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These essays about writing and writing classes lend credence to Richard Hugo's reputation as an exciting teacher, but they expire on the printed page. He energetically attacks the small matter of what kind of pencil to use (#2) as well as the greater questions of morality in poetry and art. His prose is unengaging, however, and these pieces, culled for the most part from lectures, want cutting and polishing; untouched, Hugo's hokey ""just folks"" idiom and loose, repetitive style smack of arrogance. He also has a trick of apologizing when he pummels you (""Well, this is just my opinion, but. . ."") so that even extreme dogma becomes inarguable: ""Assuming you can write a clear English sentence, give up all worry of communication [in a poem]. If you want to communicate, use the telephone."" While this hit-and-run technique can generate debate in a classroom, in a printed monologue it bullies and frustrates. Hugo's poems are often rigorous and effective, and these essays are most interesting when he discusses his own writing process, explaining how a poem may be ""triggered"" by a place, and then detailing the imaginative expansion of that place into a poem. Similarly rewarding is the essay about his former teacher, Theodore Roethke, whose vigor Hugo admires and would emulate. In the theoretical realm, though, he flounders badly. The lucid and still pertinent essays of Frost, Stevens, or Jarrell offer a far more perceptive analysis of the purposes of poetry and the writer's role.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1979
Publisher: Norton