Richard Hugo's 'Triggering Town'
Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town:
Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing
notes by J. Zimmerman
This collection of nine essays is a practical introduction to Hugo's
approach to writing poetry.
The nine sections are entitled:
- Writing off the Subject.
- "The initiating subject should trigger the imagination as well as the poem."
- "the true or valid triggering subject is one in which physical characteristics or details
correspond to attitudes the poet has toward the world and himself. ...
I know almost nothing about the places that trigger my poems."
- "The subject should serve the words. This may mean violating the facts."
- The Triggering Town.
- "Switch your allegiance from the triggering subject to the words. ...
take emotional possession of the town ... these knowns sit outside the poem."
- "If you write often, perhaps every day, you will stay in shape and will be able
to receive those good poems, which are finally a matter of luck, and get them down. ...
The hard work you do on one poem is put into all poems."
- "silly or solid, assumptions are necessary elements in a successful base of writing operations.
It is important that a poet not question his or her assumptions,
at least not in the middle of composition. Finish the poem first, then worry,
if you have to, about being right or sane."
- Six pages of often-conflicting assumptions.
- Stray Thoughts on Roethke and Teaching.
He cites a Roethke exercise similar to the following.
- Students are given ten nouns (tamarack, throat, ...); they are to pick five.
- They get ten verbs (kiss, curve, ...); they are to pick five.
- They get ten adjectives (blue, hot, ...); they are to pick five.
- They are to write a poem that uses the words they chose and that is:
- Four beats per line (can vary).
- Six lines per stanza.
- Three stanzas.
- Two internal and one external slant rhymes per stanza.
- Fewer than three end stops per stanza.
- All sentences must make sense.
- When you "give them the words, some of them, anyway, and some technical problems to solve.
Many of them will write their best poem of the term."
- Nuts and Bolts.
Lots of 'rules' like:
- "The best notebooks I've found are National 43-581."
- "Some time the wrong word isn't the one you think it is but another close by.
If annoyed with something in the poem, look to either side of it. ...
Often a word is not right but very close: dog - hog, gill - gull, hen - hun."
- "Don't use the same subject in two consecutive sentences."
- In Defense of Creative-Writing Classes.
- Statements of Faith.
- "Writing is a way of saying you and the world have a chance.
All art is failure."
- "Every poem a poet writes is a slight advance of self and a slight
modification of the mask, the one you want to be.
Poem after poem, the self grows more worthy of the mask. ...
Hope hard to fall always short of success."
- Ci Vediamo.
Hugo returned, years after W.W. II, to where he had been based in Italy as an American bombardier.
- How Poets Make a Living.
- "No job accounts for the impulse to find and order those bits and pieces
of yourself that can come out only in the most unguarded moments,
in the wildest, most primitive phrases we shout alone at the mirror.
And no job modifies that impulse or destroys it."
Links and Books.
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