Noah Cicero’s poetry occupies a strange space between the universal and the personal, and it does so without trying and while denying any relation to the collective. In Bipolar Cowboy, Cicero’s first poetry collection, the author shares a fragment of his life in a way that makes the reader feel like she is sitting on the same table as him while sharing a drink. The brutal, beautiful, and deeply idiosyncratic verses deal with pain, memories, lost love, and mental illness, and they do so with an honesty and humanity that makes them linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page has been turned.
That Cicero was not trying to offer answers is clear from the get-go because he establishes it in “Note I”:
“This book of love poems says nothing
about la condition humaine.
It is intimate.
Do not try to look for life answers
in this book of love poems.
The universals are no here.
Only the personals.”
Despite the note, Bipolar Cowboy sometimes reads like the diary of a man who could be anyone; the poems of someone who has dealt with pain, searched for a self in a world that offers too many distractions and ways of evading strong feelings, and proof that survival is possible even when darkness and bleakness seem to have taken over our world and turned us into weak shadows of a former, unclear self. That being said, these poems are entirely Cicero’s and come from unique experiences and the way he dealt with them, the feelings they evoked, the solutions sought out, and the processes by which they were finally vanquished or became so much a part of him that they were absorbed into his DNA.
Self-deprecation, usually stemming from profound self-analysis, is just one of the main elements in Cicero’s poetry, and what he presents here is a complete and merciless deconstruction of a man who has failed at love and feels on the verge of failing at life. The unflinching honesty with which the author analyzes and criticizes himself is admirable, and the poems that come from those processes manage to retain the power needed to undergo such a devastating experience and then turn the emotional and psychological debris into literature.
Cicero’s work has always been a weird mix of straightforward storytelling and unexpected flashes of brilliant commentary that cut to the marrow of human (mis)behavior. In this collection, both things are again present, but they become more significant because what’s being presented is a man struggling to deal with the world while trying to find truth and, when that is found, fighting to survive its crushing weight:
“I have internalized that everything is horrible, but I won’t resist it, trying to resist is where the pain comes from
the saddest thing is that I don’t think you have ever done anything ‘embarrassing’
Now when I think about you, it is different, I don’t feel bad emotions, I imagine seeing you again in some weird place, my face hardened a little by the desert sun, and you’re like I don’t know
everyone is really creepy, so fucking creepy
what if enlightenment is internalizing how lame everyone/everything is everyone is
inside everything, but everything is not everyone
What Cicero has done with Bipolar Cowboy is to offer the kind of poetry that’s so far removed from cheap gimmicks and academic pretentiousness that it achieves something most current poetry fails to achieve: significance. Between thoughts, questions, philosophical ponderings, examinations of past events, cultural critiques, and self-realizations, the author crafted a book that mirrors the incredible speed and ever-expanding multiplicity of human thought. This, more than a book of poems, is a trip inside Noah Cicero’s consciousness and an invitation to succumb to our voyeuristic tendencies and watch as he tries to dispatch his demons with the help of music, meditation, and some more earthly methods.
Bipolar Cowboy is about how Noah Cicero survived a battle with depression and learned a lot about himself in the process. It’s also about how society operates, the importance of spaces when it comes to dealing with our mental problems, and about the fact that, regardless of how much we write about it, love is ineffable. Lastly, it is a poetry collection that adds Cicero’s name to the too-short list of poets whose work everyone should be excited about because, besides being well written, they have the ability to make us feel something.
About the author:
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. His reviews have appeared in places like Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Verbicide, Entropy, Marginalia, Atticus Review, That Lit Site, Heavy Feather Review, and other print and online venues.