Heather McHugh Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Heather McHugh is known primarily as a poet; however, her reputation as a translator is considerable. Beginning with her translation of the poetry of the French writer Jean Follain, D’Après Tout: Poems (1981), she has published well-received translations of poets from Bulgaria (Because the Sea Is Black: Poems by Blaga Dimitrova, with her husband, Niko Boris, 1989), Romania (Glottal Stop: 101 Poems, of Paul Celan, with Nikolai Popov, 2000), and ancient Greece (Cyclops, of Euripides, with David Konstan, 2001). A collection of her essays, Broken English: Poetry and Partiality, appeared in 1993. As guest editor, she selected the contents of and provided an introductory essay for The Best American Poetry 2007.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Heather McHugh has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and fellowships from the Witter Bynner Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, U.S. Artists, and the MacArthur Foundation. Her awards include the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award (1995), the Boston Book Review’s Bingham Poetry Prize (1995), the O. B. Hardison, Jr., Poetry Prize (1998), and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry (2000). Her 1994 collection Hinge and Sign was a National Book Award finalist, and Eyeshot was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. In 2000, The Father of the Predicaments received a Washington State Book Award. Her work of translation with Popov, Glottal Stop, won the Griffin International Poetry Prize and a Washington State Book Award, both in 2001. Besides the official accolades she has earned with her writing, she has directly influenced several generations of poets as a teacher at the State University of New York at Binghamton and a visiting faculty member at Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers. In 1984, she was appointed Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington. From 1999 to 2005, she served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Hacht, Anne Marie, and David Kelly, eds. Poetry for Students. Vol. 24. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2006. This volume contains Kelly’s extensive examination of McHugh’s poem “Three To’s and an Oi.” Conversant with McHugh’s style, the mythological stories to which the poem alludes, and the high-school audience for which he writes, Kelly keeps his analysis free of postmodern slang and other common impediments to understanding serious contemporary verse.

Ladin, Jay. “Heather McHugh and the Schooling of American Poetry.” Review of Broken English, Eyeshot, Hinge and Sign, and The Father of the Predicaments. Parnassus: Poetry in Review 29, nos. 1/2 (2006): 120-139. Ladin looks at McHugh as both a poet and critic, examining the reviewed works and touching on her work as translator. He notes a self-reflectiveness in her poetry that he ascribes to her position as an academic. He finds that sometimes her dual position leads to a lack of feeling in her poetry.

Pugh, Christina. “Stalwarts.” Review of Names, by Marilyn Hacker, and Upgraded to Serious, by Heather McHugh. Poetry 195, no. 3 (December, 2009): 242-249. This review notes that the two poets are very different in their approaches. Discusses McHugh’s wordplay, finding it dazzling, but perhaps a little too cerebral at times.

Turchi, Peter. “About Heather McHugh: A Profile.” Ploughshares 27, no. 1 (Spring, 2001): 210-217. Part biographical sketch, part critical appreciation, Turchi draws attention to the traits in McHugh’s work that set her apart and that account for its power. Contains quotes from both the poet and several of her poems.