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

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Comments (4 total) Add your comment
  • couchgrouch

    dude, there are Donovan lyrics more interesting than that stuff.

  • Richard L. Provencher

    Very enjoyable poems by Lehman. They have a pace of their own, through the newspapers of life.

  • Yeah Right

    Are these really the best lines from these books to quote? If so, I’m not clear why this review is positive. The quotes lead me to conclude that these books wouldn’t be worth my time.

    That said, I’m glad you’re covering poetry in Entertainment Weekly.

  • katy

    Lehman’s poems are always full of humor and surprise. Thanks to EW for covering contemporary poetry!

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