Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Heather McHugh -- Upgraded to Serious

"Palliative and prophylactic... we are in a critical condition..." and if you have the power of a Heather McHugh, you will twist the twine until each word is wrung turning agape (as in tongue hanging out) with an underpining of Greek "agape" -- for the love of God, used, intermittently in different ways, as outcry whether in the Thou (so close to a sense of dime a dozen) by the thousand, or doubted as sceptic in skip to my lou, and No attached to a placebo.

She took on "sight" with Eyeshot... and I was pleased to find in the cover of that book, I had inscribed a poem which she read in Rochester in 2008 -- a poem not addressed to God or Man or Both.
If he's the rock, then I'm the water.
It he's the water, I'm the wind.
If he's the wind, I must be moonshine
driven in wavelengths to rock.

This was next to a black and white photograph in Palm Beach, which if I remember, had a slant of light coming into an empty lighthouse. There was also a photo with a marvellous shadow and a moon... and the words and image worked beautifully.
There was also this taken from "Spectacles" (Hinge and Sign, p. 93)
My wire-rimmed glasses
sprawl on the desk, either a bright
suggestion to the uncorrected
eye, or a small
wrecked bicycle.

I inscribed in my "Eye Shot" these poems from Upgraded to Serious.
p. 41. Missed Meaning -- which she also read at Palm Beach (Jan. 2011)(next to World in a Skirt) on p. 2
p. 50: From the Tower (next to Fido, Jolted by Jove, p. 5
p. 7 Fastener -- on p. 10, after Letters, Numbers, Signs, Words, referred to as words, and before Boy Thing.) (The poem is perfect: One as is as another as.
one with is with another with

p. 17 : Postcocious before Impolitic p 15
p. 29 Thous by the Thousands before p. 47 -- Through
p. 77 Who Needs It -- the last 2 stanzas but the whole poem is so good. on the back page.

Who Needs It

If language could be trusted to be true,
the hardest would be loudest,
softest, soft. But think again: the joke's
on you. Against a granite face the sea

has knocked for years without
much fuss or brouhaha--
just here and there a little
cracking sound, a suck
in a pocket of cranny.
But give it a load of beach-flesh -- and

you'll never hear the end of it: the pumps in full
palaver with the valvers, every grain
resounding, every pound. You'd think
slap-happy waves might hush, at such

soft-sanded touches. On the contrary there is
a cardiac clamor, a sumptuousness,
roaring into space. The ocean's noisiest

around the giving place.

O stranded earth, O beach of
fellow men, I see you selve and cleave in every
single way you can. And all the ways add up:
each needleworker's couch and bounded town,
each humming humanific lobe has thrown
its tune into the planetary wave. But what's

the message of our massing,
past these minuscules of parts? Is it a song of manyness,
or tininess. This suburb-reverb spilling out,
gregarious, egregious, from the globe --
does it go on for light-years, and convulve

the quietudes of heaven? Wake
some star-shells? Stir some dulse?
My guess is yes, since endlessness

needs us to take its pulse.

If you don't believe this is serious, if you don't believe that our language gets us into trouble, sometimes for fun, but sometimes our language is silent, as in her poem "Creature Crush" where the worse it is to see cruelty towards the monkey, the more money is given
(What's the worse / perverseness of this plan, / the helplessness or the complicity?)/
Apparently I neither can / release the monkey / nor assassinate the man.

This is followed by Nocebo :
where contraries should balance out (The mind's designed, declared De Vries, to keep the ears/ from grating on each other.) oh but you, you / screw the balance up, you human animal:
of hames the only caller and dropped, making
scapegoats out of badgers, snakes and grouse --
they're answering for YOU. And where's my fabled
freedom, if I cannot liberate

the creatures of my word, the eye
of my TV, the wiring of my house? What sense
might the excruciated make, whose ravenous receptors
(over veldts of happy elephants)

flock to the one shocked mouse?
(p. 55)
She speaks in polished pearls, like this.

“Any design that devises the greatest possible number of readings in the fewest possible words might find itself too easily at the service of a facile moral relativity. A plurality of priorities could be said to mark the death of priority itself. But the utility of poetry is of as little interest to me as is the biography of poets, and a temperament of my ilk takes onto-numerological solace from the great mystics: all and one are crucially hard to TELL apart. (Pragmatic America makes short work of the visiting mystic: the Dalai Lama at the hot dog stand: "Make me one with everything.") How pleasurable, then, to read the word "constitutive" two ways: its prefix at once a with and an against! And how swiftly etymological authority will denounce that delight, though its own art conspire in it!”

and some of her poems are more like an unravelling of complex thought than a poem, such as "And The Greatest of These"

Stupidity is no grounds for our despair
it drives or drowses everywhere—
waxen, bristling, pitted, slick –
as variously textured as
notoriously tough. It ought
arouse more wonder than aversion:
cases more complex are hexed, and know it,
while the simplest merely grin into the void.

I can’t lose hope over the way
we tort as we retort, reveal as we redress –
I can’t regret the spank of life, its sparkling
more-or-less. Where heartlands lie the lowest
(stream and meadow, desert, swamp)
I trample on. I keep up hope
at every everyloving turn.
Each turn, that is, except

the wickedest: when cruelty
comes cackling from its
crackhouses in nature – hell
must help me then because
I lose all heart at hurt intended. Not just

humans, after all who massacre
their cousins and their dogs....

“how the skipper is sick
of the terrible lit
graffiti in the head “


And the old Grammarian
knows that something understood
is missing. (The song of Skiptomai lou)

She's brilliant. Loveable because you can see her vulnerability when she reads,
how it hurts to see so clearly.

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