Hinge & Sign (Poems, 1968-1993)

Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993 - Heather McHugh

I used to have an unofficial policy regarding writing reviews of poetry where I wouldn't give a book of poems anything less than four stars except in cases of total drudgery or confusion. That's because people need to read more poetry. Most of the poetry I read is well-crafted, surprising, and, well, awesome for some particular reader. But I'm not always that reader.


I've run into a problem lately with poetry that I seem not to experience as much with fiction. My aesthetic has changed as a writer of poems, as has my tastes in poetry as a reader. What I loved when an undergraduate in many cases is now boring to me. And I would not then have entertained the sort of aesthetic I now find engaging.


Heather McHugh's Hinge & Sign is a book I bought when an undergrad (or possibly just entering my MFA program). I remember hearing her read at a poetry festival and being delighted by the way she played with language--and I mean even more than every poet does. There is plenty of that in this book, and some of it I responded to. Much of it I didn't.


Compulsive book hoarder that I am, it took me years to sit down and read the book for real, and I believe my changed tastes have been a factor in my response to it. There are still poems I loved ("Stall," "The Trouble with 'In,'" "To the Quick," "Big Ideas Among Earthlings"). Many passed me by unabsorbed. This can always be due to reading circumstances--poetry requires such careful attention in a way that prose doesn't. But poems I love compel my attention.


McHugh's poems are sharp and tackle the miniscule and the existential. She often writes with humor but isn't afraid of darkness. Mostly she loves investigating language and bringing her reader along. The sticker on my book tells me it was a National Book Award finalist.


Maybe sometime I'll come back around to this work.