Now In The Archives: Bob Hicok’s “Trying To Stay In Shape”

Happy 2010! Here at Fourteen Hills, we’re continuing to update our online archives. As part of that process, I just read a poem that took me back to my childhood. It takes a very special and honest poem like Bob Hicok’s “Trying to Stay in Shape” to unify my experience with his storytelling.

Here’s my favorite section:

…When I was a kid
I lied and said chlorine hurt my penis
so they’d leave me to land, where I understood
breath. I hadn’t thought of that in years,
I’m cringing, hoping I’ve become
a better swimmer, better liar…

This poem has such a wonderful voice. Every line breaks and sifts down. I'm most taken with his  ability to combine a surreal and witty narrative inside such concrete diction. Hicok talks of values without sounding preachy. And his confession sounds like he is simply being himself.  Every time I read it, I  feel as though he's talking to me.

If you want to see how Bob Hicok succeeds in the rest of the piece then check out the full poem which appeared in the Fall of ’07 in Issue 14.1. While you’re at it, look for more established and emerging writers in upcoming issues of our literary magazine!

R.R. Reese, Fourteen Hills staff


  1. Human beings have a propensity to want to be in the hypnotic state. It is a state between being fully awake and asleep; it is a state between full symbolic consciousness (using language) and the non-verbal unconscious. It is also a highly pleasurable state. Our brains seem to dig it! It is a time when we are most creative. We now know that natural brain chemicals are released during this state so that the state itself will produce these sought after feelings. Furthermore, this state of total focused attention can be initiated by a variety of techniques only one of which is by taking a psychoactive drug like alcohol. Another way is through Yoga. Other ways are through fasting or through dance or eroticism. Another way is through meditation. The Dalai Lama in The Universe In A Single Atom (2005) describes this focused attention when describing meditation:

    In our normal state, our mind remains unfocused for most of the time and our thoughts move from one object to another in a random and dissipated manner. By cultivating mindfulness, we learn first to become aware of this process of dissipation, so that we can gently fine-tune the mind to follow a more direct path toward the object on which we wish to focus… One of the most crucial elements in the training of mindfulness is the development and application of attention… Another practice for the development of attention is single pointed concentration… to hold that attention for as long as possible… there are claims in Buddhist meditation text that skilled practitioners can master this technique to such a point that he or she can hold his or her attention unwaveringly for four hours at a time. (Pp.151-153)

  2. I love the enjambment in this poem, such as "where I understood / breath." At first the line breaks seem random, but Hicok paid a lot of attention to where his lines cut off. This is not a careless poem from a careless poet: it's a well-crafted contemplating poem from a great contemporary poet.