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Book Review: Bipolar Cowboy by Noah Cicero

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Book Review: Bipolar Cowboy by Noah Cicero


Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Bipolar Cowboy by Noah Cicero. (Girl Noise Press)

At the beginning of Bipolar Cowboy, Noah Cicero tells us that we’re not going to learn anything about life from this book. That it’s not that kind of grand statement about the larger world. Instead, it’s a quiet moment in one person’s life. His life, to be exact. We’re meant to take his hand and follow him on a journey à la A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life.

These are poems about him and his own struggles, but—because of course there’s a but—I do think he’s pulling the curtain back, maybe not on the whole world, but on people who struggle with things like anxiety and depression. It’s an inside look at the way someone’s mind can twist and turn their daily reality, especially during times of personal crises.

Note 1:
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 not here.

Only the personals.

These aren’t love-love poems. Not the kind that make us swoon over what two beautiful people can be. Instead, these are poems within the fallout of a deep and passionate love. These poems are about what comes after. They’re full of confusion and angst and anger and longing and sadness. Even then, we can feel the white-hot love simmering beneath the surface. The love that had been. The love that resides here is at conflict with the reality of an ended relationship. And as those two emotions collide, we see the deep processing Noah Cicero must do.

An excerpt from the “NOTE” in the middle of the book:

Noah Cicero is suffering from mental illness. He recently had a nervous breakdown. He reads into everything, he overthinks everything, he comes up with ten truths. Strangely one of the ten truths he comes up with is actually true. But sadly, life never lets us know what the absolute truth ever is.

It’s worth saying here too—now that I’m seeing the way I’m portraying Bipolar Cowboy as a heavy book that deals with the dark side of life and mental illness—it’s pretty damn breezy. I think this speaks to the absolute skill that Cicero embodies because the book flows and unfolds so nicely that I never felt bogged down by the weight of his world. I think it’s because he takes a step back from his own experiences and can objectively reflect on them through his writing. Rather than us hearing these stories from the corner of a dark bar while he’s seven whiskeys in, we’re being told about them at a brightly lit coffee shop.

Cicero’s retelling us his bad experiences with an air of humor and a more finely tuned sense of understanding. These poems are set in the thick of it, but it seems like he’s already done the heavy lifting when it comes to processing the events. Even at the beginning of the book in the “Note 2” section, he says, “By the time this book comes out, / the Noah Cicero that wrote this book, / won’t exist.”

Conversely, these poems aren’t trite and don’t try to undersell the struggle, but the level of access to them is relatively low. I read and connected to them because Cicero has such a steady hand and matter-of-fact approach to writing. Because of this, I think anyone can pick it up off the shelf and get something from it.

Bipolar Cowboy is a stellar work. From the opening page to the end, I was hooked and immediately told my wife she needed to read it. 

Bipolar Cowboy is a stellar work. From the opening page to the end, I was hooked and immediately told my wife she needed to read it. I think this is one I’ll be pushing on a lot of people because it does such a wonderful job of breaking down stigmas and telling a better truth about people dealing with certain mental struggles.

On top of that, it’s so well-written that it’s not one of those books you can appreciate only after you’ve finished it, but one you’re going to enjoy throughout the reading of it. Every page and every poem has a little magic woven into it and I hope everybody can experience the wonderment too.

Buy now from Indiebound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.


Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim, a memoir published by University of Hell Press.


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Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.