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About this poet

Born on August 20, 1948, to Canadian parents in San Diego, California, Heather McHugh was raised in Gloucester Point, Virginia. Her father was a marine biologist, and directed the marine biological laboratory on the York River. She entered Harvard University at the age of seventeen.

Her first collection of poems, Dangers: Poems, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1977. Since then, she has published several acclaimed collections, most recently Upgraded to Serious (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); Eyeshot (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize; The Father of Predicaments (2001); Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 (1994), a finalist for the National Book Award and named a "Notable Book of the Year" by the New York Times Book Review; Shades (1988); To the Quick (1987); and A World of Difference (Houghton Mifflin, 1981).

She is also the author of a collection of literary essays titled Broken English: Poetry and Partiality (1993), and three books of translation: Glottal Stop: Poems of Paul Celan (with Nikolai Popov, 2001), winner of the Griffin International Poetry Prize; Because the Sea is Black: Poems of Blaga Dimitrova (with Niko Boris, 1989); and D'après tout: Poems by Jean Follain (1981).

McHugh also edited the anthology New Voices: University and College Prizes (Academy of American Poets, 1999), and served as the 2007 guest editor for the Best American Poetry series.

In a 1999 interview, McHugh said, "If you're a poet smitten with English, you love it for its drive and not its drone. The rhythms of a language must be irresistible—while the humdrums of it have to be resisted. No linguistic habit is, per se, of interest—but ah! when the unsung (underlying) nun informs it—with a sensual twist or quick shape-shift! Well, that's the trick: the sudden unexpectedness inside the overknown."

Her honors include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Award, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, and, in 2006, one of the first United States Artists awards. From 1999 to 2006 she served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and in 2000 was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009, she was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" for her work.

For over 20 years, she has served as a visiting faculty member in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and since 1984 as Milliman Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Father of the Predicaments

Heather McHugh, 1948
He came at night to each of us asleep
And trained us in the virtues we most lacked.
Me he admonished to return his stare
Correctly, without fear.  Unless I could,
Unblinking, more and more incline
Toward a deep unblinkingness of his,
He would not let me rest.  Outside
In the dark of the world, at the foot
Of the library steps, there lurked
A Mercury of rust, its cab half-lit.
(Two worldly forms who huddled there
Knew what they meant.  I had no business

With the things they knew.  Nor did I feel myself
Drawn back through Circulation into Reference,
Until I saw how blue I had become, by virtue
Of its five TVs, their monitors abuzz with is's

Etymologies...)

From The Father of the Predicaments, forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press in September 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Heather McHugh. Reprinted by permission of the author.

From The Father of the Predicaments, forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press in September 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Heather McHugh. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Heather McHugh

Heather McHugh

A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Heather McHugh has received several awards for her work as a poet, including the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 2009

by this poet

poem
A book is a suicide postponed.
--Cioran
Too volatile, am I?  too voluble?  too much a word-person?
I blame the soup:  I'm a primordially
stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings.
The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The
poem

 

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poem
Everything obeyed our laws and
we just went on self-improving
till a window gave us pause and
there the outside world was, moving.

Five apartment blocks swept by,
the trees and ironwork and headstones
of the next town's cemetery.
Auto lots. Golf courses. Rest homes.
Blue-green fields and perishable vistas
wars