Richard Hugo Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Richard Hugo (HYEW-goh) confirmed his reputation as a beloved professor with the 1979 publication of his book on craft, The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing. In the title essay, he distinguishes between the initiating or triggering subject of a poem (for him, a small town that has seen better days) and its real subject. A posthumous collection of essays, The Real West Marginal Way: A Poet’s Autobiography, appeared in 1986, edited by his wife, Ripley S. Hugo, and colleagues Lois M. and James Welch.

Featuring a retired Seattle detective who becomes a deputy sheriff in a small Montana town, Hugo’s mystery novel Death and the Good Life (1981) was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. A second novel with the same character was planned but never completed. Hugo also published reviews and articles in literary journals; his papers can be found in the University of Washington Archives.

Richard Hugo Achievements

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Richard Hugo’s poetry earned numerous honors, including the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest in 1964 and the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize from Saginaw Valley State University in 1976 for What Thou Lovest Well, Remains American. In addition, three collections were nominated for the National Book Award, and Selected Poems and The Right Madness on Skye were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1980 and 1981, respectively. A 1967 Rockefeller Fellowship for creative writing allowed him to travel extensively in Italy and Europe, and in 1977, a Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to write for a year on Scotland’s Isle of Skye.

In the summer of 1971, Hugo held the Roethke Chair at the University of Washington. Six years later, he was appointed editor of the Yale Younger Poets Series. President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter honored him at a 1980 White House celebration, and the following year, he received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship for distinguished achievement. In 1982, only a few months before his death, Montana State University conferred on him an honorary doctor of letters, while the University of Montana presented him with its Distinguished Scholar Award.

Richard Hugo Bibliography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Allen, Michael S. We Are Called Human: The Poetry of Richard Hugo. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1982. A biocritical study of Hugo’s work through The Right Madness on Skye. Allen integrates details of the poet’s personal life—poverty, early trauma, and the Depression—with the “presence of hurt” found particularly in his earlier work. In an extended discussion of “the Hugo town,” he places the poet within the small-town tradition of earlier American writers, including Edgar Lee Masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, and Sinclair Lewis.

Gerstenberger, Donna. Richard Hugo. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1983. A study of Hugo’s work in the context of Western writing, as he made use of contemporary Western experience and his “complete possession of and by the local region.” His awareness of physical space, distance, and direction reflects a Western consciousness as he expresses an inner journey by means of outward scene. Gerstenberger also urges a more precise definition of “regional.”

Holden, Jonathan. Landscapes of the Self: The Development of Richard Hugo’s Poetry. Millwood, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, 1986. An insightful psychological reading of all but the final collection, including a worthwhile chapter on Thirty-one Letters and...

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