Winner of the 2000 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry
In his second book of poetry, H. L. Hix uses two contrasting poetic sequences. “Orders of Magnitude” defies rationality in favor of invention in the musical sense: producing a short composition that works out a single idea. As in music, the whole composition achieves its irrational effect through rational formal structure, with 100 poems, each ten lines long, with ten syllables per line. In the second sequence, “Figures,” the speakers follow their pure rationality, though it leads them—inevitably—into the dark heart of the irrational. The result is a ledger of love and loss, a balancing of grief’s books. Every reader will recognize the accounting in Rational Numbers.
I had expected to select a good book, but never one so deeply conceived and utterly achieved.
— Dana Gioia, 2000 T. S. Eliot Prize judge
The sharpness of the language, the wit and feeling, the elegance of the metric are all a gift.
W. S. Merwin
Orders of Magnitude
Hix credibly renders some of the emotional costs of looking for enduring truths within conventional life and identity.
This poetry has the special beauty and realism of life itself. It’s not light or predictable, or easily quantifiable. It is whimsical and deeply penetrating, and worth the effort it takes to read it. It’s written with a special voice, the halting speech of doomed love; for a lover; for the world.
While not blatantly experimental, Hix’s poems are relentlessly allusive in a manner that recalls Eliot’s own commitment to the intertextual. Eliot was forced to tag explanatory notes to “The Wasteland” to meet length requirements; Hix puts his notes up front where they serve as a puzzle for readers of the nearly book-length cycle, “Orders of Magnitude.” ...With a little help from his cholarly archive, Hix turns out keen metrics at once playful and soulful, suggesting that there may still be room for a philosophical modernist come lately.