Saturday, April 2, 2011

The facts aiming your eyes down the road...

One of the main reasons I got into poetry is that I’m drawn to using writing to deal, cope, live, move on. My favorite poets are the ones that push that ability, working through problems and points, staying true to their voice and persona to take their readers to a rewarding end. Bob Hicok was one of the first contemporary poets that I remember. He introduced me to the power of pushing his poems deep, stretching them wide to get their full effect.

In my poems, I have created the most satisfactory complete-feeling pieces by using this lesson to make the most out of what I was talking about. Sometimes, it involves traveling around the topic. Sometimes, it requires digging deep into myself and the idea. As I am currently going through the beginning stages of a divorce, college graduation, and the other things that come along with those big steps, I am having to remind myself, hard as it may be, to write about these things, and take them the distance.

Hicok’s early collection The Legend of Light is a great example of a young poet doing just that. Whether the poem be in first person or not, Hicok does not shy away from the tough subjects. In my favorite poem from the collection “Divorce,” Hicok guides us through his relationship with such a difficult topic by starting at an entry point away from himself, a man on the phone, through his own associations, like thinking about guns, before settling down beside his own wife to think:

When she asks what’s wrong, I begin to say
idiots, we’re all idiots, but stop
and put my arms around her. Because
we’re not, and because warmth’s
better comfort than words.

This is a place where I worry about going, because sometimes it can come off overly self-concerned. However, The progression of this poem pushes himself and his readers so deep into this idea so that the ending comes out meaningful. This isn’t just some whiny poet guy worried about his marriage, but rather a thoughtful poet giving himself the benefit of the doubt and being honest with what’s he’s finding.

Hicok’s complete sense of empathy, both with himself and others, balanced inside complete honesty is what makes Hicok such an admirable person on the page. Sometimes, I worry that my self-focus and confessions of things like depression and loneliness, even masked in my energy and associations, will come off as whiny and unpurposeful. Hicok manages to turn those risks into rewards by not relenting on his path.

Looking at “Neighbor,” I notice how Hicok carefully crafts the relationship and juxtaposition of a homeless man that is his “neighbor” and his own life. I am blown away here with how Hicok portrays the man and himself within the situations of themselves and their relationship to one another in a way that neither belittles or puts the homeless man on a pedestal, also without overemphasizing Hicok himself as the observer/poet, but rather smoothing out the details in a way that moves me equally in thought and feeling:

A man lives under the Beakes bridge. I drive over him
every day. His hair’s
like a troll’s I had once, a thicket though not purple.
Curled fetal, he sleeps
with his back to the river. I see him when I run, when
I chase my breath
to stay alive. He has a radio I’ve never heard croon.
Perhaps he’s an aficionado
of silence. He doesn’t wear foil on his head. Does not
spread the flower of his hand
for coin. Not that I’ve seen and we are neighbors.
I pass his house
on my way to breakfast, to buy shoes, tan or black
lace-ups, to drive
into what’s called the country but is really the city
spread out like paint
on canvas. I live in an area where cities are growing
together. The term used
is megapolis. Everything will have to get bigger.

The places he puts the lens circles around both him and the man in their various contexts to really allow himself to keep the tone and perspective in control. Then, like in many of his poems, the “point” barrels out, hitting me at my most natural level: a caring, worried human being.

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