“I don’t know why we do it. We must be crazy./Welcome, fellow poet.”—Richard Hugo
Richard Hugo, whom Carolyn Kizer called “one of the most passionate, energetic and honest poets living,” was that rare phenomenon—a distinguished poet who was also an inspiring teacher. The Triggering Town
is Hugo’s classic collection of lectures, essays, and reflections, all “directed toward helping with that silly, absurd, maddening, futile, enormously rewarding activity: writing poems.” From pieces that include “Writing off the Subject” and “How Poets Make a Living,” anyone, from the beginning poet to the mature writer to the lover of literature, will benefit greatly from Hugo’s playful and profound insights into the mysteries of literary creation.
Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town, originally published in 1979, remains one of the freshest and most refreshing treatises on the writing of poetry. While you won't find formality or nicety here, Hugo has the unusual quality of being highly opinionated and yet not at all convinced that what works for him will work for you. Hugo doesn't believe that he can teach you how to write; he believes he can teach you how he writes, and by doing so, teach you "how to teach yourself how to write." And while most writing instructors claim that one can't be a good writer without being a good reader, Hugo claims "that one learns to write only by writing." Hugo's essays are strong-willed and funny and by turns full of bluster and cloaked in modesty. While "a good teacher can save a young poet years by simply telling him things he need not waste time on, like trying to will originality or trying to share an experience in language or trying to remain true to the facts," he writes, "ultimately the most important things a poet will learn about writing are from himself in the process." Above all, Hugo stresses that creative writing is creative because it is a creative act: "if one is writing the way one should, one does not know what will be on the page until it is there." So, he warns, "If you want to communicate, use the telephone." And "Think small.... If you can't think small, try philosophy or social criticism."