When It Rains: Hugo’s Love Letters to the Pacific Northwest

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

-Amanda Stopa

National Poetry month always presents itself as a reminder to return to my roots, and revisit the writer’s works that first introduced me to poetry. After spending all year discovering new writers and investing in the next generation of poets, every Spring I find myself revisiting the work of a select group of Pacific Northwest writers- Theodore Roethke, Carolyn Kizer and Richard Hugo. Particularly, it is Hugo’s regional work, and love of the landscape, that consistently reignites my affection for the craft of poetry, and the place I call home.

As a regional poet, Hugo’s work doesn’t just capture landscape, but rather connects with it and even immerses himself in it within the poem. In the poem “Skykomish River Running” he doesn’t simply recognize the cultural significance of salmon and fish in the Pacific Northwest, he becomes one. Understanding a culture is one thing, becoming a part of it out of adoration is quite another. The river is no longer a body of water, but this great connecting force, that not only runs from the Cascades- through my home town- to the Puget Sound, but it also runs through lives, seasons, change- it is a nurturing force. Not an easy concept to grasp based on a part of the country that everyone identifies negatively as “raining all the time,” but the communities of the Pacific Northwest embrace being surrounded by all that water. So again, it’s not about understanding the rain or region, it’s about accepting it, and we see that separation in Hugo’s word choice.

Because of his adoration of the Pacific Northwest, and ownership of this region, he is able to serve the community by bringing in objective points of view. In “Church on Comiaken Hill,” he restrains himself from writing about his experience, and instead creates an emotional image of what is happening around him in this particular community. Again, we see in these tight, honest lines more rain, more water, more fish; and although the chaos, desperate images and diction might suggest hopelessness, any Pacific Northwesterner will tell you differently.

I must have been sixteen the first time I read Hugo’s work. And as I began to explore poetry, and read more and more writers, I rarely found the same attachment that I first encountered with Hugo. Regionalist poets are important to the writing community, because they serve more than just their fellow writers and poets- they serve the small towns they are writing about, the folklore the landscape embraces and create a sense of interconnectedness for those communities In a way, they are the people’s poets, sharing a slice of civilization with us on the page. If home is where the heart is, and I can hear the Skykomish humming from 3,000 miles away, then I think Hugo’s has struck a chord. A very wet and evergreen chord.

We’d love it if you joined in and shared some of your favorite regional poets in the comments section!

 

*Both “Skykomish River Running” and “Church on Comiaken Hill” are included in Making Certain it Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo, W.W. Morton & Company, 2007.

 

Amanda Stopa is originally from the Seattle area. She holds an MBA, and an MFA in Creative Writing and has had work appear in New Fraktur Arts Journal, Philadelphia Stories, and Bearers of Distance: An Anthology.

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