Category poetry

Words for Empty and Words for Full 0


by Bob Hicok

I keep changing my mind about which of Bob Hicok’s books of poetry is my favorite.  Is it Words for Empty and Words for Full (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2010) or This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh, 2007)?  I finally decided to write about the former title, his latest book, although right up until I started this post I was undecided.  What I love about Hicok’s writing is its conversational tone and ways of unexpectedly turning the world inside out and making me think about it differently.  Reading these poems, I feel as though he’s talking to me about his own feelings and observations, and something more:  the universality, and— contradictorily —the singularity of those feelings. 

 The second section of this book deals with the shocking shootings in April of 2007 at Virginia Tech University where Hicok teaches English.  Take a look at “Whimper,” which describes in one long sentence, a search for reasons to help explain the tragedy, and ends with this long stanza:

…and why ask that why

of the larger why, why did this happen, and why from that why
branch to the why am I alive why, there’s the why
are we here why and the why do we let so many questions
begin with a bang why and the why do we say aftermath
when it never ends, the desire to add for some and subtract
for others, we say we want answers, that it’s very quiet
around here now, all this light, the sun more full of itself
by the day until July will strip us of shadows and time
will seem to have given up on night, why is the song
we add to nature, we’re like birds as kids, why why why,
we sang, we sing, whole flocks of us swirling now,
turning our turns into turning, not knowing
in our direction what our direction is, how things
get decided undecided, lost if you need to find us
is where we are. 

Whether it’s the progression of his musings that results from breaking a coffee carafe to the wars in far away countries  (“Kinesis”) or a description of a conversation he had with his plumber, in to fix a leaky hot water heater (“Redoubling Our Efforts”), which includes doubles, Noam Chomsky, and the plumber’s son who wants to join the Army, or, perhaps my favorite, “from the history of grade school,” reading Hicok’s poetry makes me look differently at the world.  At various times, as I read and re-read these poems, I am filled with happiness at Hicok’s language play and humor, with awe by the way he makes language new, and with a renewed feeling of terror at the randomness and unexpectedness of life.

Gregory Orr 0


My good friend Chris Higashi is on the board of Copper Canyon Press, a poetry-only publisher located in Port Townsend, Washington.  In honor of National Poetry Month, I asked her to contribute to the Book Lust Forever blog.  Here’s what she said:

Our holiday tradition for Copper Canyon Press board and staff is to have a brief business meeting, then to adjourn and enjoy good food and wine, and read aloud favorite poems to one another. To watch people’s faces as they talk about and read poems they love is so moving. I always leave with a list of titles to pull from my bookshelves at home.

 Two years ago, three of us showed up with the same book, Gregory Orr’s Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved (Copper Canyon, 2005). Now, out of all the books the Press has published in its three-decades-plus history, the likelihood of this—a book not particularly well known or widely reviewed—is slim. We each chose different poems for different reasons.

 The 174 untitled short poems in Orr’s book are really one long poem. I think of them as primarily about death and grief. I shared three poems I had read at my dad’s funeral two months prior. Here’s one:

Not the first lessons of grief —
They are all about sorrow.
But stay to the end of the teaching,
Where grief reads from the Book,
Reads a poem you never heard before,
A poem about the beloved.

It talks about how he thinks
Constantly of us, and
How we miss her so.

And how we meet in the poem.

Others say these are love poems, and I don’t disagree. This is a book I keep at bedside. I can open it anywhere and read poems that move, soothe, and comfort.

Mary Oliver has written, “Greg Orr is here a Walt Whitman without an inch of Whitman’s bunting or oratory. Greg Orr is a gorgeous poet and this is a gorgeous book.” (n.b. Onstage in Seattle, two years ago, asked to name her three favorite poets, Oliver answered, “Whitman. Whitman. And Whitman!”)

 Orr’s How Beautiful the Beloved (2009) similarly comprises 80 short poems. Much is said in few words. For example:

Squander it all!

Hold nothing back.

The heart’s a deep well.

And when it’s empty,
It will fill again.

At friends’ recent lovely Quaker wedding, I wished I had How Beautiful the Beloved with me to read them this poem:

We could say No to love,
But love itself
Doesn’t say No.

We could say Yes
To Love,
But it might not
Arrive any sooner.

Whole years going by
In which we never
Catch sight of the beloved,

And then suddenly …

For whoever thinks she doesn’t like or understand poetry, who thinks poetry isn’t for him, but equally for the poetry aficionado, see Gregory Orr’s two books.