Jan 2, 2010

Father Poem: Bob Hicok's "O my pa-pa"

O my pa-pa by Bob Hicok : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Like Maurice Manning (Banjo52, Nov. 15), Bob Hicok is a relatively young poet who takes chances that would fail in lesser hands. There's a bit of wiseacre in his language and content--a tone that keeps many irony-loving poets too detached to trust. Brain castrates heart. I suspect that these poets are apparently so worried about sentimentality that they overcompensate and eviscerate their poems. Overly academic poets can do the same thing, yet I wouldn't be surprised if those two schools of poetry feel contempt for each other.

But Bob Hicok is not an excessively self-defended irony-robot. He keeps on being human and soulful, even as he relies on wit and irony in everything from subject matter to word choice to decisions about line breaks. Of the Hicok poems I've read, "O my pa-pa" is his greatest achievement, and it is simply a fine poem in any context.

You may have heard about writers' conferences or the writing workshop scene. The teacher, who is usually a writer-dignitary (with real or imagined celebrity),  guides less experienced writers as they sit in a circle and critique each other's work.

Naturally, the bad mom and the bad dad are frequent subjects. And why not? There is no shortage of bad moms and bad dads. However, beginning writers don't seem to realize that they need to bring something new to the table--a new kind of bad mom or bad dad, or at least a fresh perspective and invigorated language on a well-worn subject.

And now there's Hicok's strategy: why not turn the tables entirely? What if there were a workshop of dads writing about bad sons, or just disappointing sons, indifferent sons, self-centered sons, sons who broke their fathers' hearts, sons who maybe deserve to have critical poems written about them, even if the poems are bad. Bad dad, bad son, bad poem. Dumb males, distant males, longing males . . . . Writing Workshop, anyone?

O my pa-pa by Bob Hicok : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


slowmo said...

This poem broke my heart.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate turning the tables, but I don't think this does. The effect of a child on the parent doesn't come close to the effect a parent has on the child.

And, I think, the way the parent feels towards the child doesn't change much over the years, tho things may be added, such as frustration or pride.

Whereas the child's (regardless of the child's age) feelings are always dynamic in relation to Mom and Dad.

gothpunkuncle said...

Title aside, I dig where this ends up. You might sample or download John Hiatt's song "Your Dad Did", same theme, similar platform. It might be a bit rock and roll for your taste, but he's recorded with Roseanne Cash. Happy New Year. Bring the boys 'round some Saturday night.

Banjo52 said...

slowmo: Me too.

AH: I don't know how this competition for blame would come out, or how and what a team of shrinks would measure to find the answer. Your point sounds right, and God knows a lot of parents have damnably damaged a lot of kids.

But I know a LOT of people, including myself, who have whined forever about parents who were not abusive, not perverted, not addicted, and who worked their asses off to get the rent paid and more.

Were they distant? Probably. Did they wound us? I suppose--who didn't wound us? Were they nurturing, as defined by standards established long after their parenting days? Maybe not so nurturing.

But I think it's easy to overestimate how much a parent owes a kid. When do I, the kid, have to stand up and say, if I want X, it's time to shut up, put parents behind me, and go get X.

I know it's a gross oversimplification, but so is, "I'm not A and I'm not B and not even P, but that's because Daddy sucked."

I've seen Hallmark Cards that "honor" the parents with a quick cliche, but Hicok's poem might be the first I've seen that's serious about the subject in legitimate poetry. Whereas poems that crucify Mom or Dad are legion, at least in Centuries 20 and 21. We could begin with Plath's famous "Daddy" and go on from there.

I've been on both sides of the desk in the workshop situation, and believe me, screaming evil mummy-daddy is a frequent and too often a facile theme.

"Dynamic" versus "unchanging" feelings is a very, very interesting subject. More later on that? I'm not sure I've ever thought about it that way, for parent or child.

GPK: I'll check on that song. I hope he doesn't use the dinosaur-fart machine the way somebody did in Cash's "Long Black Veil."

Anybody know where I can get a CD of the early Odetta, including "Roberta" and "The Golden Vanity"? No fake reptile sounds needed there--just deep, rich voice, some guitar, maybe some (acoustic) bass.

gothpunkuncle said...

Both songs are on a record called Odetta Sings Folk Songs (1963) You'll have to wait for the reissue or pay about $50 and stoke your old turntable, I'm afraid. I wonder if itunes works for something like this...

Banjo52 said...

GPK, thanks for the ideas. I'll investigate.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I wasn't talking about bad parents. Or good, for that matter. Or blame or credit. Parents are our bones and our blood, whereas the child to parent is an arm. Maybe a lung or a kidney.

Barbaro said...

Rather prosaic and narrative for me. Some fine moments, but a lot of blank highway in between the scenic overlooks.

Anonymous said...

Did I get a D?

Banjo52 said...

Babaro, love your analogy and the way its premise can apply to just about any poem, but I obviously don't share your view about this poem. That, of course, is taste as much as anything.

AH, your analogy about body parts troubles me so much (as a parent) that it must be at least a partial truth (since you add lung and kidney; an arm is not sufficient). Of course, this is going to vary from family to family, but you mean that my kids determine who and what I am less than my parents have. Obviously you're right in physiological terms, but psychologically? Well, I'll be batting that around for the foreseeable future. Thanks a million.

When did you ever get a D? Very funny. But your analogy today makes your point much clearer (and more maddening), at least to me.


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