Friday, July 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 37 (Richard Hugo)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hugo, Richard
Selected Poems

I may have purchased this at St. Mark's Books.

Richard Hugo is another poet, like Ted Hughes, I don't much admire. There something, I don't know, stiff, I guess, about his poems. The rhythm is too predictable.

When I was a lad and trying to figure out how to write, someone gave me a copy of Hugo's book, The Triggering Town, in which I found some very useful advice about writing poetry and the creative process. Two pieces of advice stand out and are still useful.

The first is the concept in the title, The Triggering Town. Much of the book is spent talking about how a poem always begins with a "trigger," i.e. a theme or a title or whatever, but that the process of writing poetry is one of discovery; therefore, it is important to bear in mind that if a poem ends where it began, that is, if you sit down to write a poem called, "Autumn Leaves," and end up writing a poem "about" autumn leaves, then it is unlikely to be a very good poem. So, I guess the advice was to start anywhere and to let the trigger lead you to the "real" poem, the one you didn't know you intended to write.

The second, even more useful, piece of advice was something like: if you find in the writing of a poem that you are presented with a choice between making music or making sense, always choose the former.

Anyhow, I later bought a book of his poetry and discovered I didn't like it at all, and then I gave away the book I did like and kept the one I don't.

O, irony.

from Selected Poems


Quick and yet he moves like silt.
I envy dreams that see his curving
silver in the weeds. When stiff as snags
he blends with certain stones.
When evening pulls the ceiling tight
across his back he leaps for bugs.

I wedged hard water to validate his skin--
call it chrome, say red is on
his side like apples in fog, gold
gills. Swirls always looked one way
until he carved the water into many
kinds of current with his nerve-edged nose.

And I have stared at steelhead teeth
to know him, savage in his sea-run growth,
to drug his facts, catalog his fins
with wings and arms, to bleach the black
back of the first I saw and frame the cries
that sent him snaking to oblivions of cress.

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