February 29, 2012KR OnlineNonfiction

One Hundred Definitions of Poetry, Each Unsound

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A mistaking of events for conditions.

The Constitution that constitutes what precedes any constitution.

Willing suspension of disbelief and of any other participant in sound judgment.

Civis, dreaming itself animus.

Pretense of one-to-one ratio between anecdote and epiphany.

Household gods fed through diaspora while one’s children go hungry.

Scheming on the loading dock about the scheming at the conference table.

The difference between what arrived and whatever what was already there when what arrived arrived was waiting for.

Labor’s idle chatter, interrupting idleness’s labors.

A work by the great master, on loan to a small-town museum.

Not emotion but clarity, not recollected but pursued, not in tranquility but in dis-ease.

The home reason set out from, and will be beggared back to.

This darkness, not any.

Prophetic then, nostalgic now.

In place of Socratic arguments for the immortality of the soul, demonstrations of its postmortality, its amortality.

Insistence on the reality of unreality.

Insistence that voice precedes speaker.

Paradoxes not as intellectual puzzles whose solution, by giving us the world accurately, teaches us to live wisely and well, without self-deception, but instead as existential problems whose insolubility occasions despair.

Vision loaned to vision made.

A map of sonic relationships laid over a map of conceptual relationships. The spaces defined by their non-coincidence.

Mosaic vista onto the simultaneously promised and forbidden land.

Reason, weeping. Courage, hiding. Despair, plowing.

Words kept always separable (but never separate) from memories.

Mediated alertness to immediacy.

A qualified testament to the Unqualified.

The moment wary becomes weary.

Given: x is y. Understood: what a life might be like if x were seen as y.

The Romeo-and-Juliet mutual longing of words and sensations, desperate and suicidal less because their situation is futile (though it is) than because they themselves are immature and foolish.

The rickety wooden chair on its side in the back of the attic when you moved in, and when you move out.


Language’s elegy, appropriated as mine.

Capitulation of categorical to hypothetical.

Works cited.

The formulation of an ideal without its imposition as an imperative.

The record of sight in spite of Surveillance (that our seeing is always overseen), or as if there were none.

An emotional condition that measures its distance from the scene, the event.

Any bridge from mythic to personal.

In the space between wanting and saying, the limits each places on the other.

How forms of alienation pile on top of one another.

Wavelengths of light we cannot see, influencing what we can.

The start of a sentence, but not the end; the subject without the predicate.

The making plausible of what can’t be rationalized, or the rationalizing of what can’t be made plausible.

Consciousness melted, leaving (like lost wax) to this rational animal the shape but not the substance of rationality.

Seeking absence and invisibility, as if one were not possessed of them already.

Everything painted wrong, but painted to acknowledge the wrongness. Mimesis, but of Socratic wisdom, rather than of objects in the world.

A finality from which we yet may find release.

One finality, as preparation for the impossible next.

The respect singularity and finality pay to triviality and fungibility.

An ecstasy of absence (characters with no name, no face, no arms). Not the absence, but the ecstasy.

Written on, and writing.

Written over, in all the ways one might mean that.

The wish that the center could hold, absent any belief that it might.

The collective sufficiency unto us of items individually sufficient unto themselves.

Compensation for inability to comprehend the causes of moral dis-ease.

Not the absence of external markers, but a compensatory reliance on internal markers.

Spoken as if it weren’t all compensatory, but with the recognition that it is.

Leaning on a mop, looking out a window at the weather.

The difference between what I am called and what I am named.

Preference for renaming over rebirth.

Preference, in the absence of choice.

Staring into the sun anyway.

Reverence as the vice, irreverence as the virtue.

The moment after learning one’s place but before taking it.

Not Keatsian indolence, exactly, but a lingering in preference to always moving on to the next thing. Pilgrim’s pauses.

The answer to “Why this list?”

Not the operation of the metaphysical but the fact of it.

What happens to the enchanted world of a fable after one or two things or characters from “our” world slip into it.

To take notes as one takes a punch.

The absurd fact that the facts are more absurd than absurdity itself.

Quick, into the cellar! But we have no cellar.

Embrace me, my love!, pled not to the mirror but to empty air.

Final, not provisional, separation of intention from action.

As if what began in ambiguity could end in clarity. Because ambiguity is clarity.

Justified false belief.

Progression, where progress is inconceivable.

Restoration of ideals to the problems their adoption purports to overcome.


Composition and performance in rendezvous.

The point at which the advancing image and the retreating image are equally in focus.

The greeting the arriving image and the departing image exchange.

Sonic madness.

The tittering of a plastic straw struck by bicycle spokes.

The second conversation, without the first.

Preludes from which nothing follows.

What cries for justice. What justice cries for.

The wounds inflicted one on the other by a creature with a skeleton and a creature without, mating.

A circle as inscribed by a mule tethered to a stake.

Chickens pecking in the dust around the House of Cultural Prestige.

Bustle in the City of Loneliness.

A taxonomy of loves—since none can live up to the ideal—according to what element of the ideal is missing.

Love contrasted to itself.

Pointing at what cannot be named, naming what cannot be pointed at.

Of collage, the lexicon of selected ideas, the grammar of assembly.

A stay against confusion but also a stay against forgetting. And a continuing reassignment to memory of its significance.

Complexity aligning itself with transparency rather than with opacity.

Spoken on behalf of a reclusive ultimacy. Spoken about a reclusive ultimacy.

Because we have not achieved reason. Until we do.

Tribal lord, in the treacherous terrain between fact and truth.

What begins in wonder and lingers there.

Better Cassandra than Achilles.

H. L. Hix’s most recent books are a “selected poems,” First Fire, Then Birds: Obsessionals 1985-2010 (Etruscan Press, 2010); a translation, made with the author, of Eugenijus Ališanka’s from unwritten histories (Host Publications, 2011); and an essay collection, Lines of Inquiry (Etruscan Press, 2011). His website is www.hlhix.com.