Posted by: beansai | January 29, 2009

This Clumsy Living by Bob Hicok

     One I of the things I love most about Bob Hicok’s poetry in This Clumsy Living is how pedestrian a lot of the language is throughout the book. I know I have complained about the use of too pedestrian language in the work of other poets, but Hicok shows us that ordinary language, the day to day can be rejuvenated and made interesting.

     “My dog puts her head in my crotch, presses her nose
     through, to the other side. This is good morning.”

There is just something fun and familiar about lines like the one above. Anyone that has had a dog or contact with dogs most likely knows exactly what Hicok is talking about here. It isn’t that the circumstance is entirely new to an audience, but the way Hicok describes the action of the dog pressing “her nose through, to the other side” is what is unexpected as well as the proclamation that this action is a greeting, a sign of affection. My general knowledge of people’s reactions to a dog sticking their nose in crotches has been negative, so it is refreshing to see someone taking a different perspective on this.

     My favorite poem in the series has to be Switching to Deer Time.

     “How I decide

     to get out of bed these days is deer.
     If I look out my window and see them
     I know it’s time to feed my feet
     to the mouths of my jeans
     and when I told my wife the deer
     are my new clock she said they won’t fit
     on the mantle…

     …And deer are the best clocks because time

     is twitchy, is a nervous thing
     running away from us into woods,
     into its own death and I don’t like

The first and second stanza I think really exemplify how Hicok renews language, makes it interesting again. The lines “I know it’s time to feed my feet/ to the mouths of my jeans” is a perfect example of how he manipulates everyday language to his advantage. There is nothing fancy or tongue-tying about this expression, and yet it is surprising. Reading it, I know exactly what he means, but I am surprised because I would never have thought to word putting on my jeans in that way. One of the amazing things about this poem is Bob Hicok’s amazing ability to take something like deer and completely reinvent them and their purpose. He brings the wild into the home, giving them a domestic spin, and at the same time, there is no real control over these elements such as deer and time and natural disasters. Through reinventing the deer and connecting them so thoroughly to something manufactured, like clocks (and even our methods of keeping track of time), reminds us how unpredictable domestic living his, how easily the wild and untamed can creep it’s way into our everyday lives – like time. As I read through this poem again and picked out these lines as an example of the poem, I got to thinking about wristwatches and deer running into woods toward their own death (because the hunters are out there). Hicok’s description of time as deers is spot on if you really think about it; and when I do, I don’t like watches or clocks either. The face of a clock is circular, always coming back around again, always renewing, cyclical, and yet time hardly feels that way. No, time really is “twitchy, is a nervous thing” and constantly running from us, and we’re constantly running toward it and then looking over our shoulders at the time that has elapsed, that time we can’t get back. It’s linear, if not sporadic – like the leaping and dodging of deer through trees over bramble, at least in the short span of an individual’s life. This poem about reading the newspaper and the invasion of nature into the domestic and plastic of our lives (whether by deer as clocks or earthquakes) is a shining example of how Hicok takes the everyday and makes you think about the bigger things in life, about the stuff beyond your morning cup of coffee. And yet it is all nearly disguised in deers and jeans and the patterns of routine.

     The entire book really centers around these domestic affairs, these day to day thoughts and encounters – and occasionally beyond, but it is never tiring or boring. Hicok varies his poem structures throughout the book, even including a poem within a poem at one point, and he doesn’t use any kind of formal structure or form (at least not that I noticed). I’ve read this book through twice and a handful of specific poems more than that. I’ve enjoyed it every time, maybe even more the second time around. It is certainly a collection of poems where you notice more the more you read through it. The breaking down of the book into the different sections feels a bit random, but not distractingly so. There was no huge disconnect between sections or section titles and their content. The first time I read the first section I thought it was titled “Twenty-three widows,” not “Twenty-three windows” (emphasis mine), which was confusing because I kept trying to figure out what widows had to do with it all. Instead the section titles are as simple as Hicok counting how many times he used various words.

     My least favorite section of the five was “Thirty-three skies.” There are moments when Hicok steps away from the concrete images that ground such concepts as time, and these are the instances when the poems feel a bit too philosophical. I find a lot of these moments in the fifth section:

     “Doing, not what you think,
     but what you are. The difference between counting the rings of a tree and
     finding a place in the sky.” – The New Math

     “When I got to the other side, it was the same
     as this side, which returned to, resembled
     the other side, which is where I was born
     and learned to hide in the shadow of my father” – Physical

I’m sorry, but what? There are moments when Hicok prods subjects like god and his existence as well as life and death, but more often than not, it doesn’t work in his favor. The language becomes vague and a bit flighty, trying to hard to soar up with the clouds and such. I prefer Hicok to stay on the ground and tell me about the smell of wet grass and how his dog is coprophagous (eats poop) and how a cow looks exactly like the other cows in the field. I want the poet, not the philosophizing, Hicok. While I’m not fond of his occasional detours into the spiritual, metaphysical, what have you, I do appreciate that his poems never become “churchy” or preachy. They simply settle on the pages as thoughts put into words.

Some of my favorite poems from this collection:
     My new neighbor
     Switching to Deer Time
     The active reader

All in all I really enjoyed Bob Hicok’s writing and this particular collection of poems and i give this book:
~It definitely has great re-read value



  1. Bob Hicok is an exciting poet. I am intrigued by his way of thinking. To me one of the joys of poetry is its exemption from the strictures of usual logic, ordinary thought and perception. There is a real feeling of freedom and endless possibilities as he takes the reader from line to line and image to image.

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