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Upgraded to Serious

5.0 1
by Heather McHugh
 

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"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

Overview

"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.


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\

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619320109
Publisher:
Copper Canyon Press
Publication date:
06/19/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
104
File size:
568 KB

Meet the Author

Heather McHugh: Heather McHugh, recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship, is the author of thirteen books of poetry, translation, and literary essays. Her prize-winning translations include a Griffin International Poetry Prize and her volumes have been finalists for both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. McHugh has taught literature and writing for over three decades, most regularly at the University of Washington in Seattle and in the low residency MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. From 1999 to 2005 she served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and in 2000 she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Upgraded to Serious 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Bottle More than 1 year ago
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?