The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir

Born in 1923, in Washington, Richard Hugo served as a bombardier during World War II. He returned from the war to major in creative writing at the University of Washington where he studied with Theodore Roethke. Shortly after the 1961 publication of his first book of poems, A Run of Jacks, Hugo began teaching English and creative writing at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he taught for nearly eighteen years.

In his book about writing, The Triggering Town, Hugo encourages younger poets to recognize their true subject matter beneath the surface, but above all, to ignore advice about writing and find their own way. His own poems often celebrate the abandoned towns, landscapes, and people of the Pacific Northwest. William Stafford wrote, "A part of the West belongs to Hugo," and, certainly, a territory of poetry as well.

His 1973 book, The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir, is both about Montana and not about Montana. Of his method, Hugo once said: "Usually I find a poem is triggered by something, a small town or abandoned house, that I feel others would ignore." The poems in The Lady in Kicking House Reservoir are tied to place and landscape, but Hugo’s real subject matter remains elusive.

Nominated for a National Book Award, The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir contains many of Hugo's most loved and anthologized poems. The collection includes "Montgomery Hollow," the title poem, and the famous, "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg," in which he turns to the reader, midway through his description of a dying town, and says, "Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss/ still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat/ so accurate, the church bell simply seems/ a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?"