Tag Archives: Richard Hugo

Taking Heart

I’ve taken heart recently, creatively speaking, from three books: Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,  Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Forever, and Keith Richards’ autobiography Life.

From Greenblatt’s very readable and fascinating biography of Shakespeare, just how much Shakespeare stole plots/basic ideas from other existing plays or stories. (I knew he had done so sometimes, but didn’t realize quite how much.) Creative lesson: you don’t, necessarily, have to reinvent the wheel. Continue reading

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James Dickey

I usually start talking about James Dickey‘s poems by saying, “The one where…” The ideas behind the poem, the context and ‘what happens’ — the vision, in other words — is what sticks with me so much more than individual lines.

The one where the stewardess is falling to earth (“Falling“); the one where he puts on the taxidermied head of a boar and becomes the boar as it’s being hunted, years ago, by his now-dead father (“Approaching Prayer”); the one where the hobo is nailed to a train car by his hands and feet (“To a Folk-Singer of the Thirties“); the one where the speaker is in the pantry thinking about dropping bombs on his suburban neighborhood from the plane he flew during the war (“The Firebombing“); the one about animals being predators in Heaven (“The Heaven of Animals“); the one about the half-sheep, fathered by a farm boy, who dies right after birth (“The Sheep Child“); the one where the soldier drinks water from a dead soldier’s helmet and sees his memories (“Drinking From a Helmet”); the one with the surreal colors in the grass and the horses, (“The Dusk of Horses“); the one about the shark trashing the house (“The Shark’s Parlor“).

Intensity and life are the two themes I’d call out if I was asked to call out two themes in his poems. Or maybe it should be intensity and life-and-death. Continue reading

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Triggering Books

My favorite ‘about writing’ book, which I re-read every 1-2 years, is Richard Hugo‘s Triggering Town. I think it’s possible that the world can be divided into writers whose favorite is Triggering Town, and writers who favor Anne Lamott‘s books (which I’ve picked up a couple times but never gotten far with, for whatever reason).

I often turn to Triggering Town when I’ve finished (well, ‘finished’ — I write at a fairly Bishopian pace, which is to say it takes years, most of the time, to really finish a poem) or at least paused on all the poems I had going. Hugo is so honest about the silliness of writing at all, and the realities of a writing life, abjectly honest, but reassuring too in his insistence on the essentialness of it. I shouldn’t have ever started marking passages I liked — almost the whole book’s underlined now.

Hugo says broad things like, “You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything” and “You have to be silly to write poems at all” and also gives nuts-and-bolts tidbits, for instance,

A student may love the sound of Yeats’s “Stumbling upon the blood dark track once more” and not know that the single-syllable word with a hard consonant ending is a unit of power in English, and that’s one reason “blood dark track” goes off like rifle shots.

The only part of the book that seems dated now (it was published in 1979) Continue reading

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Quoting

Writers love to quote other writers about writing, particularly about the whys and hows of it — it’s kind of a thing. Joy Williams, at a symposium at Connecticut College with Tobias Wolff and Galway Kinnell years ago, even had a whole Rolodex with her, an actual Rolodex she brought with her to the podium so she could correctly quote other people when answering questions after the reading.

I’m no different of course. Some favorites:

I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.

A.E. Housman

It’s silly to suggest the writing of poetry as something ethereal, a sort of soul-crashing emotional experience that wrings you. I have no fancy ideas about poetry. It doesn’t come to you on the wings of a dove. It’s something you work hard at.

Louise Bogan

A poem is about something the way a cat is about a house.

Allen Grossman (I’ve seen it as “art is about” too.) Continue reading

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Reading the NW

Recently finished Brian Doyle‘s lovely fiction debut Mink River, magical realism of the sort you might expect from a book that crosses Irish and coastal Native American stories and styles. It’s rich, delightful, and satisfying and I kept thinking as I read it that if it didn’t turn out to remain so all the way through the end I should be horribly disappointed.

I wasn’t. Every time I thought the storylines might get too plot-less, or the interweaving (sentence to sentence, in some sections) might unravel, or the lush repetition might overwhelm, what needed to happen happened, in some unexpected and wonderfully blooming way.

Mink River is set in a town on the Oregon coast, not, as Doyle explains at the beginning, “an especially stunning town, stunningtownwise” — there are

no houses crying out to be on the cover of a magazine that no one actually reads anyway and the magazine ends up in the bathroom and then is cut to ribbons for a fourth-grade collage project that uses a jar of rubber cement that was in the drawer by the back stairs by the old shoebox and the jar of rubber cement is so old that you secretly wonder if it fermented or a mouse died in it or what.

One way to put it is that the rest of the book tells you what the town is.

Continue reading

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