Aug 27, 2012

Franz Wright, Bob Hicok: Poems about Fathers

An Old Pic

A New Pic

Postcard 2 by Franz Wright : Poetry Magazine

O my pa-pa by Bob Hicok : Poetry Magazine

With readers’ help and the brilliance of the poem “To Myself” last time, I’ve gotten more interested in Franz Wright than I had been, so here’s a very different critter from him, a prose poem titled “Postcard 2.”  It may or may not be about his famous-poet-dad, James Wright; I’m hanging on to the New Criticism to that extent.

I’d also like to hear your thoughts as you compare it to Bob Hicok’s poem, “O my pa-pa,” a work about fathers, sons, and to a lesser extent, the whole nature of writing poetry.

I think maybe Bob Hicok and Franz Wright should not be let into the same room on this subject, but that’s all I’ll say for now.  

Well, one more thing. If this pair of poems doesn’t start people—male or female—talking about fathers and children, maybe nothing will.

On the subject of fathers, here’s singer-songwriter John Prine with Steve Goodman's song on the subject: 

And here’s what some of us said about “O my pa-pa” back in January of 2010:

Sparrow Dad Feeds Junior


Kitty said...

Hi Banjo!!
I only had time to read the first poem, and wow. Yikes.
The second one looks like it deserves a nice quiet time to take it in.

Is the top photo of you? If so, are you the small one or the big one? haha.

Best, K

Banjo52 said...

Kitty, hi. No, not me in the pics. Nice of you to ask about the young-ish mower and not the older fellow with his paper. The second poem might make you feel at least a little better than the first did.

WAS said...

Nice. I’d just posted a song about the other side of this equation when I came upon this small compendium. These two poems speak eloquently about the many people so spiritually bereft that they actually think they are victims therefore they have no responsibility, and this thinking boils down to the strange idea that they didn’t choose this experience in this first place. Of the two, Wright seems a little farther along in his therapy. He’s got down the defense of the absent parent, the hatred at the parent who couldn’t protect him, the taking responsibility for all his parents selfish decisions, and the recognizing the gift in the pain, the beginning of forgiveness. He at least acknowledges that he’s the child with the little lawn mower/snow blower behind, “staggering into a blinding snow that no one else could see.” Hickok’s poem just seems a long bitter tirade of resentment at the guilt the father caused, that he still has to play by those rules. The bad dad poems he writes in workshop are really bad son poems to him, just as Wright almost absolving his father almost absolves himself. Further along still is Goodman’s song, where there’s the slightest touch of honesty about the son’s narcissism and something is actually missed about the father: “to hear what he said when I wasn’t listening.” Such a line puts father and son on equal footing, both fucked up, both wounded. The cognitive dissonance of unresolved parental issues may make for great art, but it’s how we heal that matters.

Jean Spitzer said...

Wright seems to have literally had a dad who was a hard act to follow--because he was absent.

Banjo52 said...

W.A.S., your last sentence is my favorite. I wonder why the art tends to dwell on the dissonance rather than the healing. That in turn leads to a concern I've had (surely not alone) for a long time: how much serious literature about personal subjects has the soul of a child's tantrum?

I see the Hicok poem and maybe Goodman's song asking a question something like that. How much narcissism must we accept in a child, and when may we ask the child to get over it and move on? I know that's way too simple, and it ignores actual child abuse, but I'm very impressed by Hicok's seeming to take his share of the blame and really
tring to empathize with the dad's life and perspective. I'm not sure I've ever seen literature do that. Usually it's saccharine, unquestioning of honoring the parent or the other, the Plathian extreme.

Jean, yes, that and then some. How do we know when a domestic conflict has reached the point of crisis and wounds we shouldn't expect to heal? Maybe we should stop tossing around terms like "dysfunction" and "narcissism," lest we turn them into cliches and forget their actual, thorough, specific and complex meanings.

Banjo52 said...

"a saccharine, unquestioning honoring OF the parent . . . " (Sorry about that).

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Fathers forming a poetry work shop; are they reading Iron John? I got a kick out of the poem and how it vacillated between father and son. The anger, hurt and empathy. Those fuckers can break our hearts. We in turn can break theirs by the realization that their gene pool is less then stellar.

The day we buried my father, Peter, son of my father's boss (and valedictorian, accepted into Stanford blah blah) after the church service, came up to us to offer his condolences. Part of which included telling us stories of how much fun he and his other brilliant siblings had debating my father, playing chess etc. I was jaded and unsurprised, but I remember the hurt in my older sisters eyes.

