Heather McHugh: Poet
Poet Heather McHugh
"If you're a poet smitten with English, you love it for its drive and not its drone. The rhythms of a language must be irresistible—while the humdrums of it have to be resisted. No linguistic habit is, per se, of interest—but ah! when the unsung (underlying) nun informs it—with a sensual twist or quick shape-shift! Well, that's the trick: the sudden unexpectedness inside the overknown." ~ H. McHugh, 1999
In McHugh's poetry you'll find a lot of wordplay -- puns, rhymes, syntactical twists -- revealing the complexity of the meaning of words. Her poems are engaging, intellectually challenging and often very funny. I hope you enjoy getting to know her work.
Her lines are packed and bright
and good, and they like space.
They have a way of meaning
more than you think,
of going deeper than you can see.
~ C Frizzelle ~
Introducing Heather McHugh
Heather McHugh was born on August 20, 1948, to Canadian parents living in San Diego, California. She was raised in Gloucester Point, Virginia. where her father worked as a marine biologist, directing the marine biological laboratory on the York River (at right). At age seventeen, McHugh entered Harvard University
McHugh received a B.A. (1970) from Harvard University and an M.A. (1972) from the University of Denver.
In 1977 McHugh's first collection of poems, Dangers: Poems, was published (Houghton Mifflin)
She has also authored a collection of literary essays, several books of translation, and edited two anthologies
Over the last 20 plus years, Heather McHugh served as a visiting faculty member in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She has been Milliman Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington in Seattle since 1984.
In 2009, Heather McHugh received the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" for her work.
McHuge's long-standing fear: "I'll come up with the perfect last words and I'll say them and I won't die. And then I'll have to take a piss and I'll ask for the bedpan and then I'll die."
McHugh artfully entwines the prosaic with the empyrean, twisting mundane images into verbal feasts, letting language flow through her hands rather than shaping it to her will. Often she makes wry, witty observations as though she were a kind of contemporary Greek chorus chiming in from the stage's dark recesses. This collection allows one to appreciate the development of her poetry over 25 years and to witness the increasing strength and maturity of her voice. (Elizabeth Gunderson)
Poem: A Physics
by Heather McHugh
When you get down to it, Earth
has our own great ranges
of feeling -- Rocky, Smoky, Blue --
and a heart that can melt stones.
The still pools fill with sky,
as if aloof, and we have eyes
for all of this -- and more, for Earth's
reminding moon. We too are ruled
by such attractions -- spun and swaddled,
rocked and lent a light. We run
our clocks on wheels, our trains
on time. But all the while we want
to love each other endlessly -- not only for
a hundred years, not only six feet up and down.
We want the suns and moons of silver
in ourselves, not only counted coins in a cup. The whole
idea of love was not to fall. And neither was
the whole idea of God. We put him well
above ourselves, because we meant,
in time, to measure up.
McHugh's Poetry Books
In Order of Publication
Dangers: Poems, was published (Houghton Mifflin, 1977)
A World of Difference (Houghton Mifflin, 1981)
To the Quick (1987)
Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 (1994), a finalist for the National Book Award; named "Notable Book of the Year" by the New York Times Book Review
The Father of Predicaments (2001)
Eyeshot (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize
Upgraded to Serious (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
"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." (The Village Voice Literary Supplement)
I don't want to be known.
To me, being known
is the loss of liberty.
~ Heather McHugh ~
by Heather McHugh
In the field is a house
of wood. A window of the house
contains the field.
You can't see far
with a sun in the sky,
with a living-room lamp
at night. Locality is all
you light, and you, as single
as a bed. But there's
no end to dark. The bed is in the clearing
and the clearing's in the wind; the world
is a world among others. Now your cell-stars split.
"Beyond McHugh's quick wit and the ironic cast of these poems, is something new, a passionate voice that does not fear the dark, impenetrable places of the heart" (AI)
Honors Include . . .
Two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts
A Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Award,
A Guggenheim Foundation fellowship
In 2006, received one of the first United States Artists awards
From 1999 to 2006, served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets,
In 2000 was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2009, the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant"
Poem: Space Bar
by Heather McHugh
Lined up behind the space bartender
is the meaning of it all, the vessels
marked with letters, numbers,
signs. Beyond the flats
the monitor looms, for all the world
like the world. Images and
motions, weeping women,
men in hats. I have killed
many happy hours here,
with my bare hands,
where TV passes for IV, among
the space cadets and dingbats.
"The father of the/ predicaments, wrote Aristotle's translator, is being." McHugh is a modernist and an extremely cerebral poet . . . readers interested in language poetry will find poems of interest here. (library journal, doris lynch)
- Heather McHugh Literature Genius 2007 by Christopher Frizzelle
Many of McHugh's poems are like this-dense, startling stories that could be published as paragraphs, as prose, although she doesn't take to the suggestion. "I like lines," she told me, and then paused and said, "She snorted." (from article)
- 2009 MacArthur Fellows, Heather McHugh
Heather McHugh is a poet whose intricately patterned compositions explore various aspects of the human condition and inspire wonder in the unexpected associations that language can evoke . . .
- Heather McHugh Biography/Poems
"My whole work is to catch the word by surprise, sneaking up on language, sneaking up on the world as it lurks in words," McHugh said. "I love the recesses of reason. That's a great place to set my mind at rest."
- Heather McHugh, Poetic Genius, The New Yorker
"How do I feel about the word "genius"? Bottled.
- "Bestov, schmestov," but these poems are pretty darned good, by Richard Wakefield, Seattle Times
One of the pleasures of the Best American Poetry series is its fantastic inconsistency. The volumes are as variable as the guest editors themselves, eccentric souls who sift a few dozen keepers from a year's landslide of possibilities . . . This year
- Heather McHugh, at Poetry Archive
Biographical information and recordings of 5 McHugh poems. (Need RealPlayer)
- Interview with Heather McHugh by Matthea Harvey
. . . When I'm writing I'm hoping to open senses up, not nail them down. I'm tracking a pattern, to see just how and where it escapes -- like trying to look directly at where your shoulder turns into your neck: you can't turn your head so far into yo
- Hackers Can Sidejack Cookies, a poem in The New Yorker
A beige toaster is a maggotbox. A bit bucket is a data sink. Farkled is a synonym for hosed. Flamage is a weenie problem . . .
- The Fabric: A Poet's Vesalius, article by Heather McHugh
Some etymologists give the Greek "to see for oneself" as the source for the English word "autopsy." An alternative, "seeing into oneself," is hard to overlook when one studies the work of the sixteenth-century Belgian anatomist Vesalius. I gaze on th
- Profile of 'Genius Award' Winner Heather McHugh, Jim Lehrer NewsHour
And finally, another in our ongoing series on poets and poetry. Tonight, Heather McHugh. She was just today awarded a MacArthur fellowship, popularly known as the genius award. McHugh is author of more than a dozen books of poetry, translation and es
I'm drawn to finding the grammar
that can make the thing
that can't happen
~ Heather McHugh ~
by Heather McHugh
You take a rock, your hand is hard.
You raise your eyes, and there's a pair
of small beloveds, caught in pails.
The monocle and eyepatch correspond.
You take a glove, your hand is soft.
The ocean floor was done
in lizardskin. Around a log or snag
the surface currents run
like lumber about a knot. A boat
is bent to sea-we favor the medium
we're in, our shape's
around us. It takes time.
At night, the bed alive, what
teller of truth could tell
the two apart? Lover, beloved,
hope is command. Your hand
is given, when you take a hand.
This is a book of poetic criticism by McHughs.
"A truly major book . . . I am tempted to say that with this book American poetry reclaims for itself true intellectual status, and McHugh does so with a marvellously selfless intensity that exemplifies much of what she says about the 'I.' This is love of poetry, and sharp criticism of her American peers, which represents itself at the highest levels of intellectual ambition without any egoistic posing. I know of no better writing on Dickinson, Rilke, and Celan." (Charles Altieri)
by Heather McHugh
Surfaces to scrape or wipe,
a screwdriver to be applied
to slime-encrusted soles, the spattered
hallways, wadded bedding-- and
in quantities astounding (in the corners,
under furniture, behind the curtains)
fluff and dander spread by curs
the breeder called nonshedding...
It's a dog's life I myself must lead,
day in, day out-- with never a Sunday edition--
while they lie around on their couches like poets,
and study the human condition.