MTPR

Micah Fields & Richard Hugo: Taking Stock

Apr 1, 2015

In the poetry of Richard Hugo, Micah Fields recognizes his own fascination with the ways that suffering is portrayed in art:

"When I first came to Montana, I wasn’t entirely sure what being from here entailed. I hadn’t yet identified with the notion of connecting to a landscape, of belonging to some valley or plateau, of spending weekends canoeing pristine rivers. Growing up in Houston, Texas, I was accustomed to the transience of things, the way land just sort of rolled out from under you and disappeared, checkered with highways, overpasses and subdivisions.

At first, I felt like an intruder in Missoula. Others had come before me, some welcome and some not, but all with a purpose. I’d come fleeing from something. I’d read some of Richard Hugo’s poetry though, and the way he wrote about the West resonated with me. He wasn’t as concerned with the beauty of Montana as he was with the pain that underscored it. He wrote about small towns and the quiet, solemn lives within them, their cafés and bars, things I could relate to and appreciate. Like Hugo, I’d gone to war, and though his was in Italy and mine in Afghanistan, we’d both come back concerned about the place of suffering in art.

I like to think Hugo came to Montana to take stock of things, and that his poems were a way to work through questions about pain and decay, and how sometimes those things can be simultaneously agonizing and beautiful."

Richard Hugo wrote the poem "Centuries Near Spinazzola"  during a trip to Italy, many years after his service as a bombardier during World War Two:
 
"This is where the day went slack.
It could have been digestion or the line
of elms, the wind relaxed and flowing
and the sea gone out of sight.
This is where the day and I surrendered
as if the air
were suddenly my paramour.

It is far from any home. A white
farm tiny from a dead ten miles
of prairie, gleamed. I stood on grass
and saw the bombers cluster,
and drone the feeble purpose of a giant.

Men rehearsed terror at Sardis
And Xerxes beat the sea.

And prior to the first domestic dog,
a king of marble, copper gods,
I must have stood like that and heard
the cars roar down the road,
the ammo wagon and the truck,
must have turned my back on them
to see the stroke of grass on grass
on grass across the miles of roll,
the travel of my fever now, my urge
to hurt or love released and flowing.

A public yes to war. A Greek will die
and clog the pass to wreck our strategy.
There will be a time for towns to burn
and one more sea to flog into a pond."
 

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 4/1/15 & 10/7/15. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)