The Triggering Town

Lectures on poetry & writing by Richard Hugo (cont.)

  • I caution against communication because once language exist only to convey information, it is dying.
  • In news articles the relation of the words to the subject is a strong one. The relation of the words to the writer is weak. (Since the majority of your reading has been newspapers, you are used to seeing language function this way).
  • When you write a poem these relations must reverse themselves: The relation of the word to the subject must weaken – the relation of the words to the writer (you) must take on strength.

 This is probably the hardest thing about writing poems

  • In a poem you make something up, say for example a town, but an imagined town is at least as real as an actual town. If it isn’t you may be in the wrong business.
  • Our triggering subjects, like our words, come from obsessions we must submit to, whatever the social cost. It can be hard. It can be worse 40 years from now if you feel you could have done it and didn’t.

Richard Hugo

Public versus private poets:

  • With public poets the intellectual and emotional contents of the words are the same for the reader as for the writer. With the private poet, the words, at least certain key words, mean something to the poet they don’t mean to the reader. A sensitive reader perceives this relation of poet to word and in a way that relation – the strange way the poet emotionally possesses his vocabulary – is one of the mysteries and preservative forces of the art.
  • If you are a private poet, then your vocabulary is limited by your obsessions.
  • In fact, most poets write the same poem over and over. (Wallace Stevens was honest enough not to try to hide it. Frost’s statement that he tried to make every poem as different as possible from the last one is a way of saying that he knew it couldn’t be).

Richard Hugo

6 comments on “The Triggering Town

  1. I am reading in Kay Larson’s book on John Cage that he grew tired of the perceived necessity of expressing the self through art. Or rather, what he grew tired of was that he was expected to communicate self expression through art. I think this relates to Hugo as you cite above: “I caution against communication because once language exist only to convey information, it is dying.”

    Is self-expression enough? MUST art communicate? Does art fail if ALL it does is to communicate? These are questions many artists and writers struggle with. Part of the struggle is simply defining the terms (which Hugo also does in his book & in the quotes you excerpt).

    I have always loved Hugo’s concept of the poet emotionally possessing her vocabulary. I think, for me, this is so true.

    • I absolutely recognize these questions:
      – MUST art communicate?
      – Does art fail if ALL it does is to communicate?
      I was just thinking this: To me, at the present moment, the I in the text is not my own self as a person, but my own agent as the voice in the text.

      ooooh – does this make any sense?????

      Its like I’m trying to make room in the text for a subjectivity which is not me, but which has a coherence and voice of its own.

      ???

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