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Poet Hicok Reflects on Economic Hardships in Mich.

April 30, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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Bob Hicok was born and raised in Michigan, worked in factories and once owned an automotive die design business there before becoming a professor at Virginia Tech. His poetry reflects on the economic hardships suffered in his home state.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a different take on hard times in the auto industry. It comes from poet Bob Hicok. Last year, his fifth book, “This Clumsy Living,” won the distinguished Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress.

BOB HICOK, poet: I am Bob Hicok. I’m a poet and professor. I teach at Virginia Tech. And I was born in Grand Ledge, Michigan. I am the middle of seven kids. There are three boys, four girls. I lived in Michigan until I was 43. So I’m 49 now, so all but six years.

The trouble we’re seeing now, I think, had showed up quite a bit earlier in the auto industry. We had seen that, but I was on the living end of that.

The work that I did for probably about 20 years, auto die design, we designed the objects that stamp out car parts, anything from a hood or a door to a small bracket that would go inside a car.

We hear the unemployment figures pretty commonly now about Michigan. It’s kind of the poster child for the trouble we’re going through. But the way that that shows up in people’s lives, even though we hear those stories, to have a more intimate connection to them shows you just what it means to lose a home, to lose a job, to have to move back in with your folks.

These are things that people had no expectation of ever having to deal with. And I would say people are substantially floundering.

'In These Times'

"In These Times."

My sister's out of work and my brother's

out of work and my other brother's

out of work, these are facts available

over the phone or in person, just as now,

three clouds travel north, one

above another, smallish, amoeba shaped,

and the bottom cloud just died,

and the top two have joined forces

and left me to fend for myself

under a new sky.

How vague is that, amoeba shaped?

That could be anything: cigar shaped,

Manhattan shaped, could be libor, t-bill, jobs report,

which arrive as theoretical entities, words

from a tele-prompter repeated by newscasters

and converted to waves beamed to satellites

and bounced to my set to be reconstituted

as their basset-hound eyes of concern

when the day's dollop or wallop of woe

is mashed and rehashed by people

making good scratch for telling us how bad it is.

There's little to hold in what they say.

That's what a job is: a pencil to hold, a scalpel,

shovel, "A Statistical Analysis

of the Probability That Anyone Will Read

the Statistical Analysis," even such slippage

is a mind-hold that keeps some someone

from drifting off into irrelevance.

My sister's out of work and my brother's

out of work and my other brother's

out of work, these are facts known to many

and more many every day,

there but for the grace of a W-2

go you, as I'm employed by this poem

that's about to lay me off, I remember that

when the question of what to do

gets intellected about.

Jobs to do because there's work to do

because this whole to-do's

a stop-gap measure to the zip

or heaven to come, about which

we haven't a clue.

A little Keynesing now or a lot of keening

later, when the phone rings

and maybe it's you whose house

is no longer your house, whose car has

just been slicked away by a guy

tatted-up all goth and penitentiary,

you whose kid needs grub, me

who has to mumble through

some version of

could you, I don't know, maybe send me,

I hate to ask, a few bucks?

If you never had to make that call,

let me kiss the inside of your skull, let me intercede

on the part of the burned field

for the grass,

on the side of the cadaver

for the walk under moonlight, I'm only praying

you listen to the theory

that how we get to be alone

is how we work to be together, since there are stars

inside your thumb, your breath,

and how you say yes or no is how they shine

or go out.