicok:: i am the ventriloquist, dummy & Sound scape & North on Rue Bernardins 003

Above all, Bob Hicok is a champion of the idiomatic. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, his work is straight-forward, edgy, willing to say the unspeakable, and willing to tap into the intense and immediate emotional spaces that another poet would not care to go to. Hicok has done and still does this with a grace under pressure that leaves a reader salivating. Second, his use of the idiomatic is something wholly American. This is not a rally-round-the-flagpole argument in the very least. However, the problem of the idiomatic in American poetry has been one that Whitman immediately alleviated. Simply put, his, and Hicok's, poetry sounds like everyday women and men speaking. Similarly, amidst all of the discord (see Marjorie Perloff's chapter/essay "whose era?" in The Dance of the Intellect) of Modernism over the "new" shape of its poetry, a common denominator persisted in the rejection of Victorian rhetoric and an embrace of a more "common idiom" as Williams and Pound, among others, contended. I am not sure if Hicok cares how in tune with Williams and Whitman he may or may not be, but his work has undoubtedly contributed to new ways American poets currently think about the idiomatic quality of our poetry.

When I come across Hicok's work, as you may see in the three of his poems we feature here, there is a narrative, but the narrative is not as important as how it is told. Finally, in each of Bob Hicok's poems, be they narratives, meditations, or a mixture of both, I always envision a man who has the highest reverence for his art form, a man so in love with poem-making that such a reverence is imbedded in the work, as in the words of Julien Benda, the French writer and philosopher: "The problem of art is to discipline emotion without losing it," it seems rather unquestionable that this is both the gift of Hicok and the joy of his art. Cody Todd

i am the ventriloquist, dummy


disciple + in = discipline.
when i think absinthe, i hear absence
in a green i might drink. a sense of error
kreeps in, all these years
i should have praised “the slightly
oblong earth,” goodbye
round. these two show up
and i don’t know why: me
carrying sleeping you on my back
& my skeleton in my lap, repeating
what my empty skin fingers
say. i watched a man
practice an eastern discipline, sweep
with a length of bamboo
as if waving across a beautiful, i wanted it,
hardwood floor, gestures
of ocean and wind. it was Philip Glass.
the woman who loved him
was about to say “they had grown apart.”
at first i thought, love + ever = revolver
but it doesn’t, it equals
red rover red rover, send tomorrow
right over. Eve said
from the kitchen, if i ever come across
Knee Plays in a store,
i’m buying it on the spot, but i heard
“i’m trying it on the stop.” o
the wet morning. in glistening,
listening. the yes in eyes
tattles looking’s affirmation and the brain
maps backwards the seen scene, as if mind
is always flipping out. this fluttering’s
fun, meaning
sequestered from meandering
by red, a little blood
between. what is owed
the ode? from my detective,
everything. i see your bet
and praise you.


Sound scape


I recorded the woods and played this listening
back to the woods and wondered why we call it
playing catch and not playing throw.
The sound of goldenrod reminded me
that an empty shirt sleeve takes after a flute.
Sunsets must be where painters come from:
I recorded that too, orange sliding
to pink, the slow closing
of the black eye of the day. Leaving a bar
twenty eight years later, I realized
Betty Caulder was talking to me in handsprings
as a child I couldn’t hear. Drunken stars
have been the kind of friends to nod and listen.
I never get this right: stars or planets
shimmer? Is shimmer the word for seeming always
about to break into song? Shimmering rocks,
shimmering dirt, the shimmering sense
that if I stopped wondering what follows this,
I’d feel a part, not apart. All I’d have asked,
my Incan heart removed from my chest,
is that the priest hold it to my ear
so I could hear myself inhabit the quiet.
Dear whisper: tell me a story
in which the hole is the hero. What falls
out, what reaches through.


North on Rue Bernardins


Morning. It was morning
on the Ile de la Cite. Green jumpsuited
junkmen gathered bottles along the Seine,
wine music from the night. I looked both ways
from a bridge at the tinking of glass
skimming the boatless river. A white car
passed full of hungover looking cops
in the back. It was morning,
the park behind Notre Dame
closed, the Museum of the Deportation
of the Jews closed, which comes to a point
in the Seine, divides water from water
and has a quote in stone about a shadow
I wanted to touch, wanted to touch the shadow
of the quote about a shadow, the shadows
of stone letters about a shadow,
but didn’t and my covetous fingers
regret it still. It was morning
in an easy and empty way. A now-and-then
car, now-and-then man
walking with the banishment of night
still in his eyes as I took in Notre Dame
sans people-lines and camera flashes
and buses and the weary sense of a carcass
being picked over by birds. It was morning
and a saxophone to the right
of the river’s ease fired up, soft
as temperance as I found the gold disc
in front of the church
from which all distances to Paris
are measured, and thought of measuring
as I counted statues on the frieze
while trying to remember if these
were thirty seven men who had their heads
chopped off for believing in Christ, and tried
with closed eyes to see a small child
picking up the Christ-believing heads
for bread. It was a job to cut them off
and a job to gather them
because they don’t just roll away, now do they,
it was morning and I held notions
of tumbleweed heads as I noticed two gargoyles
were missing, mythmouths of drainage
replaced by grey lengths of pipe
when there he was: a man on a rope. A man on a rope
repelling the stone of the church, kicking out
and gliding, kicking out and easing his hold
on not falling at all to fall
just a bit, to return
to the mothership of gravity
before another and a third, who threw his fedora
half-way down, winged it
as if feeding air a brimmed symbol
of how free-wheeling and non-hum-drumming
he felt. It was morning and three men
descended Our Mother
if you are catholic, Notre Dame Our Mother
if you translate what faith is
to some: a suckling, a womb. It was morning
and I wanted to cut the men open and slip
inside how they were wings, wanted to ask
their bones what it was like to fly
but they’d already left me
in their black from head to toe, left
as slickquick as a whisper, as the morning
was already leaving me, as I am already
and always leaving me. How do you say
en Francais, “come back,” in English, “come back”
to who you are? It was the morning
of who I am, who I want to be
and it was leaving me, as this morning
of wording that morning is leaving me,
as I am leaving the floating/falling sense I had
that molecules are cunning, rope
is cunning, stone is cunning, the morning
is cunning in starting me everover
as ingenue, parvenu, as johnny-
comelately to making up and making over
and making out best I can: hardly and sometimes
somewhat. Though now and then,
the chrysalis wish, the butterfly surprise
of the moment that’s so absolutely
one-off, all I can do is be jumpingjack
about it, is cheerlead and point out
to doom that it is mood backwards, point out
to moody me that I am not over yet.