"If McHugh is serious, she's anything but grim; with all her punning, bantering, and mock scolding of herself . . . she brightens the shadowy corners of her world with verbal pyrotechnics."—The New York Times Book Review
"Her poems are open, resilient, invisibly twisted: part safety net, part trampoline."—Voice Literary Supplement
This fast-paced, verbally dexterous book—honored as a "Book of the Year" by Publishers Weekly—"boils up and boils over" as it utilizes medical terminology and iconography to work through loss and detachment. Heather McHugh's startling rhymes and rhythms, coupled with her sarcastic self-reflection and infectious laughter, serve as both palliative and prophylactic in the face of human sufferings and ignorance. Being "upgraded to serious" from critical condition is a nod to the healing powers of poetry.
"Not to Be Dwelled On"
Self-interest cropped up even there,
the day I hoisted three instead
of the ceremonially called-for two
spadefuls of loam
onto the coffin of my friend.
Why shovel more than anybody else?
What did I think I'd prove? More love
(mud in her eye)? More will to work?
(her father what, a shirker?) Christ,
what wouldn't anybody give
to get that gesture back?
She cannot die again; and I
do nothing but re-live.
Heather McHugh is the author of a dozen books of poetry and translation. She teaches at the University of Washington and Warren Wilson College and lives in Seattle, Washington.
McHugh's eighth book finds this acclaimed poet as odd and entertaining as ever, with her trademark slippery associative lines and jagged stanzas ("The mystery of speaking every day/ So plainly from a face she cannot see/ Unsettles her..."), but also subtly sobered by growing older while living through the grim political climate of the last eight years. McHugh's short, jerky lines, odd rhymes, bemused gravity and slant perspective on the world at hand bring Emily Dickinson to mind. "The man of the moment would kill/ to be man of the hour," she says in "Unto High Heaven," a poem that seems to recall the Bush presidency and the rise of the Internet, which she touches on elsewhere in a poem that demands we "Webcam the World": "Get all of it. Set up the shots/ at every angle; run them online/ 24-7." Other poems try to make sense of life's little mysteries: "Through petri dishes' rings/ life is transmogrified. When we/ look into things, we see// there's space inside," reads the entirety of "The Microscope." McHugh remains one of our most important and unusual poets in a world where YouTube makes every experience fodder for entertainment and a person "cannot die again; and I/ do nothing but re-live."