Anonymous said...

I never wanted to be a parent. It never occurred to me to be a parent. And I wonder about mine -- why they did it.

Not a one of us kids ended up in jail or needed money or a place to stay. We did ok, some better than that. But we were hardly the stuff dreams are made of, from a parent's point of view. We didn't give anything back. Not that I recall.

If I were the parents to my parents, I'd say, "Take all the money you'll spend on a big house, children's tennis lessons, sneakers, boots, bikes, and clothes, and go live together in some chateau in the north of France."

But the thing is, I guess, they didn't want to be alone; my parents, with each other. No matter where, they needed some extra baggage; us -- in Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago.

Even that chateau in the north of France, they would have needed us, the kids. Anywhere, it would have been the same story, anywhere.

Banjo52 said...

PA, AH, Strong stuff. Thank you.

PA, Peter and his sibs played games with your pop in order to mock him? And he told you this as part of his condolence? I do believe my fellow humans are shocking me more as I get older--shouldn't I be going the other direction?

AH, That's a very interesting situation. I think I've briefly wondered about some couples--were they using their children as a way to avoid each other, or avoid what they knew about their relationship? But I never dwelt on it, figuring I'd never KNOW what was going on in those psyches and maybe they didn't know either.

But if a couple realizes, at some level of consciousness, that there's not much between them, maybe not even hostility, just blankness, or at most, wondering how they ended up there, using the children to fill the void might make a kind of sense. Not healthy or happy sense, esp. for the kids, but maybe there's a sad "logic" in there somewhere.

By the way, AH, the opening of your comment could be a helluva start to a poem or story or novel.

Pasadena Adjacent said...


I really hate writing. Seems I'm often misinterpreted.

They (Peter and siblings) were NOT mocking him. My father preferred the company of these other children to his own. We had no Idea to what extent until the day of my father's funeral. As I said, I was more jaded, but I saw a bit of my sisters heart break in that moment, and that was hard to witness.

Banjo52 said...

PA, thanks. I get it now.

Stickup Artist said...

These 2 entries make me squeamish. The whole concept of the nuclear family with all its hyper-awareness and hyper-focus of the individual units upon one another in their isolated situation, the secrets, pressures to perform and conform, thought conditioning, role assignments, discipline and all its odd, frantic, misguided and sometimes sick forms. Honestly, I don't think it helpful in the least to dredge up, dwell, place blame, or make excuses for the present based on the past. The quicker one realizes this, moves onward, outward, and evolves, the better.

Birdman said...

There would certainly be no love fest if they ever met to share photographs of their dads. Check your weapons at the door, boys!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I kind of agree with bird man. Do I dar say LOL? As complicated as mother daughter relationships are (and we seem to stay connected until we bury them) father and son relationships are really problematic.

Banjo52 said...

Are you three saying the only solution is for the offspring to walk away? And stay away? I used to hear psychological talk about the need for the adult child to go through a declaration of independence from the parents, but I don't hear it much any more. In fact, it's my impression that more and more adult children are less and less independent from the parents, both parties finding it important to stay in each other's lives. Some of that might be a financial matter, but it appears to go deeper than money. It seems the "child" is unable or unwilling to break away, and the parents like it that way, no matter how open the dysfunction is when they're in the same room. Or is that just my take on people I know?

RuneE said...

I think I'll have to chicken out on this one - it gets to personal and my father (much missed) matched none of these (especially not the first one!).

In an idealist world the relationship should be as in the first photo. In the real world - let us have it has a goal for the beginning.

Brenda's Arizona said...

And if the dads met? What a poem that would be!!

I would like to have a cuppa with each dad - separately. I bet they both love their sons.

Banjo52 said...

Rune, I wonder why poets don't write much about good relationships--of any kind. I'd like to think poetry is more than personal therapy and venting, but it makes you wonder (and I guess I'm just repeating what I said to W.A.S. on the 29th).

Brenda, if anyone could get sunshine out of 'em, it's you. Is "cuppa" Arizona-speak for coffee?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Banjo, yea, I have always known 'cuppa' to be slang for a cup of coffee. But I thought I better look it up before answering you.
Urban dictionary offers the coffee definition AND this one: To fart in your hand when it is in a cup shape then holding it under someone's nose."

Now I am not sure what I meant. Are you??

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