Poetry You Need To Read: H.L. Hix's "Incident Light" and David Lehman's "Yeshiva Boys"
H.L. Hix, Incident Light (Etruscan Press)
When a friend of the poet’s learned, at age 49, that her dad was not her biological father, Hix used some of her comments and memories to craft this collection: a “biography that loosens reality’s hold, releases the life into lyric.”
The result is a sustained feat of emotional and intellectual representation, cast in poems that are frequently no longer than eight lines. Hix writes in his friend’s voice, and the delicate skipping from image to image creates a complete thought or picture in poem after poem. Each poem’s title is a question about or comment on the woman’s life, as in “I see now where your features come from”:
Dad loved cars, would have studied engineering,
but they could send only one son to school, so
he stayed, worked in the family bakery.
That’s why they look so happy to meet me here: his
fedora tilted toward the black sedan,
the buttons on their coats echoing headlights
and hubcaps, arm in arm, her calves and ankles
bare, her weight on one foot, the other tiptoe.
Incident Light is of a piece with Hix’s earlier, exceptionally alert and vivid poetry.
David Lehman, Yeshiva Boys (Scribner)
Lehman, at once one of our most playful and thoughtful of poets, demonstrates an unprecedented range here. The book’s title derives from a sequence of 12 poems about growing up a religious Jew constantly trying to square his spiritual training with the absurdity, the sensuality, and the evil in the world.
Elsewhere here, Lehman uses many conveyances — including the prose poem, the sestina, and curt rhymes (“When I got out of the shower/the money was missing from my wallet./I bent down and picked up a spent bullet/with no memory of the previous hour”) — to travel across the writing life of a poet whose instinctive romanticism is always bracing and tough-minded, brimming with a rare generosity that never seems drippy or forced:
You’re in love and you’ll do anything
You’ll lie beg threaten to join the army
join the army get shot come home
wounded and embittered you’ll do it
For a taste of her jam you’ll agree to it
Agreed but wisdom isn’t survival
well maybe it includes survival but
it isn’t only survival it has to exalt
something else such as love
the love that led you
to abandon all wisdom