Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bob Hicok

When I was offered a place at Hicok's lunch table, I was psyched. Lunch with a poet! That's how I found myself, with 3 Butler poets, at Cafe Patachou, sitting across the table from Bob Hicok. I felt like I was inhabiting an alternative universe!
The great part about having lunch with Hicok is that I got the chance to ask him every little thing that entered my mind. And I'm a curious person, so I had a lot of questions. I had recently read his newest offering, "Words for Empty, Words for Full," and among other things was curious about his writing process and, specifically, the poem that spoke about the BRCA gene. I was also curious about Hicok's skepticism about traditional writing workshops, which I read in one of his interviews. I have to admit, though, that in the end, the lunch was a little mixed for me. First, because this was a lunch and not a class or an interview, I didn't feel comfortable taking notes. So although Hicok radiated intelligence and thoughtfulness, I can't remember any of his brilliant comments. Second, there's the matter of carbs. As in carbohydrates. Have I mentioned this, how I fall asleep when I consume them? I know this about myself (the first step is admitting you have a problem), and that's why I ordered an omelet for lunch. And it would have been a genius choice, if only I had not munched the toast that came with it. I didn't want to eat it, but the toast and I had a face-off and, in the end the toast won. Like an addict finally getting a fix, I scarfed down every last crumb. Sure enough, the toast kicked in just after lunch, just in time for Hicok's formal Q&A at Butler. Just when I had my pen and paper out, ready to take notes, my brain shut down, as if the waitress had spiked my water with a Rophy.
Despite this I managed to jot down a few coherent notes. Hicok was asked how he comes up with the ideas for his poems, and he remarked that he doesn't have an agenda when he sits down to write. The ideas arise on their own. He doesn't try to force them, and this makes his poems personal and keeps them from becoming preachy. When I asked him what he does when he is faced with a problem in his writing, he answered that he tries to relinquish control, that poems are served best when the focus is not on the result. (This is the comment that spoke to me the loudest.) When asked about the process of revision, Hicok answered that he often gets rid of entire poems, but that if a piece is not working it's often a matter of trying to find a new angle of entry into the poem.
Hicok said a poem is a facet of something that, for the writer, is ongoing. As a writer he keeps writing about the same thing over and over. (I think this is something prose and poetry have in common.)
When asked how he knows when a poem is finished, he said he writes a poem to follow something that interests him, and when he arrives at this point of interest, the poem is finished.
At this point, though, I was the one who was finished. The toast had toasted me and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. Nothing more embarrassing than fighting the head nod in front of the generous and thoughtful poet you just had lunch with!
Bob Hicok is not a fan of blogs. (In one of his interviews he called them "bogs.") He'll never see this, so he'll never know I was nodding off because of two slices of whole wheat. Still, I hope he is aware of the mark he left on Butler, and on me.

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