on August 1, 2010
I have to admit that I grew up in western Washington in a family that travelled extensively by car, so my reading of this fine work is colored by personal memories of many of these small towns. I didn't discover the work of Richard Hugo until much later in life.
McCue and Randlett are the perfect team to tell this story. The photographs and commentary both complement the poems and provide just enough of a backdrop to put the reader in the location. What is most admirable, is the light touch that is evident. The essays manage the difficult task of illuminating the poems without competing with them, yet stand on their own and are delight to read. McCue is to be complimented for her restraint. The combination of the text, images, and poems really captures the texture and atmosphere of these small communities and gives the poetry a good home.
Richard Hugo's chief creative process was to visit a place and let it "trigger" (his word) images and ideas for his poems. Many of his poems are named after the places and towns that were their inspiration. And many of them are located in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Idaho, and Montana) where Hugo lived most of his life.
The idea behind THE CAR THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE STILL RUNS was to visit the places and towns of the Pacific Northwest that triggered some of Hugo's most distinctive poems. Frances McCue is a poet herself and a long-time admirer of Hugo's poetry. Even before writing this book occurred to her, she had been visiting some of Hugo's triggering towns. When she proposed the book to the University of Washington Press, it assigned Mary Randlett, noted octogenarian photographer of the Northwest, to accompany McCue to the towns featured in the book. They have collaborated on a handsome book that combines selected Hugo poems, McCue's text, and about forty Randlett photographs in black-and-white.
If you a fan of Hugo's poetry, THE CAR THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE STILL RUNS is highly recommended. If you are not a fan, it still is a worthwhile book, embodying as it does an intriguing concept and having as its subject a poet who, if not quite great, is nonetheless substantial enough (as a man as well as a poet) to merit the several hours necessary to absorb the book.
I fall into the second category. On the two occasions I have read it closely (most recently, reading his 1973 book of poems "The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir"), I ended up rather neutral concerning Hugo's poetry. Now, after having read McCue's book, I have a much better understanding of what Hugo was about. As a matter of fact, the book articulates (sometimes in Hugo's own words) some of the reasons I for one find his poetry less than satisfying. In the end, curiously, I like McCue's book better than Hugo's poetry.
It's not that the book is perfect, in my view. It is too long, in part because McCue occasionally rambles on and from time to time she states the obvious. She tends to be carried away by her own poetic impulses, which can end up clouding rather than clarifying the discussion of Hugo and his triggering towns. (For example: "In Hugo's work, women are the harbingers who sound out a world beyond the poem, winding their way back to Hugo and tugging his innards out, tossing them along the margins of the poem.")
Nonetheless, I read THE CAR THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE in its entirety and I enjoyed doing so - which is a tribute to the book. While I disagreed with (or did not understand) some of her more detailed points, and allowing for the fact that she is more enthusiastic about it, I found McCue's overall analysis of Hugo's poetry to be both sound and helpful. For those poems she addresses, she does a fine job of presenting, and exploring, the settings/towns and their personal relevance to Hugo. In this regard, the chapters on Cataldo, Idaho and Philipsburg, Montana (the triggers for the poems "Cataldo Mission" and "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg") stand out. Plus, by the time one has finished with the book, one has a pretty good understanding of Richard Hugo and his life - in other words, the book doubles as a biography of sorts.
I suspect that most poets would be honored to have a similarly thoughtful and loving book devoted to their work. And I reiterate that if you are a fan of Hugo's poetry, THE CAR THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE is nigh essential.
on June 18, 2010
While many books have been written about the poet, Richard Hugo, none have mined the depth and richness of his poetry the way this one does. He was an incredible poet. More than that, he was an incredible man. This is a book that reveals so much more than the man or his poetry. It is a journey into the soul of America's greatest poet of the 20th century.