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This review is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

Not the Last Word Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo (W.W. Norton) $18

Richard Hugo (1923–82) had a telling eye for the ruined landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. He was predominantly an American regionalist, whose vision had a mythological dimension, but increasingly his past and present entered into the poetry. In his own words he ‘wrote hurt’ but that, he said, was ‘only my view, not the last word’.

What is best remembered of the poems now is Hugo’s private iconography of waters and wind, of stones and clouds, of graves and ghosts, of solitary bars and empty houses, of ruined lumber towns, Native Americans and wayward girls. Equally interesting, though, is his autobiographical odyssey, for in Hugo’s largely desolate landscape the sense of self is both tentative and tortured.

His first collection, A Run of Jacks (1961), introduced a 38-year-old poet (and former student of Theodore Roethke’s) who loved the life of fated waters and was obsessed by the environmental damage economic depression had brought. His few human inhabitants are equally damaged. In Death of the Kapowsin Tavern (1965) we travel the rivers of Washington State with the same preoccupations: ‘Jacks don’t run. Mills go on polluting’. Yet for the first time the poet himself enters the picture clearly. ‘Mission to Linz’ relives the fear Hugo experienced as a bombardier in World War II. After this poem, it is as if the bomber has landed. He is still the poet of hurt landscapes, but he risks more personal experiences, too, as in ‘Eileen’ and ‘December 24 and George McBride Is Dead’ ...


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