cover image Lines of Inquiry

Lines of Inquiry

H.L. Hix. Etruscan (Consortium, dist.), $17 trade paper (156p) ISBN 978-0-9832944-2-9

Philosophy and literary analysis, verse sequences, abstract speculation, and wisdom in prose reinforce one another in this uneven, perhaps overlong, but intellectually stimulating book of Hix’s thoughts about poetry and the other arts, his first collection of any kind since First Fire, Then Birds. “Creation of stories or poems/ is not confined to the moment of writing, but goes on/ continually,” Hix explains in quiet syllabics, one of a few long works devoted to the teaching of writing. These can drag, or feel too much like lectures; one is, and feels like, a lecture to M.F.A. students at the University of Wyoming, where Hix teaches. But the collection picks up energy when Hix gets polemical; embraced early on by so-called New Formalists, Hix devotes “Ninety-Five Theses” to an attack on their premises (“All poetry is formal. ‘Formal poetry’ resembles ‘musical song.’ ”). Forty-nine unrhymed sonnets, each one a response to a prior sonnet (by Shakespeare, Keats, Ivor Gurney, Laura Jensen, and others), explore theories of sonnet history, sonnet form; shorter takes on contemporary painting and drawing reflect Hix’s earlier career as a teacher of writing and humanities in art schools. Two interviews let Hix describe the overarching projects in his other books, e.g., “the modest task of rewriting the Bible.” Best of all are “Letters to Jan Zwicky,” the speculative, compressed, and abstract stanzas on religion, self-sacrifice, and aesthetics, to which Hix gives pride of place: “I may be alone in the world,” Hix concludes, “that others may/ live in another world than mine.” (Nov.)