An Interview with H. L. Hix
“I feel completely flooded,” says Etruscan author H. L. Hix, “I can’t write fast enough to keep up with the stuff that wants to come out.”
Hix is no stranger to writing. With Etruscan Press alone, he’s released 12 books of both poetry and essays. His most recent release, a collection of poetry titled American Anger, was released in February. When it comes to the things that inspire him to write, Hix explains that there are so many things that he can’t work fast enough. “I have so much that wants to come out, and I just don’t have time to do it all. There’s always a list of projects backed up ready to go if something stalls out.” He believes that this constant desire to write has, at least in some part, to do with his personality traits.
Writing for Hix often starts with a text of some sort. “Text invokes some other language or asks to be manipulated, but very often it’s some piece of sound or fragment of text that imposes itself on me in some way. Then the process becomes a kind of listening, trying to attend to the language.” After being captured by something inspiring, he generates writing that very often doesn’t make the cut. “I run through a lot of drafts…and experiment with things and try to make up silly little rules of language and generate text,” he explains. “Most of it is not interesting and gets thrown away, but something that comes up will spark an idea or generate more language or associate itself with other language.”
The works that were generated into what composes American Anger has certainly struck a chord with audiences. For Hix, while the writing process itself is for the words and words alone, audiences are something to consider both before getting to writing and after finishing the writing process. “For example, with American Anger, I imagined a very broad audience; broader than the usual poetry audience. And I’m conscious of audience afterwards because I have an obligation to the work to try to help it find its audience.” Considering the broader, atypical poetry audience has certainly paid off for Hix. The collection has garnered reviews from outlets such as Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and NPR.
American Anger pushes its audience to interact with it in more ways than one. Within the manuscript, Hix added design quirks that push readers to engage further with the text. On the pages between chapters, the pages are left intentionally blank. There is also the addition of a manuscript within the collection, added as a ribbon of text in a boustrophedon font. The bi-directional text both intrigues and infuriates readers as it imposes itself upon them, forcing them to take notice of watermark-type addition to the poetry.
H. L. Hix once described himself as coming from a “square state” and he believes that his point of view within that state affected the outcome of American Anger. “There’s such a strong sense of the tensions that get dramatized in American Anger as related to the whole country. They’re very visible in Wyoming,” he points out. “They’re these dramatic tensions between the ways that we talk about peace but we enact war, and so on. We talk about personal liberties, but we are willing to take away other people’s liberties to preserve our own. Those kinds of dramas that inform American Anger are very visible in Wyoming in particular.” Hix also believes that his own political understanding has helped shape the perceptions through which he writes. “I think of the difference between my own personal political understanding and the political understanding that is most widely held in the state that I live in: I’m a blue person in a red state, a member of a small minority in terms of political sensibility. That creates a certain kind of awareness, so being here in Wyoming and feeling like an oddball in that way definitely makes me attuned to certain things that I might not have noticed or paid attention to in the way that I feel obliged to now.”
The subsequent collection of poetry that resulted from those tensions and Hix’s awareness of them is an attempt to compile evidence. American Anger’s subtitle, An Evidentiary, is a play on the word documentary as Hix divulges. “American Anger claims that we say one thing and do another. We as a nation profess one thing and act in a different way. To recognize that in ourselves…one thing that’s needed is evidence of it. I did want the book to be evidence-based and to be, a compilation of evidence,” he says. Hix compiled this evidence using things he came across in his day-to-day life, and also a number of academic sources. He relied mostly on the latter while writing American Anger. “I try to base really all the work in it on some kind of research, trying to draw on sociological research and historical forms of evidence and scholarship in various disciplines that bore on the question of American history and of the concept of anger, ways that that concept is used and understood.” For Hix, declaring the book an evidentiary was an important addition so that readers, from the beginning pages of the book, knew its exact purpose.
Even with the numerous texts that Hix consumed during the writing process, there were still instances that couldn’t be ignored. He recalls a pickup truck in a grocery store parking lot that served as some small inspiration for him: “One of the very first events that provoked this book was actually a pickup truck that I saw in the parking lot at the local grocery store. It was covered with very militant bumper stickers and that was a provoking perceptual experience and also a provoking textual experience, because it was itself a putting into words of American anger.” Even in other spaces, Hix points out, there’s anger felt between people. “As soon as I began looking at this topic, really looking at it, it became clear how prevalent this kind of verbiage is in American discourse of all sorts,” he points out, “from bumper stickers to personal conversations to TV, media and websites and so on. This is how we talk to one another and talk of one another, and I wanted to try to capture that.”
The anger Hix parses through is something that many readers can identify with. American Anger comes at a pivotal moment for the country. With a growing amount of discontent among Americans regarding the government, and the American lifestyle itself, Hix’s research and engagement with the idea of nation-specific anger has really found its place.
Emily Leonick served as an editorial associate at Etruscan Press during the Spring 2016 semester. She has completed her B.A. in English at Wilkes University.