Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bob Hicok: Words on a Page

I marvel at the wonderment and word play that goes on in Bob Hicok’s poetry. I can’t do what he does, but I want to—which is exciting for me as a poet and a reader. So I feel pretty lucky to have been able to spend a little with him when he came to Babson this week.

Bob read to our students at an evening reading, which was terrific, but he also spoke to a small group of students in our chapel the next day. (My timing was off—did not get any pictures. *sigh*)

Here are a few gems from his Q&A with students.

When asked how much editing does he put into his work, Bob said he’s one of those writers who writes and then moves on. Most of the revision that he does is across poems. He writes daily, and learned early on how to finish most poems in one sitting. And when a poem doesn’t work, it’s a matter of striking off in a different direction. “When I get distracted,” Bob said, “I remind myself of that thing that interested me in the first place.” Whether you’re writing poetry vs. short stories, it’s all just “… words on a page.”

Another student asked how have his past jobs affected his poetry, and how does his work life affect his writing. This was a great question for Bob with Babson’s business students because long ago Bob owned an automotive dye company in Michigan for many years. (And I’ve always thought entrepreneurs and artists share common bonds.) Ultimately, you have to follow your passion. “If you end up doing work you don’t like, it will crush you.”

In terms of making a living as a writer, “The model people don’t talk about … I’m a plumber … and I like to write stories. … Do you have a lot of energy? Because writers have to publish. There’s no way around it. People have to like your work.” In order to have success as a writer, you have to build a life around work you can do, and then write at night. Bob goes on to say, “You can do both, but you have to do the work.”

When asked about inspiration, and how much he draws from real-life experiences, Bob answered, “I’ve moved pretty far from narrative. I like making things up.” Also, “Boredom is the best thing to pay attention to.” He went on to say that “You’re not going to escape your primal interests or concerns … but you can make the work multifaceted—you can change the angles.” Talking about that “thing” you’re writing about too much will cause you to lose interest. “There has to be something that comes out of the moment that’s different for you.”

Lastly, a student asked for publishing advice, so talk turned to rejections. Bob said, “The folks who have the stomach for this [publishing] can take a punch.” We get so hung up on rejection slips, but they’re just forms with standard rejection language. But he likes the anger that rejection can inspire. Sometimes, editors get it wrong. Speaking of his own rejections, “Rejection doesn’t have to be a dead thing. But, I have an obligation to go back to the work and see if the editor was right.”


Maureen said...

January, thank you so much for this post. Bob Hicok gave interesting, honest, insightful answers to the students.

Jessie Carty said...

He really gives a great reading doesn't he :) I like what he says about work. When I wasn't writing it was when I had a job that really sucked the life out of me. I'm busier and make less now but I'm more inspired and engaged. All about balance right! Thanks for sharing this.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Sounds like a terrific time. It is awesome to hear Hicok talk about his writing process (that most of his poems get finished in one sitting)--I can really relate to that.

January said...

Hannah, I feel the same way. I like to finish a poem in one sitting, if possible. Listening to Bob's process was as rewarding as hearing him read.

January said...

Jessie, I'm still working to get that balance. But working and raising a family does sap a lot of energy from me.

Thanks, Maureen. Glad you enjoyed the post.


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