Tag Archives: Richard Hugo

Why Richard Hugo? Maddy asks

Scene: Our Kitchen. Takes place on the day my new book, The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs, arrives.

Who: My daughter Maddy, age fourteen, and me.


Maddy: Hey Mom, why did you spend all those years following Richard Hugo?

Frances: Well, first it was the poems. I loved the poems. The way you love Manga.

Maddy: Maybe not as much as I love Manga. Richard Hugo didn’t come with drawings.

Frances: Okay, so you know how you started to collect certain artists, ones whose books you liked?

Maddy: Yup.

Frances: For me it started with the poems. They were refreshing, these new kinds of poems. Kind of like how you see that Manga is way more interesting than the old Marvel comics.  Hugo wrote about people and landscapes that most people didn’t consider “poetic.” Like drunks passed out in yards or the “slow, sick” Duwamish River, “Midwestern in the heat.” It started there. The poems had the bumps and turns of the landscapes he described. Hugo moved words around until he got that effect. So pretty soon I thought, “Who is this guy who made these cool poems?”

Maddy: I’m surprised that Rumiko Takahashi {the artist who created Inuyasha and other series} is this older, kind of boring looking lady. Hugo is this fat, bald guy.

Frances: I think that interests me a lot. I mean what if Rumiko and Hugo were hip, like hipper than us?

Maddy: You sound like the Gilmore Girls, Mom.

Frances: Seriously, Hugo wasn’t like us. He was bald and fat. He drank too much and it almost wrecked his life. He went fishing with bait and sat in his lawn chair. He came from White Center and spent years as a bombardier in the Second World War. I mean how unlikely is that for a guy who becomes an outstanding poet in contemporary American Literature?

Maddy: But you kept going. You went to all these places that you wrote about. You met his family. I mean, by now, you are practically his family.

Frances: Maybe I went a little far.

Maddy: Duh.

Frances: But here’s something. Yeats’ poems could only have been written by Yeats. He had a peculiar mind and he rolled it over some subject matter that is common to human experience: pining for an unrequited love, recovering from war, fighting old age. But here was this guy who didn’t get to marry Maude Gonne and instead married a woman named George, a guy who had monkey gonads implanted within himself, a man who was generally peevish but became a senator… Well, Yeats could only have been Yeats. Unlikely, brilliant, and filled with language.

Maddy: So Hugo could only be Hugo and that makes him interesting.

Frances:  Yeah.. The guy from a little cabin in White Center, the guy who grew up under the thumbs of his strict grandparents, the guy who flew 35 missions, the guy who studied poetry on the GI Bill ( I mean who does that?), that guy. The guy who wrote a mystery novel, a book about writing and community, an autobiography and all those delicious poems. Him.

http://www.kingfisherpress.com/images/hugo.jpg

Driving Hugo Home


Since 1997, I’ve been fairly obsessed with the poet Richard Hugo. Okay, really obsessed. Perhaps Hugo gave me a way of seeing the west and of assembling a family out here. Some people collect tourist keychains or tee shirts. Our family was hungry for places that resonated. We craved small towns with taverns and libraries; we looked for rivers we could wade and we slept on the banks. “Hugo wrote a poem about this town,” I once said to my husband Gary. We were standing in Wallace, Idaho. “There were whorehouses here until the mid-nineteen eighties.”

Or the time the two of us took three days off of work to head out to Tahola, Washington, a decrepit town with a spirited sandwich shop on the open Pacific. Despite a “Road Ends” sign, we burrowed into the trees, following the pavement until it ran to gravel and went uphill. Then, we came back down to town and had lunch.

That was the way to find Hugo. You headed out into the “west,” a place actually further east than the west where we lived, and you looked over the landscape. You hiked around, sometimes on “streets laid out by the insane.” Then, you went to a non-chain restaurant and ate. “Warm beer and lousy food,” the sign for the Club Bar in Philipsburg reads. That’s how we knew to go there.

Or this church. After reading the sign, you’d almost want to go in, wouldn’t you?