H. L. Hix, . . Truman State Univ., $14.95 (64pp) ISBN 978-1-931112-05-5

Tabloid violence, complicated theology and lines of great beauty come together in this instantly memorable and disturbing volume. The Texas-bred, Kansas City–based Hix (Rational Numbers) divides his third volume into three powerful parts. The first compiles short narrative "laments" (e.g., "Lament for the Blood," "Lament for the Feet"). Each versifies a story of horror (a six-year-old girl imprisoned in a "storage shed," "eighteen illegal aliens trapped in a Texas boxcar"), intertwining expertly crafted narrative with sharp reflections on the worth of life and the injustice to which it is often subjected. Hix follows up with series of sharp-edged lyrical poems about places in Russia and around the Baltic sea. Several adapt poems translated from Estonian; most use a form Hix seems to have invented, in which independent, balanced lines accrete to form the poem as a whole: "The drunken man's staggering makes the sober men lurch?/ Hold heaven in your hand, but leave it here." Section three (titled, ironically, "A Manual of Happiness") recounts the tribulations of a Job-like father whose 10 children pass away, one by one, from freak accidents or anomalous diseases: grim in the middle, it rises to fantastic and accomplished heights by the end, forcing us to see its extreme sorrows as our own. (Feb.)

Forecast: Hix's exceptional talents owe almost nothing to current poetic fashions, though they can bring to mind the late Robert Penn Warren. He has risen from complete obscurity to real reputation in just a few years; this strange, strong book ought to generate interest among reviewers, publishers and poets.