Upgraded to Serious

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Overview

Carol Muske-Dukes calls "McHugh, with her comic-book moxie and her linguistic virtuosity, a kind of Superwoman of poetry.  The poems focus on what is within 'eyeshot,' or visible, but their true subject is their author's mortal acuity."—Los Angeles Times

"McHugh's eighth book finds this acclaimed poet as odd and entertaining as ever, with her trademark slippery associative lines and jagged stanzas...but also subtly sobered by growing older while living through the grim political climate of the last eight ...

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Upgraded to Serious

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Overview

Carol Muske-Dukes calls "McHugh, with her comic-book moxie and her linguistic virtuosity, a kind of Superwoman of poetry.  The poems focus on what is within 'eyeshot,' or visible, but their true subject is their author's mortal acuity."—Los Angeles Times

"McHugh's eighth book finds this acclaimed poet as odd and entertaining as ever, with her trademark slippery associative lines and jagged stanzas...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....McHugh remains one of our most important and unusual poets...."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"Offering an idiosyncratic sense of sacredness, the book makes the earnest and the tongue-in-cheek almost indistinguishable....Writing in her signature relaxed iambic line, McHugh flips and winds the language of American common wisdom. In Upgraded to Serious...we encounter a poet who is listening assiduously. Her attention to language is visible in each poem's marked use of rhyme. The sustained outpouring of alliteration gives the sense that McHugh will never be out of breath."—ForeWord

"McHugh’s poems move as fluent wholes, thanks in part to her artful use of rhyme, rhythm, and portmanteaux. If much ancient poetry has become fragmentary over time, and much modern poetry begins as fragments, Heather McHugh’s poetry blurs the line between fragments and wholes, crafting one from the other. She delights both in dilating linguistic fragments into astonishing new wholes and in exposing and excavating language’s invisible fault-lines."—The Oxonian Review

“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

“McHugh is known as a challenging wordsmith, but, as this collection reveals, she is also a compassionate eyewitness . . . Her lines are animated but serious, and though they accelerate quickly, meaning and humor can be found in a single word.”—The New Yorker

“Her poems are open, resilient, invisibly twisted: part safety net, part trampoline.”—The Village Voice Literary Supplement

One of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2009

National Book Award finalist and 2009 MacArthur Fellow Heather McHugh presents a fast-paced, verbally dexterous, and brilliantly humorous book. Utilizing medical terminology and iconography to work through loss and detachment, McHugh’s startling rhymes and rhythms—along with her sarcastic self-reflection and infectious laughter—serve as antidotes to the sufferings of the world. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.” (Oct.)
Library Journal
A fan of recent MacArthur fellow McHugh's work for some time, this reader began her 13th book eagerly. The poems are witty, musical, and linguistically ingenious but often keep to the surface. McHugh pokes fun at herself, at priests, at God (and gods), but the singsong cleverness too often misses the mark, though the book is informed by (and wrestles with) incontrovertibles: grief, terror (personal and global), illness, aging, and cruelty. Sometimes she does go deeper, with poems like "Creature Crush" (about a monkey tortured as public entertainment) and "Not To Be Dwelled On" about the burial of a friend. Often, however, they are (as the publicity says)"pyrotechnics"—full of dazzle and energetic bursts that fade in the night sky of poetry. VERDICT If you're looking for puns and fast-paced wordplay ("No Sex for Priests" is sad, wry, and pretty darned funny), along with multifaceted erudition played off against a post-9/11 background, then this book is for you. Readers interested in the directions of contemporary poetry should consider.—Emily Souza, Sacramento, CA\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556593062
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2009
  • Pages: 120
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Heather McHugh is the author of a dozen books of poetry and translation, including Hinge & Sign, a New York Times Book of the Year and a finalist for the National Book Award. McHugh teaches at the University of Washington and has been a visiting faculty member in the MFA at Warren Wilson College since its inception.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    UPGRADED FROM SERIOUS, by Heather McHugh-- a Great Book

    These poems are profound and sonorous and always full of surprise. A dappled seal rises from Passamaquoddy Bay, looks around, and quickly submerges itself almost as a comment on the human condition.

    And like Richard Wilbur, McHugh has the knack of punning without distraction. She is serious and darkly comic at the same time, a comedienne or wise Shakespearian fool in poetry and person both.

    Is she difficult? Of course. Here's where there's more of a distinction between person and poem.

    One is reminded of Nadezhda Mandelstam's account of her husband Osip's one entirely accessible poem, the one about Stalin that did him in. In all of his other poems, Nadezhda writes, Osip Mandelstam assumed a reader's intelligence equal to his own.

    What should a poet do? Grovel at the reader's feet-- do nothing to disturb him? How about compliment him and challenge him instead?

    Richard Howard has compared Heather McHugh's persona to that of Wislawa Szymborska or Isak Dinesen. What good reader could disagree?

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