‘Elegy Owed’, a Collection of Poems by Bob Hicok (2013) – 106 pages
It is so rare when I find a poet whose poems I really like so that when I do, I want to shout about it from the rooftop. Today I am here on the top of the roof shouting the name of Bob Hicok and his offbeat collection of poems, ‘Elegy Owed’.
Let’s start with some lines from the poem ‘Goodbye, topspin’.
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.
The above lines show at least two qualities of the poetry of Bob Hicok. First, there is a toughness here. Second, the poet frequently ties in animals and plants and other facets of nature to make his points.
Many of the poems in ‘Elegy Owed’ concern death. I am almost tempted to say that ‘Elegy Owed’ is a collection of playful poems about death, but that would not be exactly right. The collection certainly takes death seriously, but the poet has a dexterity with words that makes even this most grim of subjects engaging. The poem ‘Coming to Life’ is about a very young boy’s early encounter with death. His aunt has died. This may or may not be a big deal for the boy. However for his crying mother this is her sister and very well could have been her best friend. As they pass the coffin, the boy’s mother kisses her sister on both cheeks and says something in her ear. Then the mother takes the boy’s hand and puts it on her dead sister’s face. Much later, the grown-up boy remembers this.
It was just that, in the silence of her skin, all possibilities had been taken away.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression this is all gloom and doom. Even in the face of bad things like death and rape, life goes on. That is where the toughness comes in. There are many lines here that are just for fun. Take these from ‘You Name This One’.
I realized ‘she loves me, she loves me not’
explains why daisies avoid us
as often as they can, I say ‘Run, simple flower,
away from my need to know
anything at all, everything
would be better’.
There are many more examples I could have quoted. I am not sure the above cover picture does this collection justice, although apparently it is trying to inject some humor into the elegy motif.
At least I didn’t fall off the roof this time.