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Richard Hugo


Richard Hugo was born on December 21, 1923, in White Center, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. His father, Richard Franklin Hogan, left the family shortly after Hugo's birth; Hugo was raised by his mother's parents. He attended public school and from a very early age took an interest in books, fishing, and baseball. In 1942, he legally changed his name to Hugo, the name of his stepfather. He volunteered for World War II, where he served as a bombardier in the Mediterranean. Hugo flew thirty-five combat missions and reached the rank of first lieutenant before leaving the service in 1945. Like other World War II poets such as James Dickey and Randall Jarrell, he would later recount his experiences in his poetry.

After the War, Hugo entered the University of Washington where he majored in Creative Writing. He studied with Theodore Roethke and completed a B.A. in 1948 and an M.A. in 1952. In 1952, he married Barbara Williams and began to work as a technical writer for Boeing, where he was employed for nearly thirteen years. A Run of Jacks, his first book of poems, appeared in 1961. Hugo was thirty-seven years old at that time. Soon thereafter, he began to teach English and Creative Writing at the University of Montana in Missoula. His wife returned to Seattle in 1964, and they soon divorced.

Hugo taught at Montana for nearly eighteen years. Rather than becoming more academic, however, his poems often celebrate the abandoned towns, landscapes, and people of the Pacific Northwest. In one of his best-known and often-anthologized poems from this time, "Degrees of Gray at Philipsburg," he opens with the lines "You might come here Sunday on a whim. / Say your life broke down. The last good kiss / you had was years ago."

In 1974, Hugo married Ripley Schemm Hansen and helped to raise her children, Matthew and Melissa. In 1977 he was named the editor of the Yale Younger Poets Series. Among his most well-known books are Death of the Kapowsin Tavern (1965), Good Luck in Cracked Italian (1969), What Thou Lovest Well, Remains American (1975), 31 Letters and 13 Dreams (1977), and The Right Madness on Skye (1980). He also authored the small but influential book on creative writing, The Triggering Town. Among other advice, he suggests that a poet should "Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it." Richard Hugo died on October 22, 1982, at the age of fifty-eight.

By This Poet


Glen Uig

Believe in this couple this day who come 
to picnic in the Faery Glen. They pay rain 
no matter, or wind. They spread their picnic 
under a gale-stunted rowan. Believe they grew tired 
of giants and heroes and know they believe 
in wise tiny creatures who live under the rocks. 

Believe these odd mounds, the geologic joke 
played by those wise tiny creatures far from 
the world's pitiful demands: make money, stay sane. 
Believe the couple, by now soaked to the skin, 
sing their day as if dry, as if sheltered inside 
Castle Ewen. Be glad Castle Ewen's only a rock
that looks like a castle. Be glad for no real king. 

These wise tiny creatures, you'd better believe, 
have lived through it all: the Viking occupation, 
clan torturing clan, the Clearances, the World War 
II bomber gone down, a fiery boom 
on Beinn Edra. They saw it from here. They heard 
the sobs of last century's crofters trail off below 
where every day the Conon sets out determined for Uig. 
They remember the Viking who wandered off course, 
under the hazelnut tree hating aloud all he'd done. 

Some days dance in the bracken. Some days go out 
wide and warm on bad roads to collect the dispossessed 
and offer them homes. Some days celebrate addicts 
sweet in their dreams and hope to share with them 
a personal spectrum. The loch here's only a pond, 
the monster is in it small as a wren. 

Believe the couple who have finished their picnic 
and make wet love in the grass, the tiny wise creatures 
cheering them on. Believe in milestones, the day 
you left home forever and the cold open way 
a world wouldn't let you come in. Believe you 
and I are that couple. Believe you and I sing tiny 
and wise and could if we had to eat stone and go on.