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Eyeshot / Edition 1

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Heather McHugh's new book, Eyeshot, is a brooding, visionary work that takes aim at the big questions—those of love and death. The poems suggest that such immensities balance on the smallest details, and that a range of human blindness is inescapable.

The power of this new work comes from its delicate yet tenacious fidelity to the ever-unfolding senses of sense. The poems invite the reader to follow careening words and insights through passages both playful and profound. Her "Fido, Jolted by Jove" reveals the tension endemic to both language and living: "the world itself is worried." Yet the same poem remarks the high price of any reductive fix: "a brain this insecure may need another bolt be driven in it." This movement between anxiety and the human compulsion for order informs Eyeshot's darkly comic, 20/20 acuity.

Finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This is a sort of poignancy possible only through the striking together of profound sadness with tough humor… McHugh’s rigorous experiments with language give these poems the feel of tightly coiled springs in their precision and energy.”—Jessica Garratt, Austin Chronicle

"Her writing is so alert to itself, so alert to language, it's like watching a dancer on a mirrored floor, stepping on her steps. She's practically playing with her words as she writes them down.”—Robert Hass, Washington Post Book World

"All of her lines are demanding, especially her last lines–puzzling yet provocative, they're like little switches that flip at the end, sending the reader back into the poet's maze of words."—The New York Times Book Review

"... McHugh here returns to her own signature bravura and obsessive word play, focusing on the struggle of eye and mind, brain and body, to mediate the exacting details of an exquisitely overwrought world... probing language in a way that enhances (and seems inextricably linked to) scientific inquiry..."—Publisher's Weekly

Publishers Weekly
With an oeuvre that includes criticism (notably the 1993 volume Broken English) and a wide-range of translation (most recently, of Euripedes), McHugh here returns to her own signature bravura and obsessive word play, focussing on the struggle of eye and mind, brain and body, to mediate the exacting details of an exquisitely overwrought world: "The mind is made/ to discipline the eye so that the eye/ can aim the mind-or else..." In a state of near-constant overstimulation, the hyper-attentive intelligencer at times must struggle simply to stay afloat: "Sight... sponsors far/ too much detail (exhaustive is exhausting!)." McHugh scrutinizes the lewd and the illustrious alike with relentless attention and propulsive wit, the latter no less engaged when describing the brain collection at Cornell ("Grown in a bone bin, now not one of them/ can let go of the knot at its gut, the fruit/ of its last thought") than when parrying bawdily on the subject of a hanged man's erection, in "Goner's Boner." Sexual mishaps, infidelity and lust abound-as well as related riffs on aging and physical decline: "taste took/ time, it seemed, and so required the mind// to mind the tongue, stop being young,/ start being tired." McHugh's more metalinguistic reflections can be strained or too clever, but many poems avoid these pitfalls, probing language in a way that enhances (and seems inextricably linked to) scientific inquiry: "The body's fingernails were tinily inscribed/ with symbols, letterforms and ideograms, and all/ in exquisite detail. I looked and looked..." Yet what pushes this book even further are the moments when the speaker's sense of the stakes comes into focus: "In sight/ of the flicker of living./ In spite of the looking to die." (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Invented words, surrealistic imagery, sexual innuendoes, quirky free associations of sound and sense sometimes suggesting profound truths: these are the hallmarks of McHugh's poetry. In her seventh book, McHugh (a National Book Award finalist for Hinge & Sign) writes mostly about dogs, sex, night, death, and fireworks, creating a frenetic energy by breaking rules of syntax. She finds words within a word: "My one/ and only: money/ minus one." She puts similar-sounding words together, "grandma thinks of love-and gets/ amen, a mensch, a mention." She makes nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, and otherwise mines verbal ambiguities-the title poem being a good example. Like the German poet Paul Celan (1920-70), whose work she has translated, McHugh writes in a kind of Rorschach inkblot style. But unlike Celan, whose poems come from the unutterable pain of the German death camps, McHugh writes from her middle-class American upbringing. With a few exceptions, McHugh's poems tend to fall under the weight of their own inventiveness. Recommended for academic libraries.-Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819566720
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 12/29/2004
  • Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 64
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

The author of six previous books of poetry, including National Book Award finalist Hinge & Sign (Wesleyan, 1993), HEATHER MCHUGH teaches in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College and since 1984 at the University of Washington in Seattle. She takes time off in Maine.

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Read an Excerpt

Pure indifference
moves otherwise. It's unconditional:
a little fling cannot diminish it:
impartially it flies from everything,

from man's investments, and
his dearth. The thought that God
might care for us is
terrifying: ought

to keep us hooked on earth.
-from "Song for a Mountain-Climber"

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Table of Contents

World in a Skirt
Goner's Boner
Fido, Jolted by Jove
Significant Suspicions
Fourth of July B.C.
Unhygienic Song
Letters Numbers Signs Words Referred to as Words
Boy Thing
The Magic Cube
The Retort Room
Lectator's Song
Far Sight
Iquity - Four Commissions - Songs for Scientists Parts I and II
Song for the Men of the Pennsylvania Hills
Song for a Mountain Climber
Mankind's Pet the Copycat - Four Poems after the Chinese - After Su Tung P'o
After Li Bai
After Wang Wei
After Su Tung P'o - Two Tunes for Elliott - Affinity Welled
One's Mons - Back to B.C.
Night Storm
Mind's Eye
A Dearth in the Dreamboat Department
Pound Sign
Long Shot with Shutter
Settling Song
Through (after Sully Prudhomme)
Blind Men (after Charles Baudelaire)
Out of Eyeshot
The Suicide (After Jorge Luis Borges)
The Looker
About the Author

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