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This Clumsy Living (Pitt Poetry Series) Paperback – February 1, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hicok's neo-surrealist charm and conversational wit have gathered, slowly and certainly, a following for his four previous books: this fifth shows the casual (sometimes too casual) divagations and distortions of everyday life in which he has specialized, both in rapidfire prose poems and in a fluently American free verse. At his best, he is disarmingly quotable: "It is comforting to talk/ to large animals, whether they listen or not". Hicok (Insomnia Diary, 2004) oscillates between incidents from his own life and responses to breaking news, concluding "there's so much tearing down to build to tear down to forget/ there was anything to remember." A long dialogue about an apparently imaginary painting becomes a defense of Hicok's associative method, suggesting that you too might live without "a frame around your life." At best, Hicok offers an unruly and winning combination of brio and bizarrie, halfway between Billy Collins and Dean Young; at worst, his poems sound chatty and improvised, able to continue indefinitely.
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" The arrival of This Clumsy Living is cause for celebration, as it firmly places [Hicok] among a collection of astute poets with a keen eye for both the common and the extraordinary, and confirms these poems, at turns playful and disturbing though always emotionally charged, as some of the finest being written today."
--American Book Review



“Bob Hicok’s poetry is a fleeting comfort, a temporary solace from the chaos of the world. Smart, honest, powerfully inventive, his writing asks the biggest questions while acknowledging that there are no answers beyond the imposed structure of the page.”
--Los Angeles Times


Hicok’s new collection will further broaden the reputation of a poet already celebrated at mid-career; his Animal Soul was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award in 2002. Hicok is known for his muscular, witty, and charming language, and if poetry is a surrealist mechanism made of words, then this is a perfect poet. But is poetry such a mechanism? Though Hicok never misses a chance to make fun and to have fun, his poems offer a great deal more than ready playfulness. What elevates Hicok above many talented—but limited—pyrotechnists is his brave openness toward his (and our) feelings. He does not merely show off his tricks in front of the world; he embraces it. As he says in a poem about cancer, “There is a piece of a second/ during which a jet is not flying/ nor is it on the ground.// I’m working on a theory/ that no one can die/ inside that piece of a second.// If you are comforted by this thought you are welcome/ to keep it.” Ultimately, this collection works because it dwells on human experience and because at its best the language is charged with unforgettably lyrical wisdom. Recommended for all poetry collections.
—Library Journal


”Disarmingly quotable. . . . Offers an unruly and winning combination of brio and bizarrie, halfway between Billy Collins and Dean Young.”
--Publishers Weekly



”At his best, [Hicok] has always fused deeply wounded moments of pathos with an oddly welcome levity, much like everybody’s favorite uncle who’s never afraid to tell a good joke at a funeral, even if it’s his wife lying in the casket. And the same can be said of ‘This Clumsy Living’, perhaps Hicok’s most obscure and mature book to date. Most notably, and with a heightened political consciousness in tow, these poems meditate on the tyranny of the human condition in the early twenty-first century.”
—Barn Owl Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Pitt Poetry Series
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822959534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822959533
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,109,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Austin Hummell on January 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
The Publishers Weekly review crowding the box above is really smart and wrong. Hicok's are the best poems living in magazines this month and last year, and This Clumsy Living is really pretty evidence of it. To sandwich him between Collins and Young--two poets who really can hurt you with laughter--is to mistake style for substance. Bob Hiock has said forty more important things than either of them.
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It is good to know that the words you have spent money on earn their keep, to know that when you want to read something that descibes your feelings or something you'd never bring to mind, Bob Hicok has done it for you -- like he always has. There is no better poet and everybody knows it. He can take a big idea and unravel it until the room is full of debris and there's a little shiny thing sitting in the corner -- or a small idea and wind it up into a Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solo. Nothing's ever dull in Bob Hicok's imaginative world. This book has about forty poems but it feels like four hundred poems. The way Hicok writes is so original it's like a lawn made of poems you have to keep watering with the hoses of your eyes and then mow it back with the lawnmower of your mind. He writes about the bad times, the just about-almost-but-not-quite-right times, his wife, something in there about a dog, cows, trees, mother, father, working class people, the real times or just as often: I made this whole thing up but now that you think of it, it couldn't have been more real -- about birds, death, people you've never heard of, rivers, deer, Bob Hicok, wolves, wind, his wife. And even though Hicok is well known as being quite a humorous writer, just as often there's beauty and wistfulness in his poetry.Read more ›
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There are real jewels in Hicok's work--and the best of the poems are playful and meditative, paralleling leaps of thoughts that we often dismiss in our own lives (or maybe that's just me feeling some affinity with his mental gyrations). Hicok is willing to be silly and profound and not worry about the separation between the two, if there even is one. I found the occurrences of particular words (hair, tree, window, father, eyes, sky, mother, blood, hamburger, skin, dead, hands, body, moon, to mention a few) surprisingly subtle even while they leapt out of the page with subsequent readings. It's a surprising book and well-worth the read.
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In This Clumsy Living, Bob Hicok invites us into the world of his mind, and by extension, our own. The mind is not a structured, wholly predictable set of equations and patterns, and neither is Hicok's work. Each poem has its own unique feel, structure and sound. Sometimes the piece is rooted in a deep, universal emotion, like "In Michael Robins's class minus one," a poem that explores reactions to a student's drowning in a conversation between students and the river. Sometimes a poem builds on repetition and rhythm to humorously examine a very human moment. "My new neighbor" states: "I wondered if the congregation of flies / on the eye of the cow / stared at the eye of the cow / with their compound eyes," then grows into a rumination on connections: "It is comforting to talk / to large animals, whether they listen or not. / I said, it is comforting to talk to large animals, / whether they listen or not." At times, Hicok loses all poetic form, letting the poetry of the words stand on their own, in prose pieces like "A letter: the Genesis poem" and "Documenting a decision." He also highly complicates forms, as in "A poem with a poem in its belly," which features a long prose poem literally structured around a smaller, lineated piece. In all of the poems, though, the one constant is Hicok - his voice, his ideas, his ability to give deep meaning and connection to images that are, without his deft touch, completely illogical. This is not a collection of experiments and oddities; this is a collection that captures the state of poetry, and in effect, the essence of society. When the landscape of poetry seems wild and unfocused, as it does in this time without dominant schools of writers, and when the world at large seems chaotic and senseless, Hicok shows us that meaning and power comes from the individual.
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