RAE ARMANTROUT AND HEATHER MCHUGH CLASH IN THE WEST

Heather McHugh writes poetry with word-play.

Heather McHugh has two poems in Dove’s anthology.  Armantrout was not included.  Dove doesn’t have much patience, as we mentioned earlier, with the Language Poetry crowd, or crazy white people’s nonsense, as we might put it.  This poem of McHugh’s, which will do battle with Armantrout, seems to have been selected by Dove for its political content:

LANGUAGE LESSON 1976

When Americans say a man
take liberties, they mean

he’s gone too far. In Philadelphia today I saw
a kid on a leash look mom-ward

and announce his fondest wish: one
bicentennial burger, hold

the relish. Hold is forget,
in American.

On the courts of Philadelphia
the rich prepare

to serve, to fault. The language is a game as well,
in which love can mean nothing,

doubletalk mean lie. I’m saying
doubletalk to me. I’m saying

go so far the customs are untold.
Make nothing without words,

and let me be
the one you never hold.

We can’t say we like this poem; the reference to tennis: “court, serve, fault, love” is perhaps a reference to Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John’s 1975 song? and the meaning of “hold”—why in the world does this matter?  The whole thing strikes us as jejune. 

Rae Armantrout is in a position to advance against this weak effort.  Let’s see what she counters with:

MANUFACTURING

1

A career in vestige management.

A dream job
back-engineering
shifts in salience.

I’m so far
behind the curve
on this.

So. Cal.
must connect with
so-called

to manufacture
the present.

Ubiquity’s
the new in-joke

bar-code hard-on,

a catch-phrase
in every segment.

2

The eye asks if the green,

frilled geranium puckers,
clustered at angles

on each stem,
are similar enough

to stop time.

It has asked this question already.

How much present tense
can any resemblance make?

What if one catch- phrase
appears in every episode?

Does the language go rigid?

The new in-joke
is a pun
pretending to be a bridge.

“Does the language go rigid?”  Yes, I suppose it does.

Armantrout and McHugh are the same age, and their publishing history, professonial lives, and style of poetry are similar.

McHugh 66, Armantrout 54

6 Comments

  1. noochinator said,

    April 17, 2012 at 10:11 am

    In this age of industrial rust,
    It’s fitting “Manufacturing” bites the dust.

    One fine day, when the Lakers faced the Heat,
    Celtic Ray Allen was asked which he’d choose—
    His comment came to mind as I watched this match:
    “Is there any way,” he said, “they both can lose?”

  2. April 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    I don’t wonder whether a better McHugh poem could have been picked (I don’t know – this is my first exposure to her), but I love me some Rae Armantrout (I saw her read at the Folger Shakespeare Library over a year ago).

    I’m all about “Manufacturing” in this case.

    • noochinator said,

      April 17, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      There’s no way this observation is exclusively mine,
      But “Manufacturing” reminded me of Gertrude Stein.

      • April 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

        About twenty years ago, a friend suggested to me that if I picked up a book of Henry James and removed two out of every three sentence ending punctuation marks and replaced them with “and,” you would get a pretty good facsimile of Gertrude Stein.

        • thomasbrady said,

          April 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

          I’m sure that’s true! LOL Henry’s brother, William, the ‘nitrous-oxide’ philosopher, was Gertrude Stein’s teacher at Harvard.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 18, 2012 at 12:47 am

      Coffee,

      I’ve seen better McHugh poems, but we go with what Dove chooses.

      Tom


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