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Upgraded to Serious (Lannan Literary Selections) Hardcover – November 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. McHugh's eighth book finds this acclaimed poet as odd and entertaining as ever, with her trademark slippery associative lines and jagged stanzas (The mystery of speaking every day/ So plainly from a face she cannot see/ Unsettles her...), but also subtly sobered by growing older while living through the grim political climate of the last eight years. McHugh's short, jerky lines, odd rhymes, bemused gravity and slant perspective on the world at hand bring Emily Dickinson to mind. The man of the moment would kill/ to be man of the hour, she says in Unto High Heaven, a poem that seems to recall the Bush presidency and the rise of the Internet, which she touches on elsewhere in a poem that demands we Webcam the World: Get all of it. Set up the shots/ at every angle; run them online/ 24-7. Other poems try to make sense of life's little mysteries: Through petri dishes' rings/ life is transmogrified. When we/ look into things, we see// there's space inside, reads the entirety of The Microscope. McHugh remains one of our most important and unusual poets in a world where YouTube makes every experience fodder for entertainment and a person cannot die again; and I/ do nothing but re-live. (Oct.)
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About the Author

Heather McHugh is the author of a dozen books of poetry and translation, including Hinge & Sign, a New York Times Book of the Year and a finalist for the National Book Award. McHugh teaches at the University of Washington and has been a visiting faculty member in the MFA at Warren Wilson College since its inception.
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Product Details

  • Series: Lannan Literary Selections
  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press; 1st edition (November 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556593066
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556593062
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,242,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rob Jacques on January 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Heather McHugh's playfulness with grammar, odd word combinations, and poetic devices makes every poem fun, frequently masking the fact that they are also surprisingly profound. The reader will take delight in poems that play word sounds off against each other, such as "abacus" with "Addis Ababa," "rollickers" with "frolickers" and "Dubliners" with "Beijingers" in "Webcam the World." What would you expect to find in a McHugh poem entitled "Dodo's Caca" other than a "scavenging scatologist"? And her poem "Hackers Can Sidejack Cookies" is a tour-de-force romp through computer-geek jargon that must have been as much fun to write as it is to read.

Her poems are musical, often spritely, yet often tinged with a evanescing melancholy, always with a deeper meaning that remains on the heart after the laughs, leitmotifs and alliteration have long died away. Feast your eyes on Mourner's Kaddish for a taste of her poetic perfection:

Let's make it
bigger and more awesome,
god's big name in the world,
the world he made as only
lonely gods would do. (And may he make
a better one, by god, before he's through.)

May his big name go out beyond
all space and time, the way a heart goes out.
Be "hallowed and honored, extolled and exalted,
adored and acclaimed" - to use the big old words
(though human hymns can't fathom him, nor get
an inkling of his eye). May he make peace

despite our spite, and may our heavy spirits fly.
May he who writes the music soon arrange
to make the meaning clear - if not today
then (let us pray)

before the last musicians die.

When you finish reading this book, you'll want to read her other twelve poetry collections and then enroll as an English major at the University of Washington just for the sheer joy of taking her poetry classes!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
With twelve previous volumes to her credit, Heather McHugh is a prolific poet of quality. "Upgraded to Serious" is her newest collection, offering a storm of new insights through her fine and deft verse than will make people laugh as they think. "Upgraded to Serious" is a top pick, especially for fans of her previous volumes. "Myrrha to the Source": O fluent one, O muscle full of hydrogen,/O stuff of grief, whom the Greeks accuse of spoiling souls,//whose destiny is downward,/whose reflecting's up -- I think/I must have come from you.//Just one more cup.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Yngve on October 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It would be a wonder to start a story with the words "Inside the zygote..." then leap a line below to utter "...something's simmering." How much more a wonder would it be to end the book with, "Sideways it angled, and shone up." (?) This is what McHugh does to a reader in this book of poems, gathers her voltaic pulse and lets us see it spark through its biology, first line to the last. Even we simple readers of prose find her book infinitely engaging; it is filled with visible God "He's a hoot, with his flips of the nickel," filled with her laughing, punning verse, "and wetware lives in meatspace." And filled with her careful reminders of all our human beauties all encased and illuminated in her unique language. She says,

For me each item's a line item,
each occasion an occasion for redress,
reclaiming, recompense, or rue.

No story could have a better intent, or find itself better wrought. This book shows how to write it, perceive it, and in the end, see its wisdom. A true beauty, this book of poems.
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By chelofilm on December 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Heather McHugh proves, yet again with Upgraded to Serious, that she is an American genius, most deserving of her recent MacArthur Genuis Award. The poems in this latest collection tend toward the hermetic, and are difficult at times to unravel. Not to say that a reader's intellect shouldn't be greatly challenged, but at times when I was reading this collection, I felt I needed a serious brain upgrade in order to fully comprehend some of the work. That's certainly not McHugh's problem, and I think, like Paul Celan before her (especially his late work), she fully intends to keep the reader involved and muddling through the mysteries of language and the overwhelming mysteries of human existence.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful By DabblerArts on August 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If the situation of our poets is utterly desperate - way too much competition and no readerly love - that of our critics is essentially awkward. How to keep saying that something is just not that good, when it's not downright awful, without seeming cranky or boring everyone? In my defense, let me say that I'm definitely not cranky. Contemporary American poetry is really not that good! I love lots of poetry, and there's much poetry to love; it happens though that our literature currently suffers from a crisis of mediocrity; we have failed the modernists, that great generation of American poets, utterly.

Ok, on to McHugh and this book in particular. For me, these poems strike such an odd balance of the horrific and the whimsical that the effect is incoherent and jarring. The poet obviously delights in the quirky sounds that words make, but superficial aural effects (I'm not saying that aural effects cannot be deep, significant and devastating) totally carry the poems away. Too often one gets the sense that words are chosen for their phonetic proximity, without much regard for their intrinsic and connotative qualities. Consider the following:

For me each item's a line item,
each occasion an occasion for redress,
reclaiming, recompense, or rue...

That last word really gives me pause; blunt alliteration is the cause, but the effect, I think you will agree, is quite jarring. This heavy-handed use of sound is evident throughout.

McHugh is best, I think, when she can manage to actually be light, which is seldom. "Domestique" makes the exact reversal of a common situation into a rather charming, if still very slight, occasional piece - the poet is enslaved to life's tasks, while her pet dog looks on in aloof amusement, like a real poet.
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