This London, Poems by Patrick HicksThis London: Poems 

By Patrick Hicks
Salmon Poetry, 2010
Reviewed by Amber Jensen

Patrick Hicks’s collection of poetry, This London, is both reminiscent of and distinct from his six previous collections, including Finding the Gossamer, also published by Salmon Poetry. In this collection, as in his previous work, Hicks surprises with the mundane. In “Taking Photographs for Strangers”  the act of snapping a photo becomes preservation as the narrator “pour[s] amber onto the earth” and the photo itself becomes a “strange gift” of letting strangers “crawl inside [his] eye” to “see everything, / exactly as [he has] forgotten it.”

Though a strong sense of history and place has been a theme in Hicks’s previous work, here it becomes the central focus, exploring the historical and cultural tissue that connects the United States and London and people of all cultures. He traces fibers of history, fibers as thin as place-names like New London, Minnesota, where “The Riverside Café in this riverless town / has an Olde Ice-cream Shoppe, / which at least recalls some version of England”; others are as dense as colonialism and attitudes towards war, like the guards outside Buckingham Palace who “shoulder their M16s” and “the flag above the Queen” which “snaps like gunfire” and who remind him of his student at home who is “off to Baghdad where all [his] teachings / will get blown to pieces beneath a date palm.”

The strength of this collection, the bones around which these poems amass, is a sense of humanity: a reminder that we are all connected in this world despite the different origins of our ancestors and the opposite directions in which they may have traveled. “Burqa” is one such civilized and compassionate poem, opening with a quote from a World War I nurse, Edith Cavell—“Patriotism is not enough, / I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.”—then continuing:

A waterfall of people trickled down the stairs
and she, beneath a burqa that was flinty,
full of sparks, positioned her stroller
at the top.
The front wheels clunked
like stones towards the station below.
Wordlessly, I unstopped myself
and took the front struts in both hands.
Together, we carried her boy towards the ground—
all of us were once this small,
our bones this soft and compact.
The rectangle of her eyes squinted a smile,
and when I looked back, she waved.

A contrasting poem, “Fatality on the Tracks,” reveals a horrific, darker side of indifference after the narrator’s train is cancelled due to a suicide on the tracks.  Hicks writes:

I thought of greased rails,
unstoppable metal,
eyes widening,
and the impact of a funeral.
But the lady next to me,
with her shopping bags and stormy hair,
was equally destructive when she yelled,
Bloody Hell!  Now I’m going to be late!
Molten steel fills my ribcage,
my teeth are barbed-wire,
but the killer bees I want to spit
are stuck on the flypaper of my tongue.
Already, she is picking up steam for the exit.
A cane holding up a man is knocked aside,
and this woman, her bags clattering behind,
explodes down the platform,
the horn of her mouth blaring.
[…]
and, in her wake, we are all dragged to Platform 4.
Our bodies are balloons of blood,
so soft, just flesh and eggshell bones.
The hard woman stands alone,
her foot is a tapping piston.
And still the tracks spear the horizon—
there, where a life floated up.

Transportation centers, the maze of underground tunnels, and London streets are more than just settings for these poems. They are an organizing principle for the book, divided as it is into five sections named after the zones of London’s public transportation system. They become the subject of some poems like “The Knowledge,” titled after the test which London cab drivers must take to prove they have learned the intricacies of the city’s labyrinth of street. Finally, they’re a metaphor for the difficult task of navigating our human relationships.

The sense of history and connectedness, the sense of humanity that Hicks brings to life in This London, offers a well-marked road map that reminds readers where to begin—with our shared histories, the most basic cells of our being, our common beginnings and endings.
~~~
Amber Jensen is blessed with two gorgeous children and with a husband who encourages her to make time for her writing. She currently teaches K-12 Spanish and English and is pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing through the University of New Orleans’ low-residency program. Her work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Elipsis, Assisi, and GRL (Gently Read Literature).
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