Richard Hugo, The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir (W. W. Norton, 1973)
[originally posted 14Jun2001]
Two decades after Hugo’s early death, he’s finally starting to get the recognition he deserves as one of the twentieth century’s masters of poetry. His output was sparse, starting relatively late in his life and covering less than a half-dozen books of poetry, along with a few other prose books. But what little there was was some of the best American poetry ever written.
Hugo writes with a rhythm and style that compares best to novelist Cormac McCarthy; it’s a little difficult getting over the first hump, but once you’ve settled into his diction, everything inside is magic.
I got three bulls and a native cutthroat, lover.
I’m phoning from the bar in Victor.
One drunk’s fading fast. The other’s fast
with information– worms don’t work in August.I found
a virgin forest with a moss floor.
You and I can love there. Pack the food….
(from “Phoning from Sweathouse Creek”)
The book is divided into four parts, two of which focus on one of Hugo’s trips to Europe, and two on Montana. There is a strong sense of place in this work, a connection to the culture, however long-dead, of what Hugo is writing about. It’s all excellent, every last line. One of the best books of poetry I’ve read in years. **** ½