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COINCIDENCE AND CLARITY
For most poets and writers, there is always that piece of work that is "it" for you. It's that one essay or poem you read that inspires you and makes you think, "yes, that's what I want to do."
For me, that was what happened when I read the poem What Would Freud Say, by Bob Hicok.
It was a few months into my first poetry class, and I had decided to pick up some poetry journals, poring through everything I could get my hands on. There was something to the voice of the speaker in that poem, the use of image and story that drew me right in. I have been a fan ever since, and Hicok's poems have always been a guideline for me.
Hicok, who was a die maker for many years while writing poetry along the way, will be reading this Thursday evening for the fifth installment of the Fresno Poets' Association season at the Fresno Art Museum. The reading begins at 7:30 p.m.
Hicok, who currently teaches at Virginia Tech, has written several books of poetry, including The Legend of Light, Animal Soul, Plus Shipping, and Insomnia Diary. The self-taught poet has won the National Education Association Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes. His work has appeared in such places as The New Yorker, the American Poetry Review, Poetry magazine, and Ploughshares.
To start, who are the writers that inspired you?
Humpty Dumpty. Before the great fall. It changes. Right now, I like Beckian Fritz Goldberg's poetry quite a bit. Intensely lyrical, a little strange. Neruda, too, of late. George Oppen.
How did you get into writing poetry? How long have you been doing it?
I started writing when I was twenty. My girlfriend broke up with me, so I was sad and said so to a notebook, which became a sad, blue notebook. So, twenty seven years and only one sad, blue notebook.
What is the writing process like for you? Do you rewrite often?
I sit at a computer in the morning with coffee and a bagel, my hands, when done with the bagel, on either side of the keyboard and a window in front of me and mountains in front of the window. An idea shows up. If I like it, I start writing. If I don't like it, I tell it to go away. This goes on for several hours.
Some poems I rewrite quite a few times and some poems not at all.
Is there a big difference between "academic" and other types of poetry, in your opinion?
There can be, sure. Though so many poets have moved into the university that the nature of academic poetry has itself been changed. The elbow-patch wearing, pipe smoking cliche doesn't have much use anymore, except to lampoon.
There's good and bad everywhere. I wish we weren't so sold on the idea that poets belong on campuses. That's where the money is, so bodies will flow to the money, but the campus is not an essential Petri dish.
Do you feel that your writing has changed over the years? In what way? Has it changed after becoming a teacher?
Yes. It has become stranger, less narrative. I don't think teaching has changed my work, though my poems have changed while I teach. A coincidental, not causal relationship.
Do you feel your students influence you as well as you them?
Yes. Not sure how.
What topics do you find yourself writing about most recently?
Most recently would be this morning, so disorder, order and french fires. Fires, not fries.
How does form affect your poetry?
My avoidance of fixed forms gives me great pleasure.
What advice do you have for beginning poets?
Do you feel that poetry is currently changing?
Poets are always changing their socks, so poetry is always changing its socks.
For more details on Hicok's reading, visit FresnoPoets.org.