In Bob Hicok’s Hold, his tenth collection of poetry, the poet’s humor, punning, wit, wisdom, and humility lead to small revelations, introspections, and musings on the human condition—all in the face of danger and atrocity. As its title might suggest, this book yearns for and struggles to hold strong to self and to community, to hold to the body, to hold to the world, to hold—yes—to optimism, to hope.

In “Faith,” Hicok writes about the Holocaust denier who works at the local grocery store: “[he’s] a Nazi out of loneliness, / unlike his friend, who’s a Nazi / out of tradition.” As the poet watches a rabbi speaking to this grocery clerk “about baseball and Auschwitz and girls,” he thinks she will win him over eventually because “hands are fans of hold / more than shatter.” The poet asks, “[t]his is not the life we wanted, is it?” and throughout the book, he struggles to understand our differences in light of our sameness. In one poem, the speaker is disturbed to have the same “number of legs / and heads / and chromosomes” as the slavery apologist talking about the War of Northern Aggression. In another poem, the poet wakes in the morning to read news of “another black man / cop-shot.” “Every time a cop kills a black man...the killing / is white. I’m killing these men and want me / to stop,” Hicok writes, unsure of how to navigate whiteness and all the harm it implies: “please—don’t keep looking like me / and saying this is justice. This is hunting.”

If Hold asks many questions throughout, they are not rhetorical, nor are they theoretical—instead, they’re practical questions about our living in this world. When the speaker sees a homeless man sleeping on the street, he wonders how to walk by him “not in some future but this life— / not in theory but in fact.” In a unique blend of punchline and sincerity (that few other poets can pull off so well), Hicok confesses, “I’m scared, but not shitless.” And we are meant to take some small hope in that—hope that “splayed / and broken is the beginning / of harmonic and blessed.” Yes, hope that something might hold even in our dark times: “Hands are good at that. Holding. / Hands are good at almost everything / we ask them to do.”

Copper Canyon Press.

— Review by Josh Luckenbach