Bored In Arcane Cursive
Under Lodgepole Bark
by H. L. Hix
A Video Review Film by Tayo Basquiat
Hearing What I Did Hear, Set Me Listening for What I Didn’t
A review of H.L Hix' Bored in Arcane Cursive Under Lodgepole Bark
by David Anthony Martin
These poems feel haunted . . . by the beauty of mortality—the mortality of individuals, and mortality of larger living relational systems, the mortality or temporality of all form—amidst the simultaneous eternality of life. A collection not made to be read in one sitting . . . these poems are too complex to be considered dishes, these are meals, to be devoured, tasted, experienced, passed through, digested and absorbed. What the poet gives us is “not a promise of wisdom, insight, understanding. / More like a disposition, a mood, a cloud shadow” the poet is the observer “scumbling an overgrowth-scolded escarpment, first responder” The poems speak “only as I do: in fragments, of a continuum’ to the effect of being treated to an experience of things, errata, data, and information, but which show and share and don’t tell or dictate, a translation.
In Hix’s juxtaposition of the immediate with the natural, with the historic, with the aeonic — we are led to see “events. Not individual populations.” Hix’s record of keen observation accordingly shuns the anthropocentric paradigm, and instead find it summed in “interdependencies, substitutions, successions.” Representative of all organizational levels and forms of life, we have the revelation and lament that this “verso to that recto: inextricable intertwining // entails that extinction of a single vertebrate species / snuffs, too, countless species of associated microbes.”
A true work of deep ecology, Bored in Arcane Cursive Under Lodgepole Bark can astutely be encapsulated by these lines: “The experience escaped me, but I offer this report. / The truth escaped, but left a trail of evidence.” The reader is reminded, encouraged, inspired along with Hix to honor what we once had and held, but which we “hold no longer, and will hold never again,” and to remember, or allow ourselves to be reminded, with gratitude and reverence, that we still live in a time where “Goldfinches spill from one maple to pool in a next,” and “Borers practice arcane cursive under lodgepole bark.”
As the title suggests, we find the mysteries of what is communicated here in these poem-forms are all connected, created by, and embodying a flowing. Similarly, Hix employs his craft in a manner that lends intuitions and inklings—a sensing—a threading throughout felt in the sum of the lines, as much as related by words. Hix work is a guide, a cognitive map—a supplement to materialism. Less than translation, and without interpretation of these glyphs, the poet instead endeavors to “attempt to mimic their glimmerings.” Much of the great mystery remains occulted, and the poet and reader at times realize that we have taken up “residence in darkness”, but it is here we also have apocalypse—that sense of revelation or disclosure, and epiphany—and so there is also the somber tone of elegy here. We see that “What grows here now gives evidence, just not direct evidence, // of what grew here before.”
There is a before and an after one experiences in reading this collection, one which may take adjustment for some, but one entirely apropos of our tumultuous times, “It’s no small cognitive achievement to anticipate / a dominance reversal between others and negotiate / the instability that precedes and follows the encounter,” but it is exactly the territory—or the mindset—humanity must plunge into to not only navigate, but repair, amend, remediate, rewild and protect for future generations of life if we are to survive, as the interdependent species we are, with a suitable habitat intact.
BORED IN ARCANE CURSIVE BENEATH LODGEPOLE BARK
H. L. Hix demonstrates a Thoreauvian burrowing of the mind—a burrowing of fifty poems—into fifty “seed sentences” from fifty “soil texts” from natural history. The poems burrow, too, into common yet rarified encounters with “the carcass of an elk,” or the sun which “contains all direction,” or the “breathing of Breathing” of a “fresh-brushed red-brown ribcage-rounded coat” of a horse. We readers are invited to burrow along with Hix, not unlike “generations of a beetle species” who can “migrate /deeper into a cave than any individual / could travel to get out.” The exploration yields glimpses of the mystic part and the elusive, mythic whole as well as a profound and sobering reflection of the human experience upon planet Earth.
—Aaron M. Moe, author of exhalations
This brilliant, dense collection of H.L. Hix is one of longing and searching for meanings and ontological answers. The speaker in the poems yearns to be the “visitor,” the observer of the unobserved and of the “secrets” that are “not written to be read” in a world of juxtapositions and similarities of patterns and instability, a world of interconnectedness, classifications, predictions, and affinities. It’s nevertheless a world replete with loneliness and loss, brokenness in body and spirit, with questions and memories not fully answered or understood, answers not finite in their “continuity of forces” that continue to create more layers of unknowing and mystery, spiritual substance and callings, “glyphs” and “glimmerings,” a movement towards both life and death with no “after” from the “before” that’s with “no deepest.” Lines blur between understandings and form and “miscible bodies.” Touch and surfaces are not enough to know something, as all things “articulate” in their own ways, their own language (from Hustak and Myers quote). Still,
the speaker asks:
My profligate blossom, make me your besotted bee.
This book, a type of found poetry, with its reference quotations, nursery rhyme and poetry allusions, connects with, yet deconstructs, the self and the world of natural history as sources of knowing—from the realms of science, mental associations, physical order, the naming and
defining of things. The speaker still does “mean to sing” through all the repeating intangibles. In the end, it’s the tanagers who beautifully tell and remind of the speaker’s “coming unstructured.”
—Lynne Goldsmith, author of By Light and Hidden Matter
H.L. Hix was born in Oklahoma and raised in the south. He earned his BA from Belmont College and PhD in philosophy from the University of Texas. His collections of poetry include Perfect Hell (1996), Rational Numbers (2000), Surely as Birds Fly (2002), Shadows of Houses (2005), Chromatic (2006), God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse (2007), Legible Heavens (2009), Incident Light (2009), First Fire, Then Birds: Obsessionals 1985-2010 (2010), and As Much As, If Not More (2014). His prose works include Spirits Hovering Over the Ashes: Legacies of Postmodern Theory (1995), As Easy As Lying: Essays on Poetry (2002), and Lines of Inquiry (2011). He has co-translated the work of Estonian poets such as Eugenijus Alisanka, Juri Talvet, and Juhan Liiv. His editing projects include the anthologies Wild & Whirling Words: A Poetic Conversation (2004), New Voices: Contemporary Poetry from the United States (2008) and Made Priceless: A Few Things Money Can’t Buy (2012).
Hix’s honors and awards include the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Grolier Prize, and the Peregrine Smith Award. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Arts Commission, and the Missouri Arts Council. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Texas-Austin and Shanghai University. He currently teaches at the University of Wyoming.