Poet Bob Hicok Visits Nathan Hale High School: “Honor Those Things That Show Up and Follow Them”
“Honor Those Things That Show Up and Follow Them”
By Jeanine Walker
“That’s the most engaged I’ve seen them, ever,” classroom teacher Megan Simmons-Rice told us, a big smile on her face, in the moments after poet Bob Hicok’s talk to her 9th grade Language Arts class.
Having been there, I found it easy to see why. It must’ve been Superhero day at the school; SAL Program Director Rebecca Hoogs and I noticed a Supergirl walking out of the previous class, and this class had a Robin in it. Mr. Hicok’s first words to the class were, “I’ve never read poems before to either Batman or Robin.” They were with him immediately.
Hicok read for fifteen minutes to a completely absorbed group of twenty-three students and shared lines such as, “Tattoo my front door to my tombstone/ and place a key on my tongue like a mint,” and ending, from “Primer,” which explores his Michigan roots, with, “Let us all be from somewhere./ Let us tell each other everything we can.”
WITS writer-in-residence Sara Brickman had prepped the students for Hicok’s visit by having them read a few poems and write questions in response, and she had students kick off the Q&A. Hicok handled it expertly, directing questions back to the students, one-by-one, to eventually reveal a group of dancers, photographers, musicians, and most of all—writers. The poet’s advice, gentle, compassionate, and funny, encouraged students again and again “not to worry.” He noted that most of us are writing the same poem over and over, and, in response to a student’s question of how to move on from a topic the student found himself continually writing about, Hicok said two things: “People can get pulled away from themselves” by self-censoring, by looking at something and determining that’s not how a poem is “supposed to sound.” He also told us, “Boredom is a great teacher.”
Bored with what you’re writing? Push yourself to write anything but the subject you’re tired of, and you will surprise yourself. “We can’t escape ourselves,” Hicok told the group while suggesting that it’s important to pay attention to where your interests lie. “If you’re saying things you really do care about, you will get better over time, and you will communicate with people.”
He affirmed that it’s “normal” when kids don’t yet know what to do with their lives. While working in the automotive die industry, Hicok also wrote poems. He recommends that kids pursue what they like. “I kept doing something I liked because I liked it, and it became a career.”
Hicok stayed late to talk with the young poets, and his visit ended on a firm handshake with the boy who’d asked the most questions about writing. “Mason’s a great writer,” Brickman told us. Maybe one day he’ll be speaking to a roomful of 9th graders, telling them how his writing reflects, as Hicok noted, “the thing that floats through my mind.”