Monday, May 28, 2012

Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town (part 1)

I've raved about this book before both in panels and here on the blog, and I was thrilled to find the opening essay from the book online for free to share with you. And join us tomorrow for a second essay from the book, "Writing Off the Subject."

This stuff is like gold for the writer's bank account.



 The Triggering Town
by Richard Hugo

You hear me make extreme statements like “don’t communicate” and “there is no reader.” While these state­ments are meant as said, I presume when I make them that you can communicate and can write clear English sentences. I caution against communication because once language exists only to convey information, it is dying.

Let’s take language that exists to communicate—the news story. In a news story the words are there to give you informa­tion about the event. Even if the reporter has a byline, anyone might have written the story, and quite often more than one person has by the time it is printed. Once you have the in­formation, the words seem unimportant. Valéry said they dis­solve, but that’s not quite right. Anyway, he was making a finer distinction, one between poetry and prose that in the reading of English probably no longer applies. That’s why I limited our example to news articles. By understanding the words of a news article you seem to deaden them.

In the news article the relation of the words to the subject (triggering subject since there is no other unless you can pro­vide it) is a strong one. The relation of the words to the writer is so weak that for our purposes it isn’t worth consideration. Since the majority of your reading has been newspapers, you are used to seeing language function this way. When you write a poem these relations must reverse themselves. That is, the relation of the words to the subject must weaken and the rela­tion of the words to the writer (you) must take on strength.

This is probably the hardest thing about writing poems. It may be a problem with every poem, at least for a long time. Somehow you must switch your allegiance from the triggering subject to the words.
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