Richard Hugo was an outsider. Born poor, abandoned by his mother, drafted to the War… Bill Bevis writes well about this in TEN TOUGH TRIPS, and other critics have seen it too. It’s a writer‘s game, standing outside a scene and then describing it. But, I don’t think it’s always a poet‘s game. Poets, typically, get enmeshed in their scenes. They sort of become the subject. Think of Plath as the tortured mother or WIlliam Stafford as the generous, plain-spoken everyman.
Then, you have Hugo. He can be sad-sack Hugo, or laughing Hugo, or river-loving Hugo– but he’s outside, trying to write himself into a bar, or a social scene, or a whole town, but it never quite aligns. He leans on the reader for companionship as he’s navigating. It’s as if he doesn’t quite trust himself.
But later, say in the 70’s, don’t the letter poems show how much of an insider he is? I mean he’s corresponding with all the big shots in poetry land; he’s unapologetic about using the stanza-less letter poem; he’s thrilled with his realizations of friendship and belonging. At that point, doesn’t the outsider stance turn away from itself and become more of a style than an ache?