Red Rover, Red Rover by Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok’s forthcoming collection of poetry Red Rover Red Rover with Copper Canyon Press (January 2021) is a treasure-house of irrational wordplay and imagistic plenitude. Hicok has staked his career across nine books and this, his tenth collection, reinforces his title as a master of idiom. He is the grand poobah of high and low speech. A modern guru of strange impulses and even more surprising associations.

Who else can toss off lines like, “I miss being in the service of atoms / and the whispers that hold them together” or “My office is bigger and more flexible than my heart”? His new collection is rife with such deadpan assertions that put me in mind of Apollinaire who said, ”Surprise is the greatest source of what is new”. 

Take, for instance, Hicok’s poem “Refraction” where he mixes social commentary with sudden imaginative flourishes that cannot help but win over a reader. He writes: 

“For hours, the world was empty
of McDonald’s, lawn mowers, For Sale signs, 
capitalism; it was like looking in a mirror 
that ignored my face, that saw
 where I really came from, that stared back
 at the savanna inside my bones.
 I pulled over and built a house
 of my affection: I would live there
 with distance and mountains
 and the intelligence of rainbows,
 who are smart to be untouchable.
 If we caught them, we’d put them in zoos, 
 cut them open, try to civilize them,
 teach them French, teach them war.”

This is pure Hicok: the swerving wordplay, boggling images and steady voice of the poet. Rainbows smart enough to be untouchable is an idea that only Hicok could serve up with his trademark wit and freewheeling aplomb.

In another poem “Falling”, Hicok manages to mashup sex and moonlight and movie theaters with a little existential angst:

Moonlight in bed with us. Our first ménage à trois.
The ménage à quatre must be 33 percent better.
Why doesn’t everyone hump everyone at the same time?
I count everything. Number of halos on a coatrack.
Times I’ve thought cats have tiny rock tumblers
in their throats. To purr is to polish a velvet stone.
When I purr I sound like a river that smokes too much.
Smoking used to be sexy like the industrial revolution.
You can’t French-kiss moonlight. You can put a rose
in its hair. A whole garden for that matter is excellent
courting. If night is a movie theater without sticky floors,
the moon is the star of the show. Stars are extras.
I must be the key grip or best boy. Best at what?
Cherishing the tiny crack in the glass bauble of my being?
Having the soul if not the shoes of a flâneur? Looking
a gift horse in the mouth? Know what I see? Teeth & tongue. Abyss. 

Readers can only smile when reading lines like “To purr is to polish a velvet stone”, but we also empathize with the poet who says, “I must be the key grip or best boy. Best at what? / Cherishing the tiny crack in the glass bauble of my being?” This is the gift of Hicok. His poems are full of hijinks that disconnect us from the ordinary but also, paradoxically, somehow remind us what it means to be human. 

Red Rover Red Rover is a wide-ranging, imaginative collection from a master poet that makes you believe through its giant leaping associations and restless human spirit that Bob Hicok can “start a fire / from anything, even an avalanche, especially a tornado, though most of all / nothing at all”.

About the Author: Bob Hicok’s ninth collection, Hold, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2018. A two-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and recipient of the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress, he’s also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and eight Pushcart Prizes, and his poems have been selected for inclusion in nine volumes of The Best American Poetry. He teaches at Virginia Tech.

  • Publisher : Copper Canyon Press (Jan. 22 2021)
  • Language: : English
  • ISBN-10 : 1556596111
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1556596117

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Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of six collections of poems with Deepfake Serenade from Nightwood Editions forthcoming in Fall 2021. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal, Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.