The Poem

“A Map of Montana in Italy” is a lyric poem in free verse, arranged into a single stanza of thirty-four lines. It is the opening poem in Richard Hugo’s fourth book of poems, The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir, and it is dedicated to Marjorie Carrier.

The poem is written in the first person, in the present tense, the voice distinctively Hugo’s. It is rather flat in tone, with subdued emotions. Although the syntax is simple and rather prosaic, the poem’s style is tight, direct, and without extraneous words. The situation of the poem is that Hugo (who lived in Missoula, where he taught at the University of Montana from 1963 until his death in 1982) has come upon a map of Montana while he is touring in Italy. Perhaps the map has been tacked up on a wall, or maybe it is in an atlas open upon Hugo’s lap.

The poem begins with two descriptive, though incomplete, sentences: “On this map white. A state thick as a fist/ or blunt instrument.” The third sentence is complete but brief, straightforward, metaphoric, and declarative: “Long roads weave and cross/ red veins full of rage.” The long and often undeveloped gravel or dirt roads of Montana are printed in red, symbolizing to Hugo that anger is a statewide characteristic. The introductory style of these sentences suggests that the speaker wishes to impress the reader with tough talk, as though he is in a pugnacious mood. Not until the poem’s fourth sentence does the...

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Forms and Devices

The style of “A Map of Montana in Italy” is in many ways typical of the whole body of Hugo’s poetry. Although Hugo studied with Theodore Roethke at the University of Washington in Seattle, the younger poet never adopted Roethke’s broad interests in rhymed, formal verse, such as the villanelle, kyriel, and limerick, each of which Roethke employed quite successfully. Instead, Hugo seems to have discovered his own voice early and stayed with that voice throughout his life.

Hugo’s voice is one of little modulation and tightly controlled pitch, a uniquely characteristic drone. Writing in “Richard Hugo: Getting Right,” from a book-length collection of essays entitled Local Assays: On Contemporary Poetry (1985), Dave Smith says that Hugo’s “music has always been insistent and derived from Anglo-Saxon sonic practices. He loves a strongly stressed line, usually three to five stresses, whose density and intensity is always willing to risk overwhelming the ear.”

“A Map of Montana in Italy” aptly fits Smith’s description. The poem’s rhythm is irregular, a good example of free verse; however, while the lines seem to be measured in length predominantly by the eye, the poem still generally scans into five hard stresses per line, or an irregular pentameter.

Also typical of Hugo’s style is this poem’s use of alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words, and assonance, the...

(The entire section is 549 words.